June 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Mum’s The Word At Nic Trustee Says She’s Ordered Not To Discuss Reason Why Bennett Was Forced To Resign

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Three weeks after forcing the resignation of North Idaho College President Robert Bennett, the chairwoman of the NIC board of trustees was prepared Wednesday to finally explain the decision.

She didn’t.

Jeanne Givens said she got a last-minute letter from the school’s insurance company telling her not to speak out. That, despite the settlement agreement in which Bennett agreed not to sue.

“I understood I was free to speak,” Givens told the audience at the evening board meeting. “When the lawyers start running everyone’s business, it makes me really, really angry.”

But she insisted on following legal orders because “I will not place this institution in jeopardy. I love North Idaho College.”

Bennett’s ouster after 10 years, and halfway through a two-year contract, has frustrated many people on campus and in the community. Two board members resigned in the wake of the decision.

The Associated Students of NIC is planning a petition drive to recall the remaining trustees: Givens, Barb Chamberlain and Bob Ely. The students are awaiting an attorney general’s opinion about the number of signatures and votes needed for a recall. That may be two weeks away.

But on Wednesday, several residents and NIC employees spoke in support of the board. Some said it was time to move on from the controversy.

“It’s unfortunate that the general population is not privy to the events,” said Buell Hollister of Post Falls. “But I know you have NIC’s long-term interest at heart, and I support your decision.”

English instructor Fran Bahr said that, at the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, she had to point out that change is good.

“I’m looking forward to a new president, a new direction for NIC.”

The board plans to hire an interim president and has 10 candidates for that job. They will be conducting phone interviews through Monday.

NIC will work with the Association of Community College Trustees to find Bennett’s permanent replacement. The school has budgeted $35,000 for the search. Steve Schenk, dean of college relations, said he expects the cost to be less than that.

The board is also accepting applications for the board positions left vacant when Sue Thilo and Steve Widmyer resigned last week.

Interested people should send a letter and resume before June 30 to Schenk at the NIC College Relations Office, 1000 W. Garden Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814.

So far, four people have applied. They are Roland Curtis, Randy Geib, Barrie Trebor-MacConnell and Dave Paquin. Paquin ran unsuccessfully for the board in last fall’s election.

The trustees will likely hold a public meeting to discuss the candidates, said Schenk. He expects the new trustees to be sworn in at the July 23 board meeting.

In other business:

The board approved a 2 percent pay increase for employees, with another 2 percent to be spent to move qualified people higher up the pay ladder.

A consultant had recommended 5.7 percent increases, to bring NIC to the “middle of the market” salaries that board members previously set for a goal.

Associated Students president Renee Scott asked trustees to rescind a $25 per semester fee increase that they approved in May, and reconsider the action in the fall when students will be on campus.

The board didn’t respond to Scott, which bothered Cherie Butterfield, president of the North Idaho College Employees.

“Out of respect, the board should have stated their intention to re-address the issue after becoming more informed or stated that this issue, from them, is dead,” Butterfield said.

Givens announced that officials of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe would be on campus to sign an agreement with the school. The goal of the pact is to heighten awareness of Native Americans on the campus. The 11 a.m. event will be marked with drumming and singing.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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