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Spencer Cowles

DEPARTMENT: Business & Economics Dept

POSITION: Professor

DEPARTMENT: MA in Organizational Leadership

POSITION: Professor


POSITION: Professor

LOCATION: Main Campus, Harrisonburg | CC 206D

PHONE: (540) 432-4153


Dr. Cowles’ background is in commercial banking, where he worked for one of the largest commercial banks in New England. One of the most fascinating and fulfilling aspects of his banking career was working with entrepreneurs who had a better idea for doing something and who left secure careers to start a successful business of their own.

During a recent sabbatical he redeployed his banking skills in microfinance, working in Washington, D.C. as an investment consultant and acting director of investments at MicroVest Capital Management, a firm that raises funds from commercial investors and invests them in microfinance institutions worldwide.

Dr. Cowles’ primary undergraduate teaching responsibilities include business ethics and strategy, international business, and an introductory survey of business. He also teaches a course entitled Comparative Perspectives on Business and Society in EMU’s MBA program, which examines business ethics and policy at the level of the employee, the firm, and the macro economy. As quoted in an article on the teaching of ethics in business schools published in the Daily News Record (3/27/10), Dr. Cowles stated, “The free market system is based on trust. It’s not a peripheral issue. It’s central to the free market.”

He has also led a variety of cross-cultural programs in Japan, Europe, Jamaica, and the Navajo Nation, many of them geared toward his interests in international business and development.

Dr. Cowles formerly chaired the Department of Business and Economics and has played an active role in university governance. As Department Chair he was a practicing manager, continually involved in the types of actions and decisions concerning people, resources, and policy that most middle managers in a business–or any type of organization–are involved in. He has served on a number of committees, including the Faculty Senate, that take part in university governance, which includes formulating policy, making strategic decisions about the direction of the university, and developing new initiatives.


Doctor of Philosophy
May, 2003
Social Foundations of Education, with an emphasis on Anthropology of Education
Curry School of Education
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Master of Business Administration
May, 1980
Concentration in Finance
Boston University
Boston, MA

Master of Theological Studies
May, 1980
Concentration in New Testament
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
South Hamilton, MA

Bachelor of Arts
June, 1973
Major in English
Boston University
Boston, MA


Cowles, S. (2013). Book review, The Invisible handcuffs of Capitalism.The Anthropology of Work Review.Vol.XXXIV, No.1

Cowles, S. (2011). Book review, The Anthropology of Labor Unions. American Ethnologist. Vol.38(3). pp.590-591

Cowles, S. (2008). Microfinance, then and now. The Marketplace. Vol.38, Issue 3,

Cowles, S. (2007). The promises and challenges of social movement unionism: A
review essay. The Anthropology of Work Review. Vol.XXVIII, No.1, pp.14-18.

Cowles, S. (2005). Creating a third way in minority education: Transformative community in the Old Order Mennonite Church. The Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol.36, No.4, pp. 386-404.

Cowles, S. (2004). A reconsideration of Emile Durkheim’s The evolution of educational thought: Lectures on the formation and development of secondary education in France. Educational Studies, Vol.35, No.3, pp. 271-76.

Scholarly Presentations and Abstracts

Managers and leaders: Are they different? Revisiting the debate
Presented at the Christian Business Faculty Association annual meeting, Bourbannais, IL, October 2013

Identity formation in a two room Old Order Mennonite schoolhouse
Presented at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in Chicago, November 2003.

Beyond the pale: the limits of multi-culturalism
Presented at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in New Orleans, November 2002.

Stopping in time: Interpreting Old Order Mennonite praxis using Durkheim’s theory of social change
(Invited new scholar poster presentation) Presented at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in
Washington, DC, November 2001.

Educating for identity and resistance: Situated learning among the Old Order Mennonites
Presented at the Comparative & International Education Society annual meetings in Washington, DC, March 2001.

The cultural implications of laissez-faire capitalism
Presented at the Comparative & International Education Society annual meetings in San Antonio, March 2000

Competitive advantage in the smaller enterprise
Jubilee: The biblical mandate for the economic enterprise
Realizing our vision: What do we really want to be? Presented at the Mennonite Association of Credit Unions annual retreat in Harrisonburg, VA, September 1997

The America that can say ‘yes’ Presented to the International Business Forum in Sapporo, Japan, January 1994

The international business imperative Presented at the 1992 MEDA annual convention in Denver, October 1992

Entrepreneurs in paradise: A report on micro-entrepreneurs in Kingston, Jamaica Presented to the Shenandoah Valley MEDA Chapter, October 1989