Questioning NNU’s President, Part 2: The Capital Education Marketing Failure

Photo by Brandon Hill Photography
Thomas Jay Oord, photo by Brandon Hill Photography

Northwest Nazarene University is in a bit of an upheaval following the announcement of Dr. Tom Oord’s layoff, a tenured and senior theology professor. Oord’s layoff has raised many questions about NNU President David Alexander’s decisions and actions, not only in the recent weeks, but throughout his 7 year presidency at NNU. Decisions about layoffs, reorganization of department staff/faculty, and recruitment strategies have been described as “dictator” like. Alexander has ignored advisement and faculty voice in many of these decisions (the topic of part 3). In this part 2 of a series I’m calling “Questioning NNU’s President,” I hope to shed some light on one particular decision that negatively affected several graduate programs at NNU: handing marketing of graduate programs to Capital Education–a service provider to online educational programs. 

NNU’s Graduate Theological Online Ed Program and the Capital Education Deal

Members of the Religion Faculty at NNU created an online graduate program in ministry and theology in order to fill a need they perceived in the Church of the Nazarene. People answering a call into ministry have relatively few choices in Nazarene educational institutions to seek a Master of Divinity (the comprehensive and gold-standard degree for ministry). The Religion Faculty at NNU created a fully online Master of Divinity program that can be accessed anywhere. The program became a tremendous success, and was the first fully online program to receive associate membership status by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the accrediting body for seminaries and divinity schools in the U.S. and Canada.

Associate membership. This is a provisional time of accreditation on the way to full membership and accreditation. The Religion Faculty has been working hard on full membership and were clearly on the way there.

Enrollment was growing, and NNU’s religion department handled the marketing of the program. It was a niche market: ministers and future ministers in the Church of the Nazarene who may not be able or willing to relocate for seminary (especially since an M.Div. is not a requirement for ordination in the Church of the Nazarene). The Religion Faculty understood their market better than any, and they were handling it well.

In 2011, against the advisement of the Religion Faculty and other deans at NNU, the administration (with Alexander at the helm) decided to hand over the marketing of this program and graduate programs in Education and Business to Capital Education. They hoped to double the enrollment of the Graduate Theological Ed. program, but they did not understand the niche market for this program.

In the first year of Capital Education’s partnership, there were near zero applicants––students reported. All graduate programs suffered under the partnership with Capital Education. The Graduate Theological Online Ed Program was nearly devastated. Last year, the contract with Capital Education was ended, and NNU paid 1.2 million to get out of the contract. President Alexander took responsibility for the failed relationship and apologized to the faculty and campus community. 

I Made a Mistake. I’m Sorry. You’re Fired.

In Alexander’s email to pastors, he outlined a plan to reallocate 1.3 million dollars. In order to do this, 2 faculty and 4 staff members will be laid off.

[Let me interject here that NNU’s financial picture is strong and is on its way to a 500k surplus year. There does not seem to be a reason to act so suddenly for these changes. Well, unless you take into account the March 31st deadline for announcing layoffs.]

The layoffs will take place in programs with declined enrollment. Lo, and behold, one of those programs is the Graduate Theology Online Ed Program, which declined because of a bad partnership that Alexander took responsibility for. 

How does Alexander make right his mistake? By firing someone from the program he wounded. Alexander made a decision about marketing for the Graduate Theology program that cost the school 1.2 million. In order to make up that money in a new plan, he fires a professor from a department that he hurt. Alexander made a mistake and hurt the religion department, and he declared that the religion faculty will pay the price for his mistake.

Linking it to Oord

The question on so many people’s minds is “Why Oord?” He was a tenured faculty and one of the most senior members of the Religion Department. In my opinion, Alexander’s repeated attempts to remove Oord from his positions over the last two years is telling. But Oord is not the only one who will suffer in this calamity. The Graduate Theology Online Education Program is an associate member of the ATS. The decline in enrollment and the removal of a faculty member hurts the viability of the program and endangers its accreditation. NNU’s Board of Trustees has charged every program to grow 10% a year. It will be very difficult for programs like the Graduate Theology Online Ed Program to be successful when it is being doubly wounded by leadership from this President.