Northern works on nursing program problem


October 14, 2013

The nursing department at Montana State University-Northern is stretched thin, but may be seeing a lessening of its heavy workloads soon depending on the chancellor and council’s decision.

Chancellor Jim Limbaugh has asked the nursing faculty to put together a staffing plan to find out what the next step is in maintaining the integrity of the nursing program.

“We will address this situation as educators to decide how to move forward,” Limbaugh said. He added that he needed to know what courses needed teaching, what specialties are needed in new hires and other factors before he and his council move forward.

The nursing faculty met from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to brainstorm and begin drawing up three plans as to how to remedy the situation at the department.

Lisa O’Neil, the director of the university’s nursing program, said the plans are ranked from the best way to put a stop to the work situation being Plan A, how to make the program work with what they currently with perhaps a little assistance being Plan B and Plan C being how to prevent this from happening again in the future.

O’Neil said this is only an outline of the plans, as they were still writing them as of Thursday morning. She said the faculty hopes to have the plans submitted to Limbaugh by Friday. Afterward, Limbaugh will present the plans to the council and they would collectively decide the best plan of action.

The faculty of the nursing department are currently working above the maximum amount of hours set by the nursing union, which is 27. Lisa O’Neil, the director of the nursing department, said that many of the staff members are teaching up to 32 hours. Seven of the 11 instructors are traveling to make up for deficits in other nursing departments under the MSU flagship.

Nursing professors are not able to teach each other’s classes as freely as other departments may be able to due to the specialties required of an instructor before he or she begins teaching.

O’Neil commutes to Great Falls to teach courses, but is concerned about the upcoming weather conditions. She said they are currently working on ways that will allow her to teach the classes at Great Falls from Havre through technologies and third parties.

O’Neil is currently working 15 credit hours. As the director, she is not supposed to teach any nursing courses, but the lack of manpower in the department has her taking some of the burden off her staff.

According to Kathy Jaynes, the only nursing position available that they are making efforts to hire for is a faculty position in Lewistown, which professors from Havre are currently filling.

Efforts are underway to hire someone for an opening at the Lewistown campus, said Kathy Jaynes. Professors at the main campus in Havre are covering for that position now, she said.

Jaynes said there are discussions currently happening about filling positions in Havre, but none are currently open.

One of the problems with hiring new faculty is the salary. Jaynes said the biggest competition for nursing instructors is the medical field itself. A nurse can make a substantially higher salary if he or she chooses to stay in or pursue a career at a hospital or clinic.

Jim Potter, the director of university relations, said the school mainly hires through the Internet, on sites like, or the Chronicle of Higher Ed website. Potter said the number of hits and applications they receive through these website is substantial.

“Everyone who is looking for a college job is looking on these sites,” Potter said. “Typically, we put things on the Web and within days we start getting hits.”

When asked to address the current rumors of the program losing its accreditation, Limbaugh said there was nothing to worry about.

“Are we going to lose our accreditation? No,” Limbaugh said. “Are we in a warning zone? Yes.”

Limbaugh said that they have challenges in the program they need to address, but the program was most definitely not going to lose its accreditation.

“Not on my watch,” he said.


Reader Comments

interested writes:

In today's increasingly complex world of health care, this is NOT an area for political correctness, expediency and academia politics.It demands a true merit-based, personal responsibility focused program.In the real world, not everyone can be a Doctor, Lawyer or a Nurse.By failing to acknowledge that over-enrollment would lead to poorer instruction and less Instructor attention, the Admin. put quantity before quality. Thus, the results. Methinks I smell a RAT that's been running loose unchecked

concerned writes:

I agree, Interested. Too many students having been admitted to the program is definitely a contributing factor to the poor performance and pass rates, but again, is this the fault of the student? And how does one ever explain a pass rate of 33% at ANY academic institution? Even a 55% pass rate is nothing to be proud of when compared to nursing programs nationally. I care not to speculate or attack the academic abilities of the students. I look only at the facts presented to me.

Willy writes:

It seems that there has always been issues with the Nursing program, but Jim Limbaugh has brought it to a new low by bringing in people from his old school. Why not from Bozeman, Northern is a part of Bozeman? But he (and his wife) pretty much do what they want to.

interested writes:

I think what also has to be examined, which my CONCERNED friend refuses to acknowledge, is the fact that the Nursing Director & Faculty pleaded with the Administration (and their flunkies)that too many students were being admitted into the program for the # of Faculty that were in place. Yet, despite warnings & advice of caution, the Admin. forced the admission of these students, and students who were not ideal candidates; all so the Admin. could proclaim to the world what a great job they do.

concerned writes:

It seems to be the nursing department has many issues that need correcting. Addressing the lack of instructors within the program is a step in the right direction, but does the faculty comprehend, or did they even consider the effect their workload was going to have on the education of the students? Have the list of student concerns been addressed? And why has an instructor, who was hired this summer for the Great Falls campus, not begun to teach? Seems this would lighten Ms. O'Neil's workload.


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