Sunday, December 10, 2023

Community battles over Banducci

Hagadone News Network | March 26, 2022 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Tensions ran high during a meeting of the North Idaho College board of trustees Wednesday night, with the community divided between those who support Chair Todd Banducci and those who demand his resignation.

More than 200 people gathered for the meeting, including more than 120 online participants.

Hanging in the balance is NIC’s accreditation.

The recent panel report from the college’s accrediting organization, Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, listed numerous concerns, some serious enough to suggest NIC be placed on probation.

The panel found NIC to be out of compliance with several accreditation standards and eligibility requirements. Several complaints specifically cited Banducci’s leadership.

Trustee Ken Howard said no meetings have been called by the board to address the panel report’s findings, calling the inaction “shameful.”

Former dean of general studies Larry Briggs, who retired last May 2021, said even in light of the college’s response to the NWCCU, NIC will likely be placed on probation soon.

“NIC’s fall from good standing in less than two years is astonishing,” Briggs said. “The cost of the college’s reputation, to faculty and staff morale, to students’ trust in the future of the college mount by day. Simply put, every program at NIC is damaged by the current situation.”

Briggs said as someone with over 20 years of experience on accreditation and as an NWCCU site visitor to a wide array of colleges and universities across the region, change is urgently needed at the college.

Meanwhile, NIC staff have reaffirmed their lack of support for Banducci.

The NIC staff assembly passed a resolution Wednesday calling for Banducci to resign immediately from the board of trustees. The resolution was drafted by approximately 40 staff members.

Faculty passed a resolution on Tuesday that renewed their vote of no confidence in Banducci’s ability to serve the college’s best interest and called upon him to step down immediately.

A total of 86 faculty members voted on the resolution, with 15 people opposing it and four abstaining from the vote.

Ed Kaitz, a philosophy instructor at NIC, said not all faculty were represented in the resolutions passed by the faculty assembly. Few instructors from divisions such as science, automotive and nursing bothered to attend faculty meetings, he said.

“I am ashamed to say that many of the extremely vocal liberal humanities and social science faculty have completely taken over the leadership of the assembly,” Kaitz said.

Hayden resident Lynda Putz tied the ongoing issues at NIC to larger ideological conflicts.

“Our culture really is going down to good versus evil, progressive versus conservative, personal responsibility versus social justice,” she said.

At a Hayden City Council meeting last month, Putz described herself as a “white supremist (sic)” and described all white supremacists as patriots.

At Wednesday’s meeting, she pointed out a person wearing a mask, who appeared to be a reporter with The Sentinel, NIC’s student newspaper.

“Did I get that picture OK for you, little miss mask woman?” she said.

Some in the audience raised their voices in disagreement as Putz called out the student reporter for taking a photo while Putz spoke. In response, Banducci told the crowd to refrain from speaking up.

Sarah Martin, chair of NIC’s staff assembly, said it’s intimidating to deliver resolutions to the board.

“It’s not easy to be up here,” she said. “It’s intimidating. There’s a sense of fear, of intimidation that staff feel, and faculty, and it’s not OK.”

She said faculty have asked the board multiple times to listen to their concerns.

Martin also acknowledged the student reporter, saying Putz should not have spoken to her that way.

To that, an audience member shouted, “Safe space!”

Christa Hazel, an NIC graduate and the director of the nonprofit Save NIC, called on Banducci to resign.

After Hazel spoke, Banducci tried to end public comment but was suggested by the college attorney to allow the rest of the people signed up to speak.

Former NIC president Joe Dunlap said the only solution to the college’s problems is a change in leadership. He urged the board to find a compromise and agree on a fifth trustee or tender a resignation.

Erin Barnard, who publishes the Kootenai County Spectator, spoke in support of Banducci and handed the trustees each a stack of letters signed by Banducci’s supporters.

Shari Williams, a Coeur d’Alene resident who ran unsuccessfully for the Idaho Senate District 4 seat in 2020, presented Banducci with a stack of 1,000 index cards from community members who wrote asking Banducci and fellow Trustee Greg McKenzie to resign.

Interim President Michael Sebaaly said, amid the uncertainty at NIC, counselors in the Coeur d’Alene School District and elsewhere are beginning to recommend other colleges to their students.

If NIC is sanctioned by NWCCU, Sebaaly said enrollment could drop by as much as 10%.

A 1% drop in enrollment represents about $100,000 in tuition revenue.

“With the publicity we are getting, we may start seeing that this fall,” Sebaaly said.

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