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Tribe weighs in on NIC's future

by HANNAH NEFF
Hagadone News Network | January 8, 2022 1:00 AM

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Count the Coeur d'Alene Tribe among North Idaho College partners who are concerned.

In a recent letter, the Tribe called on the NIC board of trustees to publicly “confirm its commitment to education and reassure their partners, community, students and faculty that North Idaho College is still a centerpiece of education.”

“The fact that accreditation status is even in question weakens the institution and places the educational future of every student in doubt,” the letter says. “This situation is unacceptable and also avoidable.”

NIC’s accreditation, while currently in good standing, is under review by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the accrediting organization for the college. A site visit is planned for Jan. 18, and the college is required to submit an ad-hoc report no later than Aug. 1 for evaluation and possible follow-up monitoring.

The site visit was sparked by a second complaint over actions of the NIC board. The NWCCU indicated in a Dec. 1 letter to the college that they'll be looking at the “demonstration of high ethical standards in governance, management, and operations, including the NIC Board of Trustees’ responsibility to ensure integrity and transparency of its deliberations and actions, ethical treatment of stakeholders and constituents, adherence to statutory requirements and institutional policies, and adherence to conflict of interest policies.”

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe said in its letter it is its “sincere hope and plea as a close partner of the College that the Trustees will right this ship by reassuring the community about its commitment to the College as a centerpiece for education and workforce development.”

At a special board meeting Wednesday night, Trustee Ken Howard said it's important to respond to the Tribe as soon as possible.

Howard said he thinks the letter was intended to help the trustees move along in curing whatever problems they have.

“I think it deserves a response and the response should be sent out fairly quickly,” Howard said. “It indicates to them that we also have this concern to try to remedy our issues here.”

Howard said the board still hasn't responded to a letter it received in late August signed by 140 local medical professionals. That letter said Kootenai Health was navigating a crisis due to the overwhelming numbers of COVID-19 cases, and asked the college to implement safety measures to protect the health of the community.

Howard said he believes they also have not responded to a letter received in early December from the State Board of Education, urging trustees to "set aside parochial or partisan interests" before accreditation concerns cause "irreparable" harm to the college, students and the community.

“I think this is not a good habit to get into, not responding to groups that have strong affiliations with NIC,” Howard said.

Howard motioned to amend the agenda to discuss the letter.

Board chair Todd Banducci and trustee Greg McKenzie said they thought the trustees could just deal with the letter as an agenda item for the next meeting on Jan. 19. However, the motion passed with only McKenzie dissenting. Banducci didn't vote as there was already majority support.

The NIC administration was directed to draft a response letter for the trustees to review before the Jan. 19 meeting.

In an email to The Press on Thursday, Banducci said he agrees a response is warranted.

"I look forward to a continued conversation with my colleagues about acknowledging the concerns of one of our key stakeholders on the 19th," Banducci said.

Below is the full letter from the Tribe, dated Dec. 17. The president’s office received a copy of the letter via USPS mail on Monday afternoon where it was then scanned and emailed to the five board members.

Dear Trustees Banducci, Barnes, McKenzie, Howard and Wood,

I am writing at this time to express the concerns of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe with the current state of North Idaho College. The Tribe is as concerned as everyone else about the consequences of losing accreditation, not only because of the impacts to the community, but also to the past, current and future students who have dedicated time and efforts to broaden their opportunities right here in our community. The fact that accreditation status is even in question weakens the institution and places the educational future of every student in doubt. This situation is unacceptable and also avoidable. It is our sincere hope and plea as a close partner of the College that the Trustees will right this ship by reassuring the community about its commitment to the College as a centerpiece for education and workforce development.

As you know, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe has deep and longstanding ties to the area now known as Coeur d'Alene, the city that bears the name of the Tribe, and in particular the special place along Coeur d'Alene Lake where the North Idaho College Campus now sits. The Tribe occupied the very spot since time immemorial, passing thousands of generations of oral history from elder to youth. Today, the place continues to provide vital educational opportunities to the entire community, first and foremost through North Idaho College. The College is the gateway to opportunity for students of all backgrounds, and has built a foundation to continue building upon that through formal partnerships with other institutions, businesses, community stakeholders, and relevant to this conversation — the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

In July 1997, North Idaho College entered into a Nine Point Agreement with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in an effort to acknowledge, celebrate and enhance the College's commitment to its partnership with the Tribe and set forth specific, identifiable tasks and goals. The overall goal of the Agreement is to "work together on projects and programs that encourage and benefit tribal members and that enrich and educate all of the students and people which North Idaho College serves.” Among the nine points or tasks in the Agreement, including naming buildings and places on campus in recognition of the Tribe, the parties agreed to “utilize the resources of the College to better serve the members of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe."

Over the past 24 years the Tribe and the College have worked very diligently and closely to accomplish the nine points and meet the goals of the Agreement. For example, the College has named many places on campus in recognition of Coeur d'Alene Tribal leaders, dedicated a week to Coeur d'Alene Tribal awareness, and placed Tribal artwork in prominent locations. The Tribe has devoted space in its facilities to host remote coursework through the College for students in the Plummer community who are not able to take traditional classes due to work schedules or family constraints. Just as important and exciting — the Tribe and the College have continued to explore ways to improve the educational experiences and opportunities available to students in the community and has made investments to that end. Those investments include significant time, resources and capital—not the least of which is the current human capital of 70 current students enrolled at the College through Tribal scholarships, 45 of whom are Tribal members.

Education is the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's top priority, as it has always been. For decades, we understood that education was also the top priority for the College and our people flourished in that relationship along with many thousands of our community neighbors. For the first time, we need to confirm with you, the fiduciaries of our community's academic futures, that education is your top priority. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is committed to the mission of North Idaho College and our longstanding partnership so long as the College wishes to continue in the endeavor. However, we invest far too much in our children's futures to risk any other course. At this time, I would call on the Board of Trustees to publicly confirm its commitment to education and reassure your partners, community, students and faculty that North Idaho College is still a centerpiece of education. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Chairman Chief J. Allan

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Howard

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Banducci

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