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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Community turns out for heated meeting in wake of North Idaho College accreditation threat

North Idaho College Board of Trustees met Wednesday inside the Edminster Student Union.   (James Hanlon/The Spokesman-Review)

At its first meeting since North Idaho College was sanctioned by its accrediting body, the school’s board of trustees heard an earful from the community Wednesday night.

Some 49 students, alumni and community members addressed the board while crowds gathered in an overflow room inside the student union on the Coeur d’Alene campus.

For Alex Elliott, a student senator at NIC, the message was simple:

“Do you want this college to be here for your children, your grandchildren? Then resign.”

Others asked trustees to put differences aside to find a solution.

Trent Derrick, assistant superintendent of the Coeur d’Alene School District, said NIC is an important resource for dual-enrollment high school students.

“Losing accreditation would be devastating and unnecessary,” Derrick said.

Some spoke in support of the board. Brent Regan, the chair of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, said the public was unable to accept the results of the most recent trustee election.

“Accreditation is being threatened for political, not academic reasons,” Regan said.

Board Chair Greg McKenzie said the board will meet at least twice a month for training sessions with consultants from the National Association of Community College Trustees.

“Personally,” he said, “I am committed to doing the significant work needed for us to show the accrediting commission, our students and stakeholders that we are committed to being a functional and effective board.”

Earlier this month the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the body that accredits NIC, issued a show cause sanction, the final step before a school loses accreditation.

In its show cause letter, the commission outlined 26 eligibility requirements and standards of accreditation that appear to be out compliance. The college must submit a report by March 31 showing how it remains eligible for accreditation.

The letter said the response to previous warnings was inadequate, and the board “fails to sufficiently appreciate the jeopardy it is placing the institution in.”

NWCCU has accredited NIC since 1947. The school has been under scrutiny since spring 2021 for issues of governance and frequent leadership turnover.

Last week, NIC’s faculty assembly sent a letter to the board of trustees, outlining the actions they believe would answer the commission’s concerns.

“The only remedy is to undo all of the actions from December 2022 immediately,” the letter said.

More specifically, the letter urges the board to remove interim president Greg South and other interim administrators, remove the board’s legal counsel Art Macomber, take president Nick Swayne off administrative leave, “reinstate him as NIC’s sole president” and “give him full operational authority over NIC.”

The faculty letter concluded these actions are necessary to show good faith, but may not be sufficient. “We encourage you to consider how else you can meet the standards included in the Sanction of Show Cause letter and what you can each personally do to allow NIC to recover from the damage your actions have caused.”

In early December, the divided board hired as legal counsel Art Macomber, who advised them to put NIC’s president Nick Swayne on administrative leave in order to investigate the terms of his contract. Swayne sued NIC, arguing that his contract did not allow them to put him on leave.

In the meantime, the board hired South as interim president, offering him a salary of $235,000 a year with a contract “at least until June 30th, 2024, unless terminated.”

The board in late December voted to undo these actions to cure open-meeting violations, only to approve those same actions again in new motions.

The commission listed uncertainty as to who the CEO is at the school as one of several “institutional risks,” and the expanded payroll for two presidents as a “risk of significant financial stress.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.