The man who will become Northwest Nazarene University’s interim president will inherit a campus that only a few weeks ago was so troubled, frustrated and unsure of its own future that its faculty voted no confidence in their leader.
President David Alexander will resign May 31, NNU’s board of trustees said Tuesday. Alexander’s departure follows a faculty revolt triggered by layoffs announced but then put on hold, what many believed was the targeting of a popular theology professor, and a modest restructuring of finances to put money where school leaders think it’s needed most.
Alexander’s replacement is Joel Pearsall, NNU’s vice president for academic advancement. Pearsall could lead the small Christian university in Nampa for up to two years while NNU’s board searches for a successor. Pearsall is the son of former NNU President Kenneth Pearsall, who led the university from 1973 to 1983.
Alexander was named president in 2008.
Steve Shaw, a political science professor who has been at the school for 36 years, said Pearsall is well known, well liked and respected.
“Job 1 is assuring people on campus that we are moving forward as best as we can,” Shaw said.
The immediate task “is to help NNU navigate through this transition, working with the campus community to address the concerns that have been raised over the past several weeks,” school officials said in a statement. “Going forward, Vice President Pearsall plans to build on the university’s shared commitment to academic excellence, collaborative partnerships and its transformative mission.”
During Alexander’s waning time as president, some faculty members said they should have been consulted before six layoffs were announced. One of those layoffs was theology Professor Thomas J. Oord. Critics suggested that Oord was targeted because of theological differences with the university, an accusation Alexander denied.
“No individual in this process was targeted for academic or theological reasons,” Alexander said in a letter posted on NNU’s website last month.
The layoffs were put on hold until after a panel appointed by the board completes a review of Alexander’s planned $1.3 million budget shift.
Some people were surprised by Alexander’s resignation. Ric Shewell, an NNU graduate and now pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Idaho Falls, said he didn’t think a resignation would come so quickly. He expected the board to finish its review of the financial and layoff plan before any action was taken.
Shaw, however, said the resignation came as there was a loss of support, and social media played a role. “I’m not shocked, but it is kind of a bittersweet feeling for people,” he said.
After the resignation was announced Tuesday, faculty leaders acknowledged Alexander’s contributions.
“The faculty officers wish to acknowledge President Alexander’s contributions and express appreciation for his dedication to NNU,” they said in a statement that also acknowledged the school’s recent troubles. “This has been a difficult and challenging time for all. The faculty remains committed to working collaboratively with the NNU community. Under the direction of Mr. Pearsall we look forward to advancing the mission of the university.”
Board Chairman Randall Craker expressed appreciation for Alexander’s “visionary leadership” during the past seven years.
“President Alexander helped us live out our mission and guided NNU strategically, not only to survive but also thrive into the future,” Craker said. “He continually sought to ensure that the university and church remain connected. President Alexander has been passionate about putting students first. He vigorously worked to ensure that NNU offer on-campus and online students an outstanding education centered in Jesus Christ.”
Alexander said in the board’s news release that he believes now is the time for leadership change at the university — a time when “a new leader can take up the mantle and move the organization forward in transformative ways.”
NNU has about 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 6,000 continuing education students and 2,300 high school students involved in the concurrent credit program. Alexander is its 12th president. He succeeded Richard Hagood, who retired in 2008 after 15 years.
Alexander was vice president for university advancement at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma when he was tapped to return to NNU, where he had been a music professor from 1986 to 1991.
Pearsall earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting and business administration from NNU in 1980, and he went on to earn a law degree from Willamette University College of Law in 1983.