Why is Tom Oord getting fired?

Photo by Brandon Hill Photography
Photo by Brandon Hill Photography

Look, I have no idea why my former systematics professor is getting fired. 

Apparently, Dr. Tom Oord received an email from Northwest Nazarene University’s administration during vacation/holy week, notifying him that he’s out of a job come the end of the semester. On Maundy Thursday, I received an invite to a Facebook group that was sharing information and support for Oord. In one week, over a thousand people joined that group, people have given over $1500 to support Oord, college students have organized protests marked by hash tags and redshirts, wikipedia pages have been developed, fact sheets have been disseminated, the administration has emailed pastors in hopes of clearing things up, and a Q & A session has been set up for students on campus.

But still, no one knows why Oord is being canned. 

Well, I guess someone knows, but none of us do.


The Reasons Given

At first, we heard that the reasons were financial. But there’s problems with that. You can’t just fire a tenured professor without several intermediate steps being taken (section 4.28). There’s also been plenty of cheer about NNU’s recent financial successes. So the financial explanation wasn’t adding up.

Then it came out in President David Alexander’s email that money was being shifted around. In order to accommodate raises, deferred maintenances, and better recruitment programs, 6 people were to be laid off–2 faculty and 4 staff members. The faculty layoffs were determined by enrollment decreases in specific programs. These programs are in graduate theological and counseling areas.

So that’s why Oord is being fired, right? Enrollment in his department is down?

Well, no one really believes that. And that’s the problem.


Attacks on Oord

In 2013, Pres. Alexander and Intermountain District Superintendent Dr. Stephen Borger asked Dr. Tom Oord to respond to 70 questions about his theology–in order to stay in good standing with the church and the university (none of the questions had anything to do with evolution, as this article implies). He wrote an 80 page paper in response to these questions, and after being interviewed by Nazarene theologians (Dr. H. Ray Dunning and former General Superintendent, Dr. Jesse Middendorf), Dr. Oord’s thoughts were found to be within the limits of Wesleyan theology.

The next summer, Oord was threatened with a heresy trial. This threat would go away if Oord simply resigned. Oord did not, unsure if he would resume his classes in the fall of 2014. Alexander and Borger balked, and Oord resumed teaching in the fall of 2014.

This investigation into Oord’s theology and this heresy trial threat were seen as obvious efforts to remove Oord. Efforts that failed. So when Pres. Alexander unilaterally fires Oord in this “banner year,” no one is buying what he says.

If Alexander and Borger tried to go after Oord’s job last year and failed, then it seems like this firing is just a continuation of that campaign.


Alexander’s Outsourced Marketing Fiasco

Now things get really crazy. Remember, you can’t summarily terminate someone for financial reasons, but you can for a decline in enrollment (section 4.25.11.d). Lo, and behold, enrollment in the Graduate Theological Online Education program has been dropping from 146 to 106 (over some time). Yikes. Oh, but there’s more. Apparently, a few years ago Pres. Alexander moved money from the School of Theology and Christian Ministry’s marketing fund and outsourced the marketing through Capital Education–a deal and contract that was botched and cost the school over a million dollars and (wait for it) a decline in enrollment in Dr. Oord’s department. I mean, it kind of looks like Alexander messed up, hurt enrollment for the religion department, and, as a result, created a situation where he could fire Oord easily.

It looks that way. If Alexander wanted Oord gone, then best case scenario: Alexander got lucky in this marketing snafu and got a way to eliminate Oord.


The Oord/Alexander Relationship

Did Alexander want Oord gone? I don’t know. I’m not a part of the campus community. From a friend closer to campus, it was common knowledge that Alexander distrusted/disliked Oord. Another person noted that last year Alexander told Oord, “I’m tired of defending you.”

It seems like Alexander wanted Oord gone at any cost.

It seems that way? Uh, I guess I should add in at this point that (last year, again) Oord was asked the price it would take to make him resign. Oord gave a number that was scoffed at.

Okay, so, definitely, Alexander wanted Oord gone at (almost) any cost. 

This is why no one knows why Oord is being fired. The only person who knows why Oord is getting fired is too deeply involved in multiple attempts at his termination. Any legitimate reason Alexander offers for dismissing Oord will not be trusted by the community.

What a mess.


Without Trust, We Can’t Have Truth

Maybe there is a legitimate reason for letting Oord go, but faith in Alexander is lost. From the theology investigation, to the heresy trial threat, to the botched religion dept. marketing deal, not much of what Alexander says about this is going to be believed. Let me also say that this has nothing to do with Alexander’s competency, faith, or character. He’s just in too deep because of these past attempts. Alexander knows why Tom was fired, but no one will believe him, now.

What does this mean for a college community? What does it mean for a church community?

How does a community move forward when confidence in such a prominent leader is shaken?

I don’t know. I don’t know why Tom was fired. I knew him as a professor. We butted heads. I knew his passion for dialogue with science. I knew his passion for the Church of the Nazarene.


Your Turn

Let me know what you think. What did I get wrong? Is trust in this leader irreparably lost? Can we have truth without trust?

#SupportTomOord #IPlanToLiveALifeOfLove

  • Ryan Harter

    Thanks for taking the time to put the pieces together, Rick. This is really helpful.

  • http://lauralyonscounseling.com/ Laura Lyons

    Ric, I appreciate your post that emphasizes one of the main dynamics in this situation–the depletion of trust in Dr. Alexander’s current explanations given his past behaviors of challenging Dr. Oord. Injustices, unfairness, and not taking responsibility (or not being truthful) deplete trust. And rebuilding trust is crucial for ongoing relationships. I wonder what it would take for Dr. Alexander to rebuild trust in this context. It makes sense to me that people are asking for transparency and openness. Those things seem necessary for accountability and responsibility-taking to occur, and for trust to grow so that repair and restoration can happen.

  • PVOBrien

    Your narrative and perspective is honest and well documented but the “Another person noted that last year Alexander told Oord, “I’m tired of defending you.” is a weak statement. Mostly because I *really* want that to be so true and verifiable, because I want to know that there is someone who is responsible for making Alexander defend Oord, and who they are. I don’t know how the Naz universities are governed with the rest of the denomination, but I wonder if it’s that same person/group that is also responsible for the rash of other firings/terminations, as well the Nazarene publishing fiasco.

    Because there are people who need to come forward and account for this, and while President Alexander is one of them, and is key in this situation, it’s not the whole story.

    • Ric Shewell

      You’re right. Alexander has been pressured, there’s no doubt of that. Digging that far, I think, would have been beyond the scope of this post. Great comment, Paul. Thanks.

      • PVOBrien

        Yeah, beyond our reach. And while Oord’s situation is troubling, that there is a pattern emerged and continuing is even more so. (Your previous post “Why I left the CotN” touched upon much of the same bedrock issues imo.)
        I wonder how the faculty members from the other universities faired in their corners of social media :|. Oord’s social media savvy seems to have had a greater reach and awareness raising than previous firings/let-goings. That and Oord being closer to our circle of awareness/influence than the others. Cheers, Paul

  • Diane Cunningham Leclerc

    Let me just say this. If you look into the counseling department’s decline, you will also see great deception. Someone needs to focus on that as well.

  • http://sacramentalnazarenes.blogspot.com Brannon Hancock

    I’d believe Alexander if he simply said, “I want rid of Oord because I don’t like him,” (although that’s hard to believe because Tom’s the kind of nice guy it’s nearly impossible to not like), and/or “I want rid of him because he’s controversial and it’s a nuisance dealing with his detractors.” Those are two explanations I would believe, if they were offered.

  • Carla Ward

    I’m not a writer, pastor, or even a college graduate, but I appreciate the opportunity to speak. I have not spoken to anyone about the issues at NNU and know little of the details, but I know Dr. Steve Borger well and have known him and his wife for a number of years. I would never believe Dr. Borger to “try to go after Oord’s job.” That would never fit Steve Borger. He is a man of “caution” when it comes to making important decisions, fully researching and studying all aspects and taking considerable time in praying and thinking through decisions. “If” he was involved in this process in any way, then it certainly would have been a thorough process. Steve Borger is “trustworthy.” Integrity and trustworthiness shine through, even in small things. One of his and his wife’s mottos is, “If I wouldn’t pay for this meal myself, I certainly wouldn’t want the church to pay for this meal,” and they either split the meal or find another alternative for a work meal. He cares deeply for doing what’s right, and lives his everyday life that way. From experience, I trust Dr. Borger and he earned my trust.

  • Andy Yue

    Very insightful article, I like this a lot. However, I think if Alexander, as an university president, decided to fire one of the best professors in the university simply because of personal preference, I think something is clearly wrong with this man’s character, and I personally find no reason to be overly moderate about this.

  • Tava Erickson

    Ric I’m greatful for your article and the information you bring. I have been shocked, saddened and disappointed in my alma mater and the politics…almost the same politics that broke my heart multiple times in my life and unfortunately left me wounded and without a home. Dr. Oord deserves better. Dr.Oords theology astounded me and I remember thinking in one of our classes with him that he was brilliant because he didn’t believe God in a box..and that it was ok? He asked the questions that opened my own theological heart, broke them into pieces and allowed me to start asking questions, to think of God as so much bigger. What is love without God? Dr. Oords views and teachings aloud me to strengthen my faith in God to where it doesn’t falter. To love the Church because the Church is God. But it frustrates me to know that the church doesn’t want, believe, love God as God without the box. It frustrates me to know that the church needs God in a box and are fearful to stray outside of it. The church should ask questions and I’m pleased to know that students, faculty and former students are asking questions…Dr. Oord was good at teaching us that…I agree with the posts below that trust was broken. You’ve been asking good questions Ric, keep it up:-)

  • Stephen j

    I believe the Nazarene Church as a religious unit is in danger of implding.

  • AC Swan

    Hi Rick
    Like in the letters to Timothy St Paul have given some guide lines as to how these matters be addressed
    Even our Savior Jesus gave clear commandment to this effect :’A new commandment I give to you…….”
    There is an old German saying: ” As man does so is he”
    Where is the love from our Lord Jesus in these actions of people?
    Is there the no regard for the processes that was established with Christian brotherly love so long ago?
    Maybe the people concerned should consider how their actions contribute to the pain of our Lord Jesus.
    For if we can not reconcile (70X7) How can we even pray:” Father forgive us our sins as ……”
    As I am not a member of any church maybe I should keep out but when the people we regard as fellow Christians do things that shame and hurt my Heavenly Father I have to remember the Prime Directive so aptly put in Mathew 22:37-40 That is what Christianity is all about at the very basics

  • John W

    Thank goodness he’s gone! Such a dangerous “Atheist Christian”.