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North Idaho College responds to investigation into accreditation status, board conduct

The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is shown at a February meeting to discuss Board Chair Todd Banducci, who was facing calls across the community to resign.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is shown at a February meeting to discuss Board Chair Todd Banducci, who was facing calls across the community to resign. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

North Idaho College leaders have formally responded to a complaint referencing behavior shown by the college’s Board of Trustees as part of an investigation into the college’s status as an accredited institution.

Representatives from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and the human rights task forces for Spokane, Bonner and Boundary counties filed the complaint March 12 to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities based on conduct shown by the five-member Board of Trustees – particularly the majority formed by Board Chair Todd Banducci, Vice Chair Greg McKenzie and Trustee Michael Barnes.

Banducci, in particular, has faced calls to step down as chair amid complaints of aggressive, threatening and unprofessional behavior toward the college president, employees, trustees and students.

North Idaho College holds regional accreditation status from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The college’s response was called for as part of the commission’s investigation, which will evaluate North Idaho College’s compliance with certain accreditation eligibility requirements.

North Idaho College President Rick MacLennan declined a request for comment. Members of the Board of Trustees did not respond to a request for comment.

The board did unanimously approve a joint statement last month regarding the investigation. Trustees also underwent training Saturday facilitated by consultants from the Association of Community College Trustees.

“The board recognizes that the complaint references allegations of significant misconduct by the board chair. Specific details of the alleged misconduct are largely contained in two communications received by the board from the college president,” Barnes, reading from the joint statement, said on May 26. “As such, the board is committed to working through the issues raised by the president in order to satisfactorily address the scope of the NWCCU investigation.”

Representatives with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities told college leaders in April they are specifically investigating allegations associated with three criteria for continued accreditation: nondiscrimination, governing board and academic freedom. The investigation is also reviewing related media coverage the commission received with the complaint.

The college’s 16-page response, which was submitted last week, was composed by the college’s executive accreditation and planning team. During a board meeting last month, MacLennan said leaders were asked to respond as if the college was conducting a full seven-year review.

The response addresses the allegations partly by citing established college policies related to each of the accreditation criteria while also, at points, specifically speaking to issues raised in the complaint.

One such issue involved concerns aired over email by Banducci to MacLennan referencing how a student omitted “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during last year’s graduation. “I expect that this institution will work hard to see that should never happen again,” he said in the email.

“In the cases above, the impacted students have been informed by the college of these incidents, apprised of their rights to address any related grievance, and given appropriate advice and counsel,” the college’s response reads. “Some of the trustees have acknowledged and condemned the cited behavior, but the board has not taken any official action.”

North Idaho College’s faculty and staff assembly organizations each passed votes of no confidence in Banducci’s leadership earlier this year.

The college’s response notes that while MacLennan has called for the Board of Trustees to investigate the incidents involving Banducci, the board has not taken action.

The board did move unanimously last month to reinstate a board conduct policy that was rescinded in December. The reinstated policy includes an amendment that allows confidential communication between board members and members of the North Idaho College community.

“Board members should be afforded confidential communication with the NIC community,” the amendment reads. “Nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit or discourage communications between board members and members of the faculty, staff, administration or community.”

The college’s response said the amendment is “problematic and creates ambiguity with regard to the role of the board and president in addressing operational issues and concerns.”

Namely, the response states the amendment supplants MacLennan’s authority as president by allowing the board or a board member “to intervene and/or direct college operations without the president’s knowledge or agreement,” according to the response.

“It negates the guidance that, ‘Board members shall inform the president about contact and interactions with college personnel,’ ” the response reads. “Additionally, the amendment contradicts the guidance that it is ‘improper’ for board members ‘to intercede with students, faculty, administrators or any other employees of the college on behalf of any person or program without informing the Board’ (Policy 2.01.10).’”

Responding to the college’s response, representatives from the task forces that submitted the March 12 complaint reiterated support for MacLennan, the administration, faculty and employees.

Emphasizing that the complaint was directed at the Board of Trustees majority, the groups said in a statement a lack of action from the board “gives us grave concern.”

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