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Christian College President Quits After Attempted Layoff of Pro-Evolution Professor

(UPDATED) Trustees stand by decision to drop Tom Oord.
Christian College President Quits After Attempted Layoff of Pro-Evolution Professor
Image: Nazarene.org
NNU President David Alexander

Update (June 29): A longtime theology professor at Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) will lose his job after all.

On Friday, the school’s board of trustees announced that it was standing by its decision to lay off Thomas Oord.

Oord will be allowed to teach part-time at the Idaho school’s online program for graduate theology for up to three years, before he is terminated.

“The Board acknowledges that the process of decision-making related to the Administrative Action raises legitimate concerns,” it said in a statement. “The lack of full engagement of faculty department leaders and the issue of timing (e.g., how quickly the administrative action occurred) are important. The Board acknowledges that the short time frame (that may in part be attributable to the Board’s actions taken in its March 2015 meeting) likely contributed to the lack of full engagement.”

Oord clashed with the school’s former president over his views about evolution and open theism.

Following the board’s announcement, Oord addressed his firing publicly for the first time.

“In the past 15 or so years that I have been a professor at Church of the Nazarene education institutions, I have not been afraid to tackle the challenging questions of life,” he wrote on his blog. “And I have not been afraid to do so in public or in the academy. In fact, I saw my calling to speak both to scholars and to laity in the church, a dual calling somewhat rare among academically trained theologians.”

Oord had hoped to be reinstated. He thanked NNU’s students and his colleagues for their efforts to support them.

“Christian universities have always wrestled with questions of academic freedom,” he wrote. “I hope my situation will be used as a tool to teach Christians that the Church must support its brightest scholars.... My colleagues at NNU and the leadership must work now to shore up the university’s commitment to academic freedom.”


Update (May 14): Evolution was not the only issue that led to the attempted firing of Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) theology professor Tom Oord, says a biology professor at the Idaho Christian school.

Jennifer Chase said that no NNU administrators have criticized the biology or chemistry department regarding its perspectives on evolution.

“I think that it is too easy to find the simple (evolution) story that fits with others who have faced censure,” Chase wrote in an email to CT. “Even in those situations, I think there is a more important and subtle story: the expansion of orthodoxy far beyond creeds or even the official statements of denominations to be ‘everything that I believe is the exact right set of requirements for the title Christian.’”

A disagreement over doctrine was at the heart of Oord’s dismissal, said Chase. That included his views on open theology.

“Dr. Oord’s use of process theology, views on creatio ex nihilo, non-coercive love vs. holy love—a big deal in the Church of the Nazarene—seem to be the worst offenses,” she wrote.

These details are not addressed in the Church of the Nazarene’s Articles of Faith. That led Chase to argue that they should not have affected Oord’s employment.

“When brought out into the light of broader Christian traditions and views, they seem like minutia,” wrote Chase.

It is unclear whether Oord’s position on evolution as a theology professor played a role in his clashes with the school's outgoing president. Oord was unavailable for comment.


The embattled president of a Christian college in Idaho has resigned following a campus crisis caused by the attempted layoff of a popular, pro-evolution tenured faculty member.

President David Alexander of Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) and the school’s board of trustees announced the move Tuesday. It comes a few weeks after three-quarters of the faculty voted that they had no confidence in him.

“University leadership provides a rare opportunity; to engage with students, faculty, university staff, alumni, and friends is extraordinary,” Alexander, who served as NNU's president for seven years, said in a statement. “Yet there comes a point when a leader realizes the organization needs new guidance.”

In early March, Alexander seemed poised for long-term success. The board of trustees renewed his four-year contract, citing NNU’s record enrollment and robust finances.

Not long afterward, Alexander announced that budget cuts and layoffs were needed. Among the planned layoffs was tenured theology professor Tom Oord. Alexander had previously clashed with Oord, who supports evolution and open theology, over matters of belief.

Oord was notified of his layoff by email in March while on break. Their clash is part of an ongoing dispute within the Church of the Nazarene, CT has previously reported.

Supporters of Oord claimed he was targeted for his beliefs and teaching rather than finances, citing record attendance at NNU and the school’s overall financial health.

That led to the faculty vote of no-confidence.

Following the faculty vote, Alexander apologized for failing to create a “culture of collaboration across the faculty with the administration.”

“I confess, I will have to break old habits. You know I’m a hard charger,” he wrote in an email to faculty.

Randy Cracker, who chairs the board of trustees, had previously defended Alexander and the layoffs.

“We are in a place where decisions have been made, policy has been followed, and now we must find ways to live into the new reality,” Cracker wrote in a letter to NNU employees. "Those steps must be taken by all. I commit to work with our president and the board to ensure our future. I invite the campus community to work redemptively with us.”

Alexander’s resignation is effective at the end of the month.

Joel Pearsall, NNU’s vice president of university advancement, will serve as interim president. The son of former NNU president Kenneth Pearsall, he may lead the small Christian university for up to two years, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Alexander’s unexpected departure caught the campus off guard.

"The general tone has been one of surprise," Stacey Berggren, the school’s vice-president for enrollment and marketing, told a local television station.

Oord’s future at the school remains undecided.

His layoff is currently on hold as a committee appointed by the trustees reviews the budget cuts. Their work is continuing “according to the original schedule,” Cracker said in a statement.

Oord will be allowed to teach this summer.

CT frequently covers Christian higher education and has previously reported on the proposed layoffs at NNU, Bryan College’s faculty’s “no-confidence” vote in its president over Adam and Eve, and a Kenucky Baptist Convention investigation into rumors that a Campbellsville University professor was dismissed for being “too conservative” in his theology.

[Image courtesy of Nazarene.org]

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