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Students Band Together for Dr. Carla

Over 350 BSU students signed a petition to save Dr. Carla Norris-Raynbird's job. Photo by Patrick Rudlang

Alex Schlee | Staff Writer | 2-13-2012

Budget cuts have caused the shrinkage of many departments recently at BSU.  Many classes have disappeared, and several professors have suddenly found themselves without jobs.

One such professor is Dr. Carla Norris-Raynbird, a sociology professor who has been teaching at BSU for six years.  She is highly regarded in her field, and has done research on disasters around the time of hurricane Katrina, when she was staying in  New Orleans studying sociology amongst sea fishermen.

Dr. Norris-Raynbird’s position was a part of BSU’s recent budget cuts, leaving her without a place at the university anymore.

“She didn’t have tenure when the axe fell,” said 3rd-year sociology major Cody Gunsalus, a student very close to the professor.

Dr. Norris-Raynbird was actually granted tenure shortly after her position was eliminated.  Her job was not reinstated, however, as she was already listed by the administration to be cut from the curriculum.  She was granted one more year on BSU’s faculty, but will still be cut regardless.

There was some confusion amongst other faculty members regarding her tenure; some thought that because she was granted tenure, her job was safe, but in fact it was more of an honorary gesture on the part of the administration.

“In all fairness, it was honorable of them to acknowledge the work I’ve done here,” said Dr. Norris-Raynbird.

There are many who hate to see Dr. Norris-Raynbird go, such as Cody Gunsalus, who has been passing a petition around campus in an effort to save her job.  Gunsalus has been studying sociology in many of Dr. Norris-Raynbird’s classes for three years and has come to respect her greatly.  Over half of his classes have been under Dr. Norris-Raynbird’s instruction.

“She deserves every ounce of respect she asks for, even though in a larger class setting, that can be hard,” said Gunsalus, acknowledging that there are some students who don’t see Dr. Norris-Raynbird quite in the same light as him while insisting that this was probably due to only interacting with her in larger lecture classes.  It was in her smaller, more personal classes where Gunsalus came to know and respect Dr. Norris-Raynbird.

With a force of 358 signatures in total behind his petition, Gunsalus has recently presented his case to the student senate.  He needed a minimum of 75 signatures for the petition to be considered valid, and anywhere between 300-500 counts as an automatic push through in the senate.  Gunsalus acquired these signatures alone over the course of a week-and-a-half.

Reception of the petition amongst other students was overall positive; many were more than happy to help by giving their signature.  Students who have taken Dr. Norris-Raynbird’s classes were just as enthusiastic about it as Gunsalus.  On his first day of passing around the petition, he gained 50 signatures.

“There were some people taking her smaller classes who not only signed it, but told their entire table to sign too,” said Gunsalus.

Dr. Norris-Raynbird is a valued member of the BSU community.  Some of her classes require up to seven hours of community service, which some would argue helps to bring many BSU students and Bemidji community members closer together.  She is also on multiple boards on campus, and is at the head of organizing Student Achievement Day.

“It is a slap in the face to this institution to be ignoring, arguably, one of its best teachers like this,” said Gunsalus.

Dr. Norris-Raynbird teaches a sizable number of classes in the sociology department.  The department has been greatly narrowed by budget cuts, leaving no place for many of the courses she teaches, several of which were still being developed.

Dr. Norris-Raynbird understands why her position was cut, but feels it may have been a hasty, under-thought decision on the part of the administration.  The decision to keep or eliminate her job is based on the value of her teaching and service to the university.

“I don’t think this was taken into consideration,” she said.

Gunsalus first came to Dr. Norris-Raynbird to inform her of the petition around three weeks ago.  At the time she didn’t have much to say on the matter, not knowing the steam the movement would pick up in the weeks to come.

“All she said was ‘that’s so sweet’. . .That was the first time I’ve ever heard only three words come out of her mouth,” Gunsalus jokingly said.

“He mentioned it to me. . . I didn’t know it would follow through though,” said Dr. Norris-Raynbird.

Dr. Norris-Raynbird has admittedly not followed the progress of the petition very closely, and has heard more of it from the administration than from the students fueling the effort.  She hasn’t followed it closely because she doesn’t feel that she should, though it still means a lot to her.

“I feel blessed that students have banded together to support me,” she said.  “[But] it’s in the hands of the students and should succeed or fail on its own merits.”

As of right now, Dr. Norris-Raynbird has no real plans for if the petition does not work to save her job.  She is sure she can find a job somewhere, but she has yet to find one that really suits her.  Few universities take professors that already have tenure.

“It’s my preference to stay here.  I’m very invested in this school and the community,” said Dr. Norris-Raynbird.  “The thought of leaving is breaking my heart.”

The petition has been handed in now and the effort to save Dr. Norris-Raynbird’s job is nearing the moment of truth.  Gunsalus plans to take a list of the professor’s accomplishments and contributions to the university to BSU Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert Griggs to be reviewed in a cabinet meeting.  He will also be taking a group of 6-10 individuals to speak with President Hanson to discuss why Dr. Norris-Raynbird should stay at BSU.

“I’m doing this partly for Dr. Carla,” said Gunsalus, casually referring to Norris-Raynbird by her first name.  “But mostly I’m doing it for future students. . . hopefully they will be as inspired by her as I was.”