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Divided North Idaho College board picks Nick Swayne as new president after year of upheaval

UPDATED: Wed., June 22, 2022

COEUR D’ALENE – The North Idaho College Board of Trustees has chosen Nick Swayne as the college’s next president, seemingly ending the school’s approximately nine-month search for a new leader.

Swayne, executive director of higher-education organization 4-Virginia, was one of four finalists for the job. Following the 3-2 vote Wednesday by the Board of Trustees, the next step will be to negotiate an employment contract.

“This is an exciting opportunity for me,” Swayne said in a statement provided by the college. “During my recent visit to North Idaho College, I met several dedicated, honorable people in college leadership and on the faculty and staff, as well as students. There are so many good things going on at the college, and I’m looking forward to making sure the community knows that.”

Swayne, the school’s eleventh president, will be tasked with bringing stability to a college rocked by controversy over more than a year. North Idaho College’s accreditation status has been under scrutiny by the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, the agency that accredits NIC, amid complaints concerning the conduct of the Board of Trustees.

Swayne will replace former President Rick MacLennan, who was fired without cause last year by a Board of Trustees that looks much different than the group that picked him.

Former trustee Michael Barnes resigned in January, while Christie Wood and Ken Howard stepped down in May. Their replacements as appointed by the state Board of Education – Chair David Wold, Vice Chair John Goedde and Trustee Pete Broschet – voted Wednesday in favor of Swayne’s selection.

“Other candidates were excellent, but this one really sounded to me like he could be the one to lead this college in the future,” Wold said.

Swayne is the executive director of 4-Virginia, a partnership of statewide universities centered on how the schools can work together through collaborative research projects, shared courses and improved access to college degrees. Swayne also is the founding director of the James Madison University X-Labs program and a retired Army officer with 26 years of service.

Swayne visited the North Idaho College campus June 13 for an interview and an open forum.

He was named a finalist alongside Samuel “Todd” Brand, chief academic officer at Ashland Community and Technical College; Chad Crumbaker, provost and executive vice president for student affairs at West Virginia University-Parkersburg and James Y. Taylor, senior associate vice president at Utah State University. Carolina University Chancellor Steve Condon, who was also once a finalist for the job, dropped out.

When exactly Swayne might begin his presidency will depend on the contract negotiations.

Interim President Michael Sebaaly said he will stay on to assist with the transition as needed. Sebaaly, who served as interim president since November, previously declined to state whether he applied for the full-time job.

Asked whether he would return to his former job as wrestling coach, Sebaaly said “we’ll see.”

Trustees Todd Banducci and Greg McKenzie, who – along with Barnes – ousted MacLennan in September, opposed Swayne’s selection Wednesday.

The candidate interviews were contentious at times for the board. Banducci walked out even before Swayne’s interview began, decrying the process as “inconsistent” and broken. McKenzie also left partway through, though he returned around a half-hour later.

On Wednesday, the board was scheduled to meet behind closed doors in executive session to hash out the presidential selection prior to the 6 p.m. meeting.

But after the board failed to reach a supermajority to enter executive session, with McKenzie and Banducci opposed, the discussion instead took place in open session.

McKenzie and Banducci each stated their complaints with the process, ranging from how the interviews and campus tours were conducted to how the Pauly Group, the presidential search consultant, was selected.

McKenzie, with Banducci’s support, motioned to hire Brand as the next president, but that failed. When that failed, it seemed he was going to attempt to forward Crumbaker as his pick, but Wold cut him off to let another trustee speak.

McKenzie frequently sought to publicly read candidate information that, as he was reminded multiple times by board attorney Marc Lyons, was provided as confidential.

“I won’t have my open session conversation steered,” he said. “I’ll say what I want in an open session. Otherwise, we should go into executive session.”

Wold cited Swayne’s priorities for the college, experience in working with board members and his military background among his reasons for picking Swayne.

As the vote to enter executive session failed with the split board, Banducci and McKenzie made their cases as to why they opposed picking a president Wednesday night.

“This institution, it needs an interim president,” McKenzie said. “I can show you news article after news article about the new trends of colleges and universities, when they’re going through troublesome times like this, they stick with their interim president for one year, even two years.

“The last thing I think this college needs right now is for a new permanent president to come in with a 3-2 majority and just add more strife to this whole scenario that we’re in.”

Banducci said choosing a president now is disingenuous given the upcoming November election, at which point the board seats held by Wold, Goedde and Broschet will be up for election.

“I think we’re just adding instability into the system,” he said. “Whoever wants to be our president, to be fair to that person, needs to see what the composition of the board is and who the five individuals are that they’ll be working with for at least two years.”

Goedde acknowledged the election in explaining his support for Swayne, also noting Swayne’s military background and North Idaho roots. Swayne has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho along with a master’s in public administration from Northeastern University and a doctorate in postsecondary strategic leadership from James Madison University.

“This board may very well be dysfunctional in November after the election, and I think he has the ability to handle that,” Goedde said.

Asked by McKenzie whether he agreed with the urgency to select a new president now, Broschet said he does.

“It’s based off of what I’ve heard the community wants,” he said.

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