Entire faculty at Dickinson State University’s nursing program resigns – InForum

DICKINSON — Dickinson State University’s (DSU) nursing program is in an unprecedented crisis as all of its full-time faculty members resigned Wednesday, citing unsustainable workloads and potential accreditation issues. This mass layoff leaves the university without any full-time nursing faculty just weeks before the fall semester begins.

The layoffs stem from ongoing disputes between the nursing faculty and Dickinson State University (DSU) administration over new credit hour production requirements introduced in

February 2024

. Faculty members argue that these requirements are unrealistic and threaten their ability to meet accreditation standards, potentially jeopardizing their professional licenses.

The DSU administration refutes claims that the nursing program’s accreditation is in jeopardy, asserting its commitment to maintaining high educational standards. While they have not disclosed specific details about solving the faculty shortage before the start of the semester, they assured that they are actively working with the North Dakota University System to find a solution.

As DSU struggles to find solutions amid an urgent need to support nursing students and maintain accreditation standards, the layoff of the entire full-time nursing faculty underscores what faculty say are critical issues at hand, requiring immediate and effective intervention to secure the future of the nursing program , its students and future health care professionals in North Dakota.

Faculty concerns, departures and challenges

Teresa Bren, a retired faculty member shared with The Dickinson Press details about the central issues regarding faculty concerns within the nursing program.

“The modified credit production formula is unattainable under the current conditions. It is unethical for me to sign a contract that I know I cannot fulfill,” Bren stressed, noting that there is insufficient time and resources to meet accreditation standards.

She cited that along with the administration’s failure to address faculty concerns, insufficient time and resources available to meet accreditation standards led to faculty resignations.

Faculty members have expressed concern for their students and emphasized their commitment to providing quality education. “Our biggest concern right now is not even us; it’s our students. Making sure they get a high quality education is our top priority, says Bren.

Despite numerous attempts at mediation, including the involvement of the North Dakota Nursing Board (NDBON) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), Bren says the administration has not resolved the faculty’s concerns or made good faith efforts to do so.

“We have raised red flags regarding non-compliance since 2022,” she explained. “They chose not only to ignore our concerns, but also to move the goalposts further away.”

In a letter dated May 17, 2024, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) informed DSU President Stephen Easton and Nursing Director Lucy Meyer that the university’s baccalaureate nursing program was granted Continuing Accreditation for Good Cause for 18 months. This status requires a follow-up report six weeks prior to a visit currently scheduled for spring 2025. The purpose of the visit is to determine compliance with accreditation standards.

ACEN’s Good Cause probationary period is linked to the administrative role of Nursing Program Director. However, faculty members warned that the modified credit hour production formula, which has not yet been flagged by accreditors, also poses significant accreditation risks.

Bren highlighted the administration’s unrealistic credit hour calculations for clinical courses, which she believes are contrary to the practical needs of nursing education, which require more guided teaching and smaller student groups for safety and quality care.

“They have made adjustments to the management position to now be in compliance, or should be once we have reviewed with the new contract,” Bren explained. “But the story now is that there are these other areas that we worry about needing changes to maintain accreditation that they’re not addressing.”

DSU’s faculty contract mandates instructors to meet 24 credit hours and 320 modified credit production hours for the 2024-2025 academic year. According to the faculty, the administration’s approach does not take into account the special nature of nursing education. For example, in clinical courses, faculty provide guided instruction through clinical rotations, maintaining strict instructor-to-student ratios critical to accreditation and safety. But nursing faculty say the current policy prevents faculty from meeting contractual obligations, risking non-renewal or reduced compensation.

In June 2024, NDBON reported concerns about DSU nursing programs following changes in organizational structure, administrative support, workload, and credit hour production requirements. The report cited the limited time full-time teachers have to plan, implement, evaluate and update the program due to the heavy teaching load.

The report also noted that faculty with the heavy workload would have limited time for academic advising, clinical coordination of physician assignments, and professional development. “Without the time to support those types of activities, faculty will likely be unable to meet these demands,” the report said.

Faculty members Bren and Meyer expressed that the increased workload makes it impossible to meet contractual obligations, a concern they have raised with the administration since 2022.

The faculty highlighted that the administration’s view of credit hours for clinical courses, which limits the number of credit hours they can receive, is contrary to the practical requirements of nursing education. Clinical courses require more guided teaching and smaller student groups for safety and quality care.

According to the former faculty, DSU’s nursing program must maintain a ratio of 1 instructor per maximum of 8 students to ensure safety, as mandated by the North Dakota Board of Nursing (NDBON) and local health care facilities. Faculty contracts require instructors to complete 24 credit hours along with 320 modified credit production hours for the 2024-2025 academic year.

The administration’s credit calculation formula is better suited for classroom courses than clinical courses, which require different instructional approaches.

Additionally, in June 2024, NDBON provided a report to DSU highlighting concerns about the DSU nursing program following the changes in organizational structure, administrative support, workload, and credit hour production requirements.

The report mentions reduced administrative support for the nursing department and increased nurse administrator teaching load, leaving insufficient time for administrative tasks.

NDBON states in the report that the changes have led to accreditation issues, with ACEN identifying a lack of compliance with administrative capacity and resources.

DSU response and next steps

President Steve Easton addressed the resignations, noting that he could not comment on personnel matters but assured that efforts are underway to find new faculty and maintain the program’s accreditation.

Dr. Steve Easton, president of Dickinson State University.

Photo courtesy of Dickinson State University

“It appears that our nursing faculty has decided not to accept DSU’s contract offer for the coming year,” he said. “We are working hard to potentially identify, hopefully identify, new nursing faculty members and to work on partnerships with other North Dakota University system institutions,” he said. “I can’t tell you right now how these efforts will end, I can only say that we are actively working on these issues.”

Easton addressed the credit hour production requirements and expressed the administration’s position on following university rules.

“The nursing faculty believe, or I should say the former nursing faculty, they apparently believe that the rules that apply to the rest of the DSU faculty should not apply to them,” he said. “I’m not going to have a particular set of rules for an entire program that allows that program to produce less credit and to work less hard than faculty in other programs.”

He further clarified the administration’s position, noting his understanding that the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) does not have specific policies regarding workload.

“ACEN has no specific policies or requirements regarding workload for either the faculty or the nurse administrator,” Easton said, summarizing a position he claims was expressed by Suzette Farmer, Ph.D., RN, director of ACEN.

Easton emphasized the university’s commitment to maintaining accreditation and supporting its students.

“We are working to continue our nursing program with a faculty that cares about Dickinson State’s nursing students,” he said, noting that he personally assured students that the program remains accredited and that efforts are underway to address any issues raised.

DSU has scheduled a crucial meeting on July 19 to address these pressing issues with students. The administration will outline the steps being taken to resolve this critical situation, with just 46 days remaining until the fall semester begins on August 26.

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