Educators Question Nau's Future

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Dr. Thomas Stultz was just the messenger.

As an employee of IBM for 30 years, Stultz, now a math teacher at Payson Center for Success, had the computer savvy and resources to act as the local education community's informal liaison. He kept in frequent contact, via e-mail, with many of Payson's educators.

And so, it happened three weeks ago, that Stultz received a missive from Dr. Gary Moore. In the e-mail, Moore explained that he'd been laid off as Northern Arizona University's part-time program coordinator in Payson.

Stultz rejected the written reason, "to consolidate operations with low enrollment," for Moore's lay off.

"What do they mean by low enrollment?" Stultz asked. "We're over there taking classes all the time. We have more enrollment every semester."

Fred Hurst, dean for NAU's distance learning program, said Moore's dismissal was a result of more than low enrollment.

"More and more what we're trying to do is get away from part-time advisers," Hurst said. "And what we've done, as the opportunities have come along, is we've eliminated the part-time positions. We want people to know this is no reflection on the Payson community."

Stultz argued that NAU could end up regretting the decision to eliminate Moore's coordinator position.

"Opening an office door signifies an investment, and NAU has no investment in our community any more," Stultz said. "To draw people to an NAU class, students need someone to talk to face to face."

Kristi Kisler's college days have been anything but a hazy memory of frat parties, spring breaks in Mexico and lecture halls filled with hundreds of semi-conscious coeds soaking in Psych 101.

If anything, Kisler, in her 40s and starting a teaching career, will remember the challenges of juggling a 40-hour work week, raising her son and taking a full load of classes at night. She'll also remember the frustration of the interactive television system that substituted as many of her professors.

Many of the 34 students attending NAU's distance learning program at Gila Community College felt frustrated and left out in the cold after Moore was laid off in late January.

"His biggest asset is his ability to fight for us," said Kisler whose goal is to earn a doctorate in education.

"The classes have been good," fellow classmate Dean Cronin said. "But that's because Dr. Moore's been there to make sure we have the classes."

Jennifer Thomason, who's finishing her bachelor's degree in education, said as an older student, she's more focused, but still needs support navigating the responsibilities of a busy life while she improves her options through education.

Kisler provided a case in point. She started NAU's education program in the fall of 2004. By 2007, if she stays on track with her full class load, she'll be student teaching. Without Moore acting as the liaison, Kisler said she'll be lucky to get half the classes she needs a semester, thereby falling short of her career and educational goals.

And at nearly $4,000 a term just for tuition, Kisler also worries about her financial aid being docked for not taking a full class load per semester.

Meanwhile, Hurst said the university has invested in a centralized advising system, called the Distance Learning Service Center, which is in place to answer general questions about financial aid and degree requirements.

The center is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Students can call into the center with a toll-free number or they can e-mail an adviser. Students needing off-hour advising can make appointments.

Besides, Hurst said, the onus of academic advising should fall on a particular department, especially as a student closes in on his or her bachelor's degree or undertakes a master's program. Then, Hurst said, advising becomes more specialized, more about mentoring, and more about partnering with a faculty member.

"There needs to be a connection to the faculty," he said.

Except, there is no full-time faculty member at the Payson campus. Most classes are on interactive television or conducted online.

"I think there will be lower enrollment because people like hands on," Stultz said. "Gary (Moore) was very hands on and he needed to be that way because of the community."

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