NNU faculty hands its president a no-confidence vote

Faculty voted 77 percent in favor of a no-confidence vote Tuesday for Northwest Nazarene University President David Alexander, but the majority was even greater in support of a road map to involve them more in university decisions, said Mike Poe, faculty vice chairman for the College of Adult and Graduate Studies. About 90 of the estimated 112 faculty eligible to cast ballots voted, he said.

The vote comes as Alexander and the school’s board of trustees are embarking on a plan to redeploy $1.3 million of the school’s $40 million budget to boost growing programs, and look for way to reduce student costs. That led the university to say it was laying off six people at the end of the school year.

Following the no confidence vote, Alexander said he would reconsider his recent decisions.

“I will study and reconsider action and take at least fourteen days to talk with the board, the faculty officers and my cabinet,” he said. “We need to reflect on and determine the best course for the university in light of the concerns being raised.”

As theology Professor Thomas J. Oord’s layoff became known last week, critics took to social media, saying the move was because of theological differences between the professor and the university.

Prior to the faculty vote Alexander publicly apologized for the handling of Oord’s layoff.

“Discussions occurred via mail and email due to spring break and the March 31 deadline (for advising a faculty member of a layoff),” Alexander said in the letter posted on NNU’s website. “That was not respectful of Dr. Oord and his many contributions to the university.”

“I realize that many in the faculty thought that this layoff was targeted,” Alexander said. “Again, I want to state that this is not true; no individual in this process was targeted for academic or theological reasons.”

The decision to make a cut in the theology department came as the university was evaluating campus programs. Both graduate theology and graduate counseling have seen a 22 percent drop in credit hours taught since 2010 — the sharpest drop in the school — with no corresponding drop in the number of of faculty who were teaching, college administrators say. The counseling decline was intentional, designed to meet accreditation standards, school officials say. The decision was made to eliminate one professor from graduate theology and one from graduate counseling.

Poe said faculty members were not consulted. Administrators should have come to faculty in those departments, explained the problem and given them an opportunity to look for a solution, he said.

“That process did not happen,” Poe said.

Layoffs of six people, about 2 percent of the school’s 310 employees, would yield the school about $400,000 to target elsewhere in the university. The remaining $900,000 would come from reducing travel and making other reductions and a modest increase in class sizes. Undergraduate classes now average about 16 students and graduate classes about 10 students. The school has about 2,000 students.

Redirected money would help NNU remain competitive in student costs among other private schools such as Whitworth University in Spokane and Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, said Stacy Berggren, NNU vice president for enrollment and marketing.

“We also recognize the fact that we are having a significant number of students who are choosing between us and a school like Boise State,” Berggren said. “That is where we are not as competitive.”

NNU’s sticker price is $26,940 per year, but cost after scholarships can go down by 40 percent to 60 percent. Boise State’s tuition for next year, not counting scholarships, will be $6,874 for undergraduate residents.

Part of the funding shift could go to programs that are seeing in increase in students, such as its new Ph.D. in Education, said Berggren.

In some ways, NNU’s redeployment of money is like what Boise State University is undertaking by reducing support for its history program because of low enrollment and seeking to drop a community regional planning department that has not caught on with students.

Peter R. Crabb, economics professor at NNU, supports the administration’s shifting of assets.

“That makes economic sense,” said Crabb, who opposed the no-confidence vote.

Reallocating resources recognizes the shift in students tastes, he said. Much of what a student once learned in college is accessible on a cellphone, he said. Schools need to look for what students want, and find ways to deliver it.

But those changes are uncomfortable to some. Many faculty here are afraid of change, Crabb said. “Our industry is changing.”

Alexander was named president of NNU in 2008, and NNU trustees voted in March to extend his contract another four years. His previous job was vice president for university advancement at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla.

The Statesman has been unable to reach Oord.