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North Idaho College board votes to reinstate president Swayne amid accreditation crisis

March 6, 2023 Updated Mon., March 6, 2023 at 10:06 p.m.

NIC President Nick Swayne was reinstated Monday night after being placed on administrative leave in December.  (James Hanlon/The Spokesman-Review)
NIC President Nick Swayne was reinstated Monday night after being placed on administrative leave in December. (James Hanlon/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The North Idaho College board reinstated president Nick Swayne and placed interim president Greg South on paid administrative leave Monday night in response to a court order.

“The majority of the board members doesn’t necessarily agree with the court order, but the college will abide by the court’s ruling,” Chair Greg McKenzie said.

The divided NIC board had put Swayne on administrative leave in December under the advice of interim legal counsel Art Macomber in order to “investigate” the terms of Swayne’s contract.

Swayne sued NIC, seeking to be reinstated, arguing that his contract did not allow the board to put him on leave without cause. Swayne was not accused of any wrongdoing.

In a preliminary injunction late last week, Judge Cynthia Meyer of Kootenai County District Court ordered NIC to immediately take Swayne off administrative leave for the duration of Swayne’s lawsuit, saying the board did not have the authority to place him on leave without cause and that in the meantime, he would suffer irreparable injury given his “unique interest” as president in the wellbeing of the institution during an accreditation crisis.

“By keeping Dr. Swayne on leave, the Board is permitting its Interim President to make discretionary decisions that should be made by Dr. Swayne,” the injunction said.

The vote to reinstate Swayne was unanimous. About half of the crowded meeting room inside the student union erupted into applause.

Swayne and his attorneys declined to comment, citing the litigation.

The board’s minority faction of Corkill and Zimmerman moved to reinstate Swayne at the Feb. 22 board meeting, but the motion failed 3-2.

A vote to place South on paid leave in good standing and to keep his NIC email address passed 3-1, with trustee Brad Corkill voting against and Tarie Zimmerman abstaining.

When Zimmerman questioned putting South on paid leave since she said his services are no longer needed, McKenzie cut her off and threatened to send the meeting back into executive session.

The injunction comes amid a larger crisis at NIC as the public community college faces the possibility of losing accreditation as soon as this summer.

NIC’s accrediting body, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, issued a show cause sanction last month requiring the school to submit a report addressing their concerns by March 31.

The sanction listed the uncertainty of having two presidents as one of several institutional and financial risks.

Outside the meeting room in the student union, Kaitlyn LaMetterey was doing her business homework.

“I am looking at other colleges,” she said, “because if they lose accreditation, I’m probably going to have to leave.”

She said students have started paying more attention to what is happening as the situation gets more serious.

Swayne received a standing ovation when he attended an employee appreciation luncheon Monday, said Molly Michaud, an English teacher and former faculty assembly chair.

“Thank God he’s back,” she said. “We’re so fortunate and happy to have him.”

Joni Roberts, a nurse who attended NIC, held a sign at the meeting that said “Welcome back Dr. Swayne.”

She said she is disappointed to see what has happened at the college recently.

“I don’t know the man,” she said, “but I’m thinking he may be our only hope.”

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.

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