Tenured theologian who supports evolution loses his position

Colleagues worry if they are next

A religious university may be ousting one tenured professor for supporting evolution or for declining enrollments in his field—but both explanations have other scholars at religiously affiliated institutions concerned.

Thomas Jay Oord is a well-known, if controversial, figure among Nazarene scholars. He has published several books and articles discussing how Christians can simultaneously support their faith and evolution, writes Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed. This has attracted criticism from those who support a more traditionalist faith.

According to a colleague speaking on Oord's behalf, Northwestern Nazarene University (NNU) recently told Oord that his position had been eliminated. An NNU official confirmed that one professorship in the theology department had been cut because of lower enrollment, but would not say whether it was Oord's position. However, she did say that NNU was "financially strong" overall.

Supporters have rallies around Oord, creating two Facebook groups, "Support Tom Oord" and "Defending Top Oord," in addition to a Twitter hashtag, #supporttomoord.

Supporters tweeted messages supporting the academic freedom of Oord, such as "Education at the university level should challenge us."

Beyond academic freedom, many supporters expressed concern about what the move suggests about NNU's priorities and the security of tenured professors. Kevin Timpe, a colleague of Oord's, pointed out that Oord was a model academic. He had prominent publications, tenured status, and a history of securing grants. Now, "many faculty worry that similar measures could be taken against them in the future," says Timpe.

"I heard a 20-plus year faculty [member] express the worry that 'our tenure is now meaningless,'" he adds (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 4/9).

The takeaway: A tenured theology professor could be losing his job at a religious university because he supports evolution or because of declining enrollments in theology. Either way, colleagues have rallied around him and criticized the university's decision.

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