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News >  Higher education

North Idaho College board commits to national search for next leader, authorizes raise for acting president

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 24, 2021

While the next president of North Idaho College will be chosen out of a national search, college trustees have decided to select the institution’s interim leader during that search process from within.

Members of the North Idaho College Board of Trustees voted Friday to initiate full-time and interim presidential searches, stipulating that the college’s next interim president will be hired internally.

The search for a new president to replace Rick MacLennan, who was fired without cause by the board effective Thursday, will be spearheaded through a search committee led by at least two trustees with support from the administration. The committee’s members have not been decided.

MacLennan, who served five years as president, was fired after months of conflict with the majority of the Board of Trustees – namely, board Chair Todd Banducci, Vice Chair Greg McKenzie and trustee Michael Barnes.

The board has appointed Lita Burns, vice president for instruction, to serve in the capacity of an acting president until it finds an interim president.

The difference between an acting and an interim president is length of term, said Laura Rumpler, chief communications and government relations officer. Whereas an acting president may serve up to several weeks, an interim could be in office for six months or more until a new president is selected.

The terms of Burns’ employment as acting president were clarified during Friday’s meeting, which started behind closed doors with an executive session that lasted around an hour. Trustees voted unanimously to increase Burns’ salary to $200,000, with the increase prorated for the time she serves as president. Her salary as vice president for instruction was $138,134.

Burns has made it clear that her time leading NIC will be temporary, as she plans to retire by the start of next year.

She submitted her retirement letter to MacLennan while he was still in office, and Burns said the board was aware of her pending retirement. She was surprised when they appointed her to the acting presidency role Wednesday night.

“I will be (vice president for instruction) until Jan. 4. Right now, I can’t predict the future, so I really don’t know,” Burns said. “I fully anticipate, because we have some great leaders on this campus, that they will be able to find a very qualified, able interim president to follow me.”

Burns, who has worked in higher education for 30 years, has served as vice president for instruction at NIC since 2012.

“You have just shown stellar leadership throughout the years in all of the roles that you’ve played at NIC,” Trustee Christie Wood said to Burns during the meeting. “We’re in very turbulent times, and I’m so grateful to you and proud of you for stepping up and filling the role that we need.”

Trustees are expected at their next meeting to review options for nationwide search consultants to work with on the search for a full-time president.

While two trustees will helm the national search committee, the full board will have a hand in selecting an interim president.

Banducci said he would prefer to hire the college’s next leader – be it the interim or full time – from within to promote “continuity and a lack of disruption,” as opposed to getting an external candidate up to speed.

“If we don’t have enough quality people on this campus for somebody to be the interim president, I can’t express my disappointment if that’s where we’re at,” Banducci said. “I’m just going to say it out loud,” he said. “We’ve got to have some candidates here that are plenty qualified.”

With the search for the interim president, Burns also recommended an internal hire to maintain consistency with operations, saying the college needs an interim leader who already knows the policies and budgeting procedures.

With the search for the next full-time president, meanwhile, Burns said a national search is important in the college’s accreditation process.

As it stands, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is investigating whether the college is still eligible for regional accreditation in light of complaints against Banducci of aggressive, unprofessional and threatening behavior.

While McKenzie said he doesn’t feel the interim should be eligible to apply for the full-time job, he was ultimately overruled. Asked to elaborate on his perspective after the meeting, McKenzie said, “At the time, I didn’t think it was the best, and you don’t always get what you want.”

McKenzie declined to comment on the events from earlier this week. Banducci also declined to comment.

In light of MacLennan’s firing and his fractured relationship with the board, Burns said she would be “foolish to say there is absolutely no concern,” but ultimately plans to take a more positive approach.

“I am very excited to be able to work with the board,” she said, “and a part of that, I hope, will be mending relationships and working together. That’s really my goal, even in the short time that I’m going to do this.

“NIC is a really fine and solid institution. We cannot lose sight of that. We have work to do to get our business back in order, but NIC is a really solid institution.”

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