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NIC trustees examine governance problems

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Hagadone News Network | April 14, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — North Idaho College trustees examined how behavior at public meetings has contributed to the governance problems at the center the show-cause sanction issued by its accreditor.

The board convened Friday for a special meeting in the Driftwood Bay room of the Student Union Building, on NIC’s main campus. All five trustees attended, as well as NIC President Nick Swayne, Accreditation Liaison Officer Steve Kurtz and Debbie DiThomas, a consultant with the Association of Community College Trustees.

There are only four board meetings before NIC must submit another report to its accreditor, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. In March, the commission noted that NIC lacks a “functioning governing board responsible for the quality and integrity of the institution.”

“Because we’re under the gun and we only have a few more meetings, we need to talk specifics,” DiThomas said. “We want to be able to write a report that says we’ve seen some great progress.”

Some areas of concern were highlighted Friday through video clips from the Feb. 28 meeting.

“Our purpose is not to embarrass anyone,” Kurtz said. “It’s to make a better situation. We’re putting ourselves in the shoes of the commission members viewing your board meetings.”

In February, Trustee Greg McKenzie questioned how paid sabbatical leaves are granted to NIC staff.

“Numerous years ago, there was an applicant to sabbaticals to make free or low-cost textbooks,” McKenzie said. “And I think he put in twice, as I understand, and was never chosen for whatever reason … And so I think we just need to look at this sabbatical policy.”

While it’s appropriate for trustees to take an interest in how sabbaticals work, Kurtz said McKenzie’s comments gave the appearance of an inappropriate intrusion into the domain of staff.

“(A sabbatical is) such a sacred faculty issue that there has to be certain deference paid to that,” Kurtz said.

Trustee Todd Banducci said he has long questioned the value of sabbaticals and whether they are appropriate for a community college.

“If the board is in charge of the budget and sabbaticals are funded through the budget process overall, then it would seem to me that if we can’t engage at that level, then it becomes a philosophical question decision on our part,” he said. “Do we want to fund sabbaticals or do we not want to fund sabbaticals?”

DiThomas cautioned that faculty should be part of any discussion about changes to NIC’s sabbatical policies.

“It is an extremely common and accepted practice at community colleges,” she said. “If you want to have that philosophical conversation, you can, but you can’t do it alone.”

Trustees also addressed ongoing struggles with meeting minutes.

Idaho law stipulates that public meeting minutes must include, at a minimum, all members of the governing body who are present, all motions, resolutions, orders or ordinances proposed and their disposition and the results of all votes.

For months, the board held off approving meeting minutes from as far back as October 2023. McKenzie said he believes the meetings lack necessary information and drafted updated minutes himself, inserting and removing information.

At a special meeting in March, trustees voted to approve several updated minutes.

Kurtz and DiThomas urged trustees to approve meeting minutes in a timely manner and include only the information required under Idaho law, rather than crafting lengthy, detailed minutes.

“Having a special meeting to discuss meeting minutes made this board look dysfunctional,” Kurtz said. “It would be a substantive improvement in these next five meetings if minutes were approved like every other college does it.”

College attorney Colton Boyles agreed.

“We have an opportunity to look good in front of NWCCU,” he said.

The next meeting of the board of trustees is scheduled April 24.