Questioning NNU’s President, Part 1: The Graduate Counseling Ed Program

Photo by Brandon Hill Photography
Photo by Brandon Hill Photography

In my last post, I summarized the events surrounding Dr. Tom Oord’s termination at Northwest Nazarene University. I also described the broken trust between the campus community and NNU president, David Alexander.

Over the next three blog posts, I want to ask deeper questions about Alexander’s actions that lead up to the dismissal of Tom Oord. I also want to mention details that I believe every prospective student, declined applicant, pastor, parent, student, staff, and faculty member should know.

I’m calling these posts “Questioning NNU’s President.”

Part 1: The Graduate Counseling Ed Program

Part 2: The Capital Education Marketing Failure

Part 3: The Faculty Request for Collaborative Governance

The Decline of Accepted Applicants to the Grad Counseling Ed Program

In an email last week, Alexander explained to pastors of the Northwest Region that two faculty members would be laid off from “programs that have experienced significant enrollment decline.” Immediately, students and faculty suggested the two programs were the Graduated Counseling Ed Program and the Graduate Theological Online Ed Program. (These were not the only graduate programs that suffered decline in enrollment, but I’ll get to that in Part 2.) In an email, late Saturday night (April 11th, 2015), Alexander confirmed that these were the two programs.

It sounds like these two programs were hurting and could not justify supporting their faculty members, while other areas needed the resources. In the case of the Graduate Counseling Ed Program, this could not be further from the truth. 

The Graduate Counseling Ed Program at NNU is one of the best and most sought after programs in the area. In order to maintain its accreditation with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the program needs to maintain a certain student/faculty ratio. As the program was growing, it was in danger of losing accreditation. The solution was to deny more applications and decline enrollment into the program. [Given the popularity of the program, the administration agreed to hire a new faculty member. The program accepted more students in anticipation of a new faculty hire. However, the new faculty hire was withdrawn by the administration, putting the program out of compliance and in danger of losing accreditation. In order to save its accreditation, the department had to begin denying more applicants every year.]

The decline of enrollment in the Graduate Counseling Ed Program was designed to keep accreditation. The program is not suffering (until now, but I’ll get to that below).

So I wonder why Alexander makes this decline sound like a loss and a purpose for layoff. More importantly, dozens of students have been denied enrollment into the program in recent years, and now Alexander announces a layoff due to decline? What do we say to those denied applicants? What message are we sending to the public and prospective applicants who have come to know this program for its strength and successful graduates? Why would Alexander jeopardize the reputation of this program?

Using the Term “Layoff” Loosely

Following the email to the Northwest Region pastors, students and faculty, immediately, called foul on the use of “layoff,” and announced that the faculty member to be fired, other than Oord, was not actually being fired. This other faculty member was being reassigned to an undergraduate position.

It is rumored that the faculty member from the Graduate Counseling Ed Program is Dr. Kay Webb.

Let me state this as clearly as I can. It is my firm and resolute belief, that neither Dr. Kay Webb nor her husband Dr. Burton Webb had any say or motive in these actions. Webb’s movement from program to program cannot be seen as nepotism in any way, since her move away from the Graduate Program is not predicated on any negative results (the decline in enrollment was an intended result).

However, this results in a new problem for the Graduate Counseling Ed Program. Enrollment was intentionally declined in order to keep proper student/faculty ratios and accreditation. Removing Webb from the program now puts that ratio (and accreditation) in danger again. In order to keep the ratios correct, Dr. Michael Pitts (Dept. Chair) will have to hire adjunct professors, and it can be difficult to find adjuncts willing to submit to the university’s lifestyle agreement.

Was Pitts consulted about these moves? It all seems like a headache for this thriving program and department.

Linking it to Oord

Describing the decline of enrollment as the reason for a faculty layoff damages the reputation of a strong and successful program. Removing a faculty member from this program creates another problem for accreditation. If this faculty member is being moved, I assume that there will not be enough savings to contribute to the reallocation of funds like Alexander describes. So why do it? And why call it a layoff?

Many suspect that it gives more legitimacy to the other layoff: Tom Oord’s.

It looks better if you’re laying off two instead of just one.

There’s also an issue of timing. The Graduate Counseling Ed Program was doing fine and taking care of itself. So why the suddenness of this reallocation plan? Because layoffs need to be announced by March 31st. I think I’ve already established that the layoff in the counseling program was not necessary and was not a layoff. Why be so sudden? Why falsely announce a layoff? Why risk damaging the reputation of a strong program?

I don’t know, but I think these are the right questions to be asking.