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North Idaho College’s accreditation at risk as commission investigates Board of Trustees conduct

Banducci  (Courtesy of North Idaho College)
Banducci (Courtesy of North Idaho College)

North Idaho College’s status as an accredited institution may be in jeopardy as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities investigates a complaint concerning behavior exhibited by the college’s Board of Trustees.

The complaint, dated March 12, was addressed to the commission and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division from representatives of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and the human rights task forces for Spokane, Bonner and Boundary counties. The multidisciplinary organizations work to oppose discrimination of all kinds in their communities.

The filing calls for the two agencies to investigate concerns with the conduct of the five-member North Idaho College Board of Trustees – particularly the majority formed by Board Chair Todd Banducci, Vice Chair Greg McKenzie and Trustee Michael Barnes.

“It has become crystal clear under the new NIC board majority that there is no opportunity internally to address the harm to the victims or protect the civil rights and civil liberties of the employees and students of North Idaho College,” the complaint reads. “While we do not seek to undo the election, we do expect all members of the NIC board to follow the law.”

North Idaho College holds regional accreditation status from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

After its investigation, the commission has several options to seek compliance with accreditation eligibility requirements. If the college is out of compliance, NIC runs the risk of lost federal funding, ineligibility to offer specialized accreditation programs and the inability to guarantee to students that their credits would transfer to another institution, according to North Idaho College officials.

The majority of the college’s health professions programs, including the registered nurse program and the school’s auto programs, hold specialized accreditation, said college spokesperson Laura Rumpler.

The complaint is the latest in what’s been a saga for the college board over the last several months concerning Banducci, an eight-year board member.

Banducci has faced calls to step down as board chair amid complaints of aggressive, threatening and unprofessional behavior toward the college president, employees and trustees. North Idaho College’s faculty and staff assembly organizations each passed votes of no confidence in Banducci’s leadership earlier this year.

The complaint references specific allegations that have been lodged against Banducci. This includes behavior college President Rick MacLennan has said he’s observed in the past, including how he reportedly saw Banducci physically assault a female college employee at a college-sponsored event in 2019.

With their filing, the task forces accused the board of infringing on at least three criteria required by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities for continuing accreditation: student learning, non-discrimination and academic freedom.

The Northwest Commission has opened an investigation into the complaint, Commission President Sonny Ramaswamy said in a letter dated Monday to MacLennan. North Idaho College has until June 11 – 45 calendar days from the date of Ramaswamy’s letter – to issue an institutional response.

MacLennan addressed the situation in a memo sent Thursday to college employees. He said he has tasked the college’s executive accreditation and planning team to take the lead on a response, while the president also indicated he will work with the board to provide evidence that the college is able to meet the eligibility requirements.

The college has created a centralized webpage for updates on the status of the complaint.

“This is a serious matter for NIC,” MacLennan said in the memo. “I am confident our college’s executive accreditation and planning team will lead us through this process. I know many of you are aware of the challenges that have led us to where we find ourselves; I want to assure you that I am committed to doing everything I can to achieve a positive outcome.”

MacLennan was unavailable for comment Friday.

Christie Wood, a member of the North Idaho College Board of Trustees, is also the president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. The issues involving Banducci rose to prominence when Wood sent a letter Jan. 18 to board members, in which she outlined the reasons she was calling for Banducci’s resignation.

Wood said Friday she recused herself from the complaint due to conflict of interest.

“I think it’s most important for our Board to remove ourselves from any conversations that suggest this is an attack on conservative ideology and understand this is a very serious investigation by the NW Accreditation Commission,” Wood said in an email. “This investigation is based on inappropriate behavior of a Board member and we need to focus on corrective action that meets the standards of accreditation.

“It’s our responsibility as a Board to assure the Commission we will comply with all their requests,” she continued. “We also need to assure our community we will do everything in our power to preserve our accreditation, and the integrity of our programs for our students.”

Asked how the complaint took shape given Wood’s recusal, Tony Stewart, secretary for the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said the complaint came about after four to five weeks of research by each of the groups involved.

“We reserve any further comments until any decisions are made by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities or the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Justice Department,” the task forces said in a joint statement.

In past discussions related to the no-confidence votes against the board chair, Banducci and McKenzie have described the allegations against the board chair as concerted attacks. McKenzie has described Wood’s allegations as possibly politically motivated.

Banducci, McKenzie, Barnes and Trustee Ken Howard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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