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Accreditation investigators to prepare report after interviews with North Idaho College campus community

The entrance of North Idaho College is photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. The college will not be put on probation, but has come under a warning from its accredidation commission to fix problems at the governance level.   (kathy plonka)
The entrance of North Idaho College is photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. The college will not be put on probation, but has come under a warning from its accredidation commission to fix problems at the governance level.  (kathy plonka)

Evaluators assigned by the agency that accredits North Idaho College met virtually Tuesday with college officials and members of the campus community in the latest phase of an investigation into NIC’s accreditation eligibility.

The Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) appointed the panel of regional higher education representatives to investigate NIC following a second complaint lodged by area human rights groups concerning the conduct of the college’s Board of Trustees. NIC has maintained regional accreditation through the NWCCU since 1950.

The Board of Trustees has faced significant criticism over the past several months, most recently with a vote of no confidence from the college’s Staff Assembly and a letter of concern from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

The NWCCU evaluation team consisted of Marc Johnson, former president of the University of Nevada, Reno; Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin; Glenn Ford, chief financial officer and senior vice president of finance and administration for the University of Western States; and Mary Hughes, a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

While the team was originally supposed to visit NIC in person, plans changed due to COVID-19 concerns.

Interim President Michael Sebaaly said the NWCCU panel spoke with him, each member of the NIC Board of Trustees and the college’s academic/student affairs, financial and human resources leadership teams, the NIC Foundation Board and the chairs of the college Senate, the Faculty Assembly and the Staff Assembly. The panel also attended three forums: A staff forum with more than 80 NIC participants registered, a faculty forum with more than 50 registrants and a student forum with around 16 individuals registered.

Sebaaly declined to discuss the nature of the conversations, citing the ongoing investigation. A request for comment from the Associated Students of NIC was similarly declined.

Evaluators will now compose an initial report detailing their findings. While the typical turnaround time for these reports is within seven days of the site visit, NWCCU President Sonny Ramaswamy said NIC’s is a special case.

“Because this panel was a special panel constituted to determine the facts and circumstances pertaining to the complaint and because of the complexity and volume of information provided and potential need for additional information, the panel’s report will take longer than the standard seven-day turn around for evaluative panel reports,” he said via email.

The latest NWCCU complaint against the college Board of Trustees – filed in November by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and the human rights task forces of Spokane, Bonner and Boundary counties – has accused the board of continued and additional violations of accreditation eligibility criteria. The groups’ first complaint was filed in March 2021.

Once the NWCCU-appointed evaluators have prepared their initial report, they will submit that to NIC for review. NIC officials will then have seven days to correct any factual information, Ramaswamy said.

The final report will then go before the NWCCU Board of Commissioners to review and take action. Ramaswamy said this could take place either during an ad hoc commission meeting or at the board’s next regular meeting in June.

Sebaaly said the college will post the feedback from the NWCCU investigation online once appropriate.

NIC’s Board of Trustees discussed the next steps involved with the NWCCU investigation during their meeting Wednesday.

The meeting marked the first since former Trustee Michael Barnes resigned amid public concerns that he no longer met the residency requirements for his role, as Barnes appears to legally reside in South Dakota. Trustees moved Wednesday to advertise for the vacant Zone 5 seat, seeking someone to serve at least until the November election.

Prior to the resignation, the board authorized the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the residency eligibility for Barnes and Trustee Ken Howard. Board attorney Marc Lyons said Wednesday there were no updates.

The residency issues are among several internal and external pressures trustees have faced from the community in the last several months related to concerns over trustee conduct.

The Staff Assembly took the no confidence vote against the board in December, a few months after a vote of no confidence by the Faculty Assembly. Staff Assembly Chair Sarah Martin did not return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan outlined his concerns in a Dec. 17 letter, calling on trustees to “right this ship” and confirm “that education is your top priority.”

“The fact that accreditation status is even in question weakens the institution and places the educational future of every student in doubt,” Allan wrote. “This situation is unacceptable and also avoidable.”

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