Saturday, February 04, 2023

NIC trustees to consider student representation

Hagadone News Network | January 22, 2023 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The North Idaho College board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to explore giving the student body president a seat at its table.

“We are open to empowering students,” said board chair Greg McKenzie, who presented the motion and attended the meeting via Zoom.

Earlier in the meeting, McKenzie refused to allow ASNIC President Damian Maxwell to give public comment about student concerns regarding governance issues.

“Public comments have to stick to agenda items for everybody,” McKenzie said. “Consistent rules.”

Several members of the public were not permitted to speak or were cut off because their comments did not pertain to one of three items on the agenda: accreditation, enrollment or inviting the ASNIC president to sit with trustees during regular meetings.

More than 100 people gathered for Wednesday’s meeting, enough that some audience members had to watch from an overflow room.

NIC student Presley Steele implored trustees — specifically McKenzie, Todd Banducci and Mike Waggoner — to undo recent actions that resulted in another warning from the college’s accrediting organization.

“If the board was really student centered, you wouldn’t be making choices like putting President Swayne on leave and illegally hiring a real estate lawyer because he has funded all your campaigns,” Steele said. “We are counting on you to make it right.”

Some audience members heckled students as they spoke at the podium.

Maxwell condemned that behavior when he delivered his constituent report.

“I’m disappointed these individuals have not been removed,” he said. “That kind of behavior is not welcome in my Student Union Building.”

Staff Assembly chair Keri Simonet called on the board to respond in writing to the unanimous vote of no confidence made by staff last month. The Faculty Assembly and ASNIC also voted no confidence in the board in December.

“Staff will continue to provide the amazing service they have always provided to students, faculty and coworkers while we are in this time of uncertainty,” Simonet said.

Interim President Greg South addressed the college's ongoing accreditation issues when he gave his report.

“It is very serious,” he said. “We have to get this done. This board has to comport itself in a way that aligns with accreditation, but so do the rest of you.”

South also introduced three new members of his leadership team: Peggy Bedford, interim provost; James Forkum, interim dean of Student Life; and Debbie DiThomas, who is “in a consulting role as Special Assistant to the President.”

South said the trio are “well recognized” in the world of higher education and have experience working with accreditors.

“We really need some heavyweight perspectives,” he said. “I would put their resumes up against anyone who’s ever been president here.”

Bradford and Forkum are reportedly temporary employees, while South said DiThomas will be at NIC for approximately one month.

Accreditation Liaison Officer Steve Kurtz also presented trustees with information about NIC’s enrollment, which he said has dropped 9.2% since last year. The college will have a more accurate picture of enrollment by the end of January.

In the last decade, Kurtz noted, NIC’s enrollment has shifted from traditional academics to dual enrollment, with dual credit students growing from around 11% to 31% of the total.

Meanwhile, enrollment in career and technical programs is shrinking. Kurtz said colleges nationwide are struggling to keep students in those programs in a hot job market.

“The challenge we seem to have is being able to keep folks there to finish their programs because industry is coming to hire them before they complete,” said Trustee Todd Banducci.

Before the meeting began, South, Banducci, Waggoner and NIC, as well as college attorney Art Macomber, were served with a lawsuit.

Filed earlier this month by Mike Gridley, former city attorney for Coeur d’Alene, the lawsuit accuses three trustees and the college attorney of fraud and violating Idaho’s open meeting laws.

The suit further alleges that trustees lacked the authority to hire South and that South has gained “unjust enrichment” as a result.


North Idaho College Trustee Todd Banducci was one of four people who was served with a lawsuit related to recent board actions just before Wednesday night’s trustee meeting. KAYE THORNBRUGH/Press

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