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Report to the Board of Trustees, June 2019

Wednesday, September 04, 2019 11:23 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

NIA Report

 David Durant

President, NOLS Instructor Association

June 2019

NIA Mission

To communicate and advocate instructor views, and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school’s mission and values.

Welcome to the Adirondacks 

On behalf of the NIA and all NOLS Instructors, I’d like to warmly welcome our Trustees to the Adirondacks.  Having attended a summer camp in Adirondack Park from the age of nine, this place occupies a special space in my heart.  The Adirondacks were the backdrop for all of my formative wilderness experiences.  This is the first place I carried a backpack, set up a tent, caught a fish, and felt awed in the presence of nature, whether that was looking out from the summit of a high peak or tolerating the adversity of a spectacular summer thunderstorm.  It was as a 16 year old camper in the Adirondacks that I first heard about NOLS, and it was to the Adirondacks that I returned after my NOLS student experience in Patagonia, feeling empowered to step forward and run the counselor-in-training program at the camp I had attended.

I firmly believe that Adirondack Park is a perfect setting for NOLS courses, and that NOLS is the perfect program for the Adirondacks.  I was excited when our base here opened, and have been overjoyed to watch the program grow.  I am disappointed that I won’t have the chance to interact directly with all of you in Gabriels, but this disappointment is tempered by how thrilled I am to be instructing the classic NOLS Northeast Course, ADK 6/20/19, a two week adventure course. 

My departure for the field just a few days before the summer Trustees’ Meeting is indicative of a larger phenomenon at the NIA.  Just as NOLS is ramping up for its busiest season, the NIA is preparing for our annual period of relative quiet.  Of our 11 current Directors, nine are active field instructors who will spend most, if not all, of the next two months far from the website, Facebook Group, and Google Hangouts that have become some of the main tools we use to communicate with our constituents and advocate for positive change at the school.  The tenth director will keep busy instructing nearly back-to-back Wilderness First Responder courses.  

Of course we treasure our time with students and co-instructors, away from all of the screens and immersed in the mountains and rivers.  But we also know that we’ll return in August to a mountain of NIA-related tasks that need tackled.  Given the time of year, I’d like to use the opportunity that this report presents to familiarize all of you with the NIA’s Platform.  The full text of all of our Platform Planks is, of course, always available at nolsinstrcutorassociation.org

THE NIA Platform

The NIA Platform reflects our stances on key selected issues at the School.  Platform planks are drafted by NIA members and adopted by the NIA Board.  They are written to reflect the thinking of our voting membership. Our positions are dynamic; they're revised as situations at the school change. 

Faculty Engagement

A fundamental part of the mission of the NIA is to help guide NOLS from the faculty perspective. We believe that instructors are the primary bearers of the NOLS mission through our direct work with students. From this unique role, working faculty have an essential perspective on school-wide decisions. Our goal is to further integrate this perspective into the work of the NOLS administration.  Current work and future goals in this area include, but are not limited to:

  • The inclusion of faculty on all committees making major decisions at NOLS, from the BoT and ET to headquarters departments and branch operations. 
  • Direct involvement of faculty, at minimum on a consultative basis, at the time of the selection of any new ET member.
  • A seat at the table for the NIA President or their surrogate at all Board of Trustees meetings.  As of May 2019 a petition calling for the reinstatement of a permanent NIA seat at Trustees’ meetings has garnered over 120 signatures from current NOLS employees. 

Advocacy for In-town Employees

The NIA recognizes the essential role that in-town employees play in supporting excellence on all NOLS courses. Students and instructors alike benefit from stable, well-trained and well-compensated support staff.  We recommend NOLS:

  • Create a system for recognizing hours worked in-town with field weeks. This will allow Expedition faculty who take in-town positions to continue to build seniority and will ease transitions from in-town back to the field and back again, resulting in longer, more sustainable careers and more experienced staff.
  • Increase transparency of by including the level (C, D, E, etc.) and pay range for each job when it is posted.
  • Make in-town job schedules more flexible so that Expedition faculty are able to have stable work while continuing to work in the field.

Advocacy for Wilderness Medicine Instructors

The NIA has represented Wilderness Medicine instructors since August 2014.  On behalf of these constituents, we advocate for NOLS Wilderness Medicine to be treated as a full pillar partner, on equal footing with NOLS Expeditions, as well as for specific changes in how Wilderness Medicine Instructors are staffed, paid, and reimbursed.  These changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Wilderness Medicine Faculty who take the Professional Instructor Course should be awarded ROPE weeks for their time already spent teaching NOLS Wilderness Medicine courses at a 1:1 ratio.
  • Wilderness Medicine Instructors should be paid on the last payday before the end of their contract, as Expedition Instructors are.
  • The NIA advocates for closing the wage gap between Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Instructors.  This should be accomplished by annual raises in Expedition pay that outpace future raises in Wilderness Medicine pay.  Among other desirable outcomes, this will create a greater breadth of realistic work opportunities for Wilderness Medicine Instructors within NOLS.

Instructor Pay

The NIA applauds the budgetary efforts that resulted in major compensation increases during the last strategic plan, and calls for a stated long-term goal of a living wage for all employees and a middle-class income for senior faculty and staff, without reference to the low comparables in U.S. outdoor education. Faculty would feel deeply valued and supported by the school’s adopting an aggressive goal in this area, even if that goal may not be met for many years.

Expedition Instructor Travel Reimbursement

The NIA supports a long-term goal of reimbursing 100% of average travel costs for all Expedition instructors. In addition, we recommend paying faculty members half their daily wage for all travel days, providing a per diem rate for food, and providing a per diem hotel rate for all overnight layovers. We also recommend creating an electronic system through which TEJs and receipts are processed for reimbursements.

International Expedition Pay

The CTF has announced that come September 1st, 2015 all international field instructor pay scales will be adjusted to annual exchange rates. These wages will be re-evaluated every January 1st. It was reaffirming to see the CTF’s solution fall in line with the drafted solutions written by the NIA as well as both Chilean and Indian Instructors.


The NIA advocates for the staffing of proctors on all semesters with I-teams larger than two, and whenever possible on two person I-teams. We applaud the NOLS Administration and Board of Trustees for approving a budget in June of 2014 that includes a return to I-level wages for proctors to aid one section per semester. We believe that this NIA's efforts to keep this issue in the spotlight since 2008 were integral to this victory.   

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