What is a college president to do? At conservative religious colleges, leaders are in a real pickle. Hosting faculty with unpopular beliefs could lead to a loss of tuition dollars. Getting rid of them could lead to charges of dictatorial ambition. At Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, President David Alexander fired Thomas Jay Oord. Now Alexander has to deal with the consequences.
First, some background. According to Christianity Today, Alexander’s administration claims that the firing was due to financial straits. Professor Oord taught theology for a decade at the college and had earned a reputation for teaching evolution and “open theology.”
The faculty senate at NNU has protested the administration’s move. The school’s financial future is rosy, according to the faculty. Oord’s firing, they say, is more about reputation than budget.
As at many other conservative religious colleges, that reputation can be difficult to protect. As we’ve discussed in these pages, college leaders face intense pressure to remain orthodox. Parents and alumni control the pursestrings. Such folks can be ferocious defenders of traditional values.
School leaders are forced not only to keep teaching orthodox, but to avoid any appearance of liberalism. If a professor like Oord becomes well known for favoring theistic evolution, it can tarnish the creationist reputation of a college. Parents will send their creationist children elsewhere. Alumni will keep their money.