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