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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Conflict-plagued North Idaho College faced with leadership void with four officials set to depart

The North Idaho College campus is shown in this aerial view.   (Courtesy)

Three senior leaders at North Idaho College are planning to retire in early January with another leaving by June, with some citing leadership differences amid tumultuous times for the college.

In response, a former NIC dean has agreed to return as interim provost to help fill the void.

Kassie Silvas – NIC’s former dean of Career, Technical and Workforce Education – will serve as interim provost starting Dec. 6 to take on the responsibilities of the college’s vice presidents for instruction and student services. Interim President Michael Sebaaly announced the selection to the campus community Tuesday.

Kassie Silvas is the new interim provost for North Idaho College.  (Courtesy of Kassie Silvas)
Kassie Silvas is the new interim provost for North Idaho College. (Courtesy of Kassie Silvas)

Current Vice President for Instruction Lita Burns and Vice President for Student Services Graydon Stanley have announced their intentions to retire by early January. While Burns’ plans to retire Jan. 4 were long known, Stanley formally announced his decision to colleagues earlier this month.

Their impending retirements are compounded by the pending departures of Vice President for Finance and Business Affairs Chris Martin and Dean of Instruction, Workforce Education Christy Doyle. The two each sent emails last week formally informing colleagues of their plans.

The shuffle is the latest development for the Coeur d’Alene community college, which is roughly two weeks into Sebaaly’s term. Sebaaly was selected by the college board of trustees through a controversial process to replace former President Rick MacLennan, who trustees ousted in September without cause.

Burns, Stanley and Martin are all members of the president’s cabinet, while Stanley, Martin and Doyle all applied for the interim president position.

Departures driven by board conduct

One email Martin sent to his NIC colleagues came the afternoon after the board of trustees met Nov. 15. The Spokesman-Review obtained a copy of the email.

Trustees failed during that meeting to agree on a firm to assist with the presidential search, though the board plans to hold a special meeting before the end of the year to revisit the issue.

Martin described the meeting as “one of the hardest board meetings I have experienced during my time at North Idaho College.”

“I have to tell you that I left the meeting last night completely defeated and resigned to the current state of affairs,” Martin wrote, specifically referencing the presidential search process. “I also left with complete clarity.”

If the Board were to completely “disregard a clear commitment that they made to Dr. Burns, who is easily the most respected member of the Cabinet on campus and in the larger community, they will do the same to any of us, our students, our community and Dr. Sebaaly,” he continued.

Just over three hours later, Martin sent another email formally announcing his intent to explore other job opportunities. He plans to transition out of the role of vice president for finance and business by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Doyle announced her retirement the morning after the Nov. 15 meeting. Her last day is Jan. 4.

“Please understand I did not make this decision lightly; through much prayer and self-reflection, I have determined my values and leadership philosophy are not congruent with North Idaho College’s new direction,” she said in the email.

Stanley told the Coeur d’Alene Press that actions by the board of trustees have taken some of the joy out of his work. His last day is Jan. 3.

“It got to the point that going to a Board of Trustees meeting often felt like you were going into a place where there was a lot of conflict and disagreement and stress,” he said. “When (MacLennan) was terminated, that had a lot of impact.”

‘Move the college forward’

Sebaaly said he is honored to have worked with all of the departing staff members.

“I think they’ve done a great service to the North Idaho College community and I wish them the best of luck as they move forward as they go on with their careers or their retirements,” he said. “To me, I have to continue to move the college forward and make sure we’re serving our community and our students, faculty and staff.”

The provost position is a departure from the norm for NIC, which has employed an administration built partly on vice presidents to serve as the college’s chief academic officers.

“It’s basically filling in the gap,” Sebaaly said of his appointment. “It’s a unique situation in that our VP of instruction and VP of student services are leaving at the same time.”

Whether NIC sticks with a permanent provost or returns to vice presidents is a decision Sebaaly said he will leave to the next full-time president.

With the college’s vacant dean positions, Burns has appointed individuals to chair search committees to find permanent deans of general studies, enrollment services and workforce education, Sebaaly said.

Burns also selected two individuals to step up as interim co-deans of Instruction, Workforce Education to temporarily replace Doyle: Director of Nursing Erlene Pickett and Dean Miles, assistant professor of business management and entrepreneurship.

“The dean for enrollment services, we’re hoping to have somebody here by March,” said Sebaaly, who added that the college is employing a firm called the Pauly Group, an academic search consulting firm. “I think the timelines on the other two are a little bit longer, maybe to get through the academic year and have people transitioning in June or July.”

‘A familiar face’

Silvas came highly recommended by members of the campus community, Sebaaly said. That, and her willingness to help, prompted him to reach out to her.

“She’s a known quantity, and she wants to come back to help with stability and care for our community at NIC,” he said. “With all of the short-notice retirements, she was a great person to come in and provide some stability right away and help us move through the rest of the academic year.”

Silvas worked at North Idaho College for around seven years after previously serving as a dean at Spokane Community College. She helped launch NIC’s aerospace training program in 2013.

Beyond her work experience, three of Silvas’ four children are NIC graduates.

“I’m a familiar face. I still have strong ties to my colleagues and my community,” she said. “Many colleagues were calling me saying, ‘We’re going to need somebody. We’ve got administration retiring in January …’ I rose my hand and said, go ahead and give (Sebaaly) my number.”

As it stands, Silvas has agreed to stay on until at least June to serve as provost, during which the college’s academic deans will report to her.

She will earn a $150,000 salary prorated over her service term, according to the college. In their vice president roles, Burns and Stanley each earn $138,184.

“I am deeply committed to the success of this college. I love this college. This is one of the cornerstones of our community,” Silvas said. “What that college does for our community is so important, and so, if I’m needed, I will stay.”

This is not the first time Silvas has been called into service post-retirement to fill a need at NIC. She served as the college’s first COVID-19 response officer for several months at MacLennan’s request.

Silvas said she wants to help provide stability as NIC faces issues including an ongoing investigation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities into the college’s regional accreditation status.

“They need some consistent messaging,” she said. “And they need, I believe, somebody like me to come in and lead them through answering the questions that they need answered.”