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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Accreditation team finds NIC is strong in every way but one – its board

UPDATED: Wed., March 9, 2022

The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is shown at a February meeting to discuss Board Chair Todd Banducci, who was facing calls across the community to resign.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The North Idaho College Board of Trustees is shown at a February meeting to discuss Board Chair Todd Banducci, who was facing calls across the community to resign. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The faculty at North Idaho College is, according to an evaluation by a panel of academic peers, doing a good job.

The staff at NIC, who keep the school clean and run the offices, is also doing a good job. The administrators – those who are left, anyway – are doing a good job. The board of the college’s fundraising foundation: good job.

Everywhere the peer panel of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities looked during their virtual January visit to NIC, they found diligent professors and instructors, working to teach students and defend academic freedom, and hard-working staff members and administrators, trying to run the school with the best interests of student learning and community health in mind.

It praised these people – the “core of the institution” – again and again, in the report it delivered to NIC delivered last week.

“The Panel commends the faculty, staff and administrators of North Idaho College for their deep commitment to student success and to upholding the important mission of the College,” the panel wrote.

And yet the panel recommends that NIC be put on probation, with regard to its accreditation, and the state take on oversight of the school to make sure the myriad problems there are fixed.

Why? You could accurately boil it down to two words: Todd Banducci.

Rarely has any institution suffered the destructive impact of a single individual to the degree that NIC has suffered from the bullying lawlessness of Banducci and his fellow anti-education cutthroats on the NIC board, Greg McKenzie and former board member Michael Barnes, who quit after allegations were raised that he didn’t even live in the state .

This troika overruled the former president on sensible mask rules, meddled in operational matters, interfered with classroom subjects, took a Trumpishly confrontational path toward the “deep state” of the institution and disregarded so many basic rules of institutional governance you would bore yourself to sleep listing them all.

They drove away the president and all three vice presidents, and installed the wrestling coach as interim president in a secretive and high-handed manner.

Banducci has bullied his fellow board members (telling Christie Wood he was going to “kick your ass” and that his wife was going to “bitch-slap” her) and settled a complaint of verbal and physical assault filed by a college employee. He personally became involved in a student’s bizarre, whiny complaint about his grade and complained that a student had omitted the words “under God” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a graduation ceremony.

He boasted of going to battle against the “liberal progressives” and indicated repeatedly that he was going to set an ideological course for the school. He seemed to envision his role as King of NIC, modeled on Henry VIII – a self-indulgent man-child turning his every whim into law.

Now NIC is in a fight for its life. The board is locked in a stalemate, there’s no reason to think Banducci or McKenzie are anything but proud of the destruction they’ve caused, and there’s no guarantee Kootenai County voters won’t put more enemies of the college onto that board.

After all, wrecking schools is politically popular these days among uber-conservatives.

It will be up to the other board members who have stood against this Band of Duccis – Wood and Ken Howard – as well as the faculty, staff, administrators, and community members to rally to protect the college.

“The Panel finds that the core of the institution remains in place with dedicated administrators, faculty and staff, but with an elevated sense of uncertainty and fear distracting the focus of faculty and staff away from educational operations,” the report reads.

“The primary cause appears to lie with the Board of Trustees for its intrusions into operational decisions of the institution, its failure to follow institution policies, the firing of the former president, and appointment of an Interim President who is perceived to be inexperienced and has not yet garnered the respect of the campus.”

The peer panel has recommended that the NWCCU board, of which Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh is the chair, put NIC on probation and bring it under the direct supervisory oversight of the state Board of Education, which has already registered its “deep concern about the trajectory” of the school and urged the board to “urgently focus on the best interests of students and the College before both are irreparably harmed.”

The NWCCU report is an unsparing, thoroughgoing confirmation of the Banducci disaster.

If there’s hope for the school, it lies in its healthy core.

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