Northwest Nazarene University puts layoffs on hold

The layoff of a popular Northwest Nazarene University theology professor, which brought stinging criticism to the university, has been put on hold by NNU President David Alexander.

Thomas Oord was expected to leave NNU at the end of the school year, along with five other faculty and staff, as part of a plan to shift $1.3 million in the university’s $40 million budget.

On Saturday, Alexander announced that he was placing the layoffs “on hold” while a panel reviews administrative decisions made in late March regarding a budget shift.

“So that the review can move forward without unnecessary distraction or pressure, I am placing all layoffs on hold, and affected faculty members may teach summer classes as planned,” Alexander wrote in an email to faculty that was given to the Idaho Statesman by NNU professor Steve Shaw.

NNU’s administration declined to comment.

NNU’s Board of Trustees announced plans for the review last week after 77 percent of the faculty turned in a no-confidence vote for Alexander. Trustees, faculty, administrators and alumni will review the administration decisions around the budget shift, guided by an outside facilitator. Their report is expected to the board on June 15.

In his letter, Alexander acknowledged that he is a “hard charger” and asked the faculty’s forgiveness. “I have not adequately fostered a genuine culture of collaboration across the faculty with the administration,” he wrote. “For that I humbly apologize.”

As word of Oord’s layoff spread through the campus and across social media in early April, critics accused the university of trying to get rid of the professor over theological differences with the school.

In an open letter, Alexander apologized to Oord last week for the manner in which his change was initially handled, but denied that it was driven by theological issues.

The Rev. Ric Shewell, pastor at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Idaho Falls, has sharply criticized NNU decisions regarding Oord online. Shewell attended NNU from 2002 to 2006 but had only one class from the professor.

“Alexander’s holding off layoffs for the review is absolutely the right step,” Shewell said. “And I think it acknowledges the faculty’s concerns and the concerns of the community at large.”

But bringing Oord to the point of layoff and then pulling back might make it difficult for the university to go ahead with layoffs later, Shewell said.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where (Alexander) goes through with the layoff at this point,” he said.