NIA Report to the Board of Trustees
Lander, October 11, 2014
David Kallgren, NIA President
Welcome to Lander. I hope we have great autumn weather for the meeting, but as I write this a month in advance it is snowing. Between the Rocky Mountain weather and Great Lakes Aviation we recognize that it's not easy for you to get here for meetings and we are very appreciative that you make the effort. This State of the School meeting is one of the best opportunities for staff, administrators and Trustees to get to know each other and celebrate this wonderful organization. With that in mind we would like to invite you to the Annual Unofficial All-Staff Party which will take place Friday night. We'll have more details when you arrive, but there will be no agenda, official or otherwise. We've all had a great time in the past, so we hope you will join us.
I will not be sitting at the table nor making a presentation during this meeting. John Gans informed me that there are questions about whether the NIA is truly representative of all staff, so representation is being reconfigured with the NIA at the table for only one meeting per year, another staff representative at one meeting and no staff representative at the October meeting. We at the NIA recognize that it is absolutely the Board's responsibility to ensure that you are getting accurate representation, but we are concerned that this format will make it harder for us to support NOLS by representing faculty viewpoints on critical issues.
The NIA was formed as a faculty organization in 1975 when communication between Administration, Faculty, and the Board of Trustees was at a historic low and NOLS was disintegrating. I believe we played a crucial role in the survival of the school by providing a unified voice and focusing on education and students rather than personalities. We are still a faculty organization today, and education and student outcomes remain our primary concern. We are the link between the field experience and the overall management of the school.
Our primary goal has never been to represent all staff, but throughout the history of NOLS the NIA has been the only group representing any kind of staff. I have mentioned before that in-town positions are very important to our members for a variety of reasons, and so we often do end up speaking for all staff. That tends to push us more towards acting as an employee union, lobbying for pay and benefits. With that in mind, we welcome your interest in better representation for in-town staff.
A membership organization cannot ignore one of the primary concerns of its members, but the NIA board decided about three years ago to downplay compensation since we had just had a major increase in very challenging times (once again, our thanks and admiration) and in order to focus on other areas. If there is someone else advocating for addressing the results of the Morehead Survey that could help us shift our focus to curriculum and planning. So far all of the Morehead Surveys have substantiated the staff positions we have represented: We love the mission, we love the people, pay has improved but is still marginal for many, and continued focus on communication between departments will pay dividends.
For the first years of my Presidency at the NIA our focus was on communication and representation. There was a gap, but by working closely with Trustees and Administration we were able to understand each other, find solutions, and make great progress. Actually, I should say that the Trustees and Administrators provided the solutions. The NIA can advocate and facilitate but we cannot make the decisions. I believe we are important and helpful, but credit should go to those responsible for making the final call. We believe the Administration is responsive to staff concerns. If we ask to be involved in broad planning discussions or identify concerns it does not mean we think anyone is doing a bad job, but doing a good job should not prevent us from seeking to do even better.
More recently the NIA focus has been on participation and membership. While I do believe the surveys show our representation of faculty has been accurate, we do want to get more instructors participating in the discussion in a more substantial way. The main thing holding us back has been the amount of time and effort required; we are after all a volunteer organization run by active NOLS instructors. Our current NIA Board members have been devoting a lot of time , skill, and energy to the cause. WMI instructors are now eligible for membership, recognizing that while we may teach "catalog" courses, WMI courses or for NOLS Pro, we are all NOLS Instructors. Our new website is coming along nicely, there have been meetings at several locations outside of Lander this summer and they have proven to be the best way to get instructors to join the conversation. We are finding they are eager to be involved. Membership is now close to 200 and our goal is to pass the 300 mark this fall.
In light of all this new energy at the NIA I have decided to step down as President after our regular election cycle this Fall. There are several NIA Board members who could do an excellent job or perhaps someone else will run and win, but I feel very confident about the future of both the NIA and NOLS. I have enjoyed and learned much from my conversations with all of you on the NOLS Board and I am very appreciative of your consideration. Now, with the NIA flourishing, is a good time for a fresh face and new energy at the table with you.
I believe this is a critical time for outdoor education. The news is full of commentary about what's wrong with our public education system. When I read these articles I am usually struck that NOLS has developed the answers and that our outdoor, experiential, alternative approach to education is a valuable and perhaps necessary complement to the Academic system. I order to position ourselves to take a lead in this discussion NOLS' administration, trustees and faculty are going to have to work together closely and be very creative. That's what the NIA is here for and that's what we want to talk about.