NAMPA — A public outcry has grown in Nampa regarding the alleged termination of beloved — and controversial — Northwest Nazarene University faculty member Thomas Oord.
NNU President David Alexander said Tuesday six layoffs and the shifting of $1.3 million were necessary during the planning of the 2015-16 budgeting process. However, Hollie Lindner, an NNU spokeswoman, could not confirm or deny the names of the employees who would be laid off, so she could not answer specific questions regarding Oord or his employment at the university.
Now a Facebook page, called Support Tom Oord, has more than 1,300 members. The followers include NNU faculty, students, alumni and other people who claim Oord was wrongfully terminated.
Oord, an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene, is a tenured professor of theology and philosophy at NNU and teaches in the theology graduate program. In his lectures he has publicly acknowledged the theory of evolution, which to some believers does not directly tie into the beliefs of the church.
He is the author and editor of more than 20 books, according to his website thomasjayoord.com.
One book he co-edited with Sherri B. Walker is titled “Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.” The book’s self-description states, “In this collection of essays, scores of leaders and scholars in the Church of the Nazarene explore the possibility that evolution and Christian faith may not be in opposition. And they offer insights into how we might best understand and worship our Creator.”
Phil Michaels, an associate pastor of the Durand Church of the Nazarene in Durand, Mich., graduated from NNU with Oord as a teacher. He was a graduate of NNU’s School of Theology and Christian Ministry and in the Graduate Theological Online Education program.
“He cared so deeply for us as students,” Michaels said. “It was like he said ‘I will teach you some information to form us and prepare us for our lives.’ He definitely holds some of what are controversial views. He doesn’t push his views, though.
“He said to me ‘Don’t agree with me just because I say so or anything like that.’ He was pushing us to think deeply about what we believe.”
Michaels wrote a letter to Alexander in strong opposition to Oord being laid off.
“I love NNU and the institution, and I’m not attacking any individual, but I just see it as an injustice and it was not handled correctly,” he said.
A GoFundMe account in support of Oord had raised $1,660 by Thursday evening, one day after it was created. The account states donations will be used to raise awareness by wearing red T-shirts with an apparent quote from Oord saying “I plan to live a life of love.”
Supporters of the page also claim they want to purchase red tablecloths to put in the campus cafeteria, another gesture supporting Oord.
The two faculty members who were laid off came from the graduate counseling program and the graduate theology program, Alexander said Tuesday. He did not confirm the names of those people, but said those programs have seen a decrease in enrollment. The other four planned layoffs will be staff members. Those people have not been selected yet.
In the $1.3 million shift in the university’s budget, Alexander said about $400,000 will be used for employee raises and benefits, $500,000 will go to cash reserves to use for deferred maintenance and another $400,000 will be used for resources to start new programs.
Lindner sent an email Thursday evening explaining the university’s decision to move forward with the layoffs.
NNU entered into a complex process of reviewing the use of its funds, student enrollment data and competitor information, Lindner stated.
“The faculty policy manual was consulted,” she stated. “There were five faculty members who were assigned to Graduate Theology and all were senior level faculty with tenure. President Alexander sought advice he thought was necessary and made a decision of which faculty would be affected by the layoff.”
Alexander received input from the dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministries, she stated.
“The president considered legal advice from inside and outside counsel, weighed input from appropriate sources not directly implicated in the decision, evaluated and prioritized a wide array of possible criteria for choosing from among the possible faculty members, and made the decision that he believed would be in the best interest of the university,” Lindner stated.
The faculty members who were laid off were notified March 31 but will complete their responsibilities through the rest of the school year, Alexander said. Other budgeting cuts included a 5 percent decrease in university travel, closing an office leased by NNU in Twin Falls and holding the line on spending, he said.
About 70 people attended an internal meeting at NNU’s Helstrom Business Center on Tuesday to discuss the budget changes. The school did have its largest spring enrollment in its history this year. Student enrollment was at 1,987 — 60 more people than NNU had enrolled at the same time last year.