By BOB ANEZ/Associated Press Writer
KALISPELL - Students, unhappy with their treatment in the nursing program at Montana State University-Northern, got a bit of relief Thursday from the state Board of Regents.
The board told Northern officials to give the complaining students more time to challenge decisions and grades that they said have jeopardized their careers.
But regents also told students to use the established appeals system in the Montana university system and at the Havre campus for any further gripes. Don't return to the board unless that process is exhausted without satisfaction, they said.
The regents should not get involved at this point in deciding who's right or wrong in the student-faculty dispute, said John Mercer, regent from Polson.
The board ultimately may have to make the ruling but, for now, ''we can't get into the business of trying the case,'' he said.
Both sides seemed satisfied with the regents' position.
''I'm glad that they decided to have the policies already in place be followed,'' said Trish Goudie, Northern's nursing dean. ''The policies are there for a reason.''
Katie Knapstad, a nursing student from Missoula, said the board has ensured that her and other disgruntled students will be heard.
''It makes Northern take responsibility for their actions,'' she said. ''It would be jumping to conclusions to decide now.''
This was the second consecutive meeting in which the regents heard complaints about the nursing program.
Several students and parents criticized the operation at the May meeting, saying a high failure rate among students was a result of unfair policies adopted by the dean and some instructors.
Critics called it alarming that 20 of 49 students failed to graduate this spring in the two-year program. The board ordered an investigation.
On Thursday, some students said they were unfairly being denied readmission to the program and asked the regents to intercede.
Northern officials have defended the program as following all the required policies and procedures. They said students were just unhappy that the program raised its grading standards.
Roger Barber, Northern provost, said the school responded to the concerns voiced in May.
Of the 20 affected students, four have been given their degrees. One of them successfully challenged her grade and three passed a second final exam, he said.
Eleven others were permitted to return and will be allowed to retake courses they failed. Five students were denied readmission because they had failed two classes, Barber said.
It was that latter group that drew attention Thursday.
Students said Northern's handbook for nursing students prohibits reinstatement only when more than two courses are failed. The students said they didn't fall in that category and had retaken one failed class and passed.
Goudie acknowledged the policy on readmission applies only to students with three failed courses, but said that is an oversight. The provision should have been updated to allow just two failed classes, she said.
Alex Capdeville, Northern chancellor, said the school has attempted since May to accommodate the students' concerns and plans to hire an outside consultant to review the nursing program and recommend changes.
Students who fail courses cannot be allowed to repeatedly try again because other students are waiting for class openings in the high-demand field, he said.
Barber said Northern, while addressing student complaints, still must make sure its program graduates students capable of passing the nurse license exam and becoming successful nurses.
Goudie, who insisted she and her staff have worked hard to help students succeed, said the decision to appeal directly to the regents has resulted in academic policies being overridden.
''Northern has lost control of its programs,'' she told the board.
The regents had mixed reactions.
Richard Roehm of Bozeman said the board cannot ignore the intense criticism of the program.
''You've got to appreciate the position the board is in,'' he said. ''There's enough smoke here that there's got to be a little fire.''
But Chairman Ed Jasmin of Bigfork agreed with the Mercer that the regents ought to drop the matter for now.
''It's a campus issue,'' he said. ''I'm not sure we want to get into it anytime there's a dispute between students and faculty.''