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Election shows NIC's relevance

| November 7, 2010 8:00 PM

A lot of good came from Tuesday's election, including renewed or newfound enthusiasm for our community college.

We say "our" in the sense that North Idaho College really does belong to everyone in Kootenai County - students, employees and property taxpayers. You know, community.

Races for two seats on NIC's board of trustees, exercises that previously were largely shrouded in voter apathy, became vigorous, healthy points of debate. Everyone will benefit from the fact that four competent candidates sought those two seats.

One of the benefits is that citizens are now more engaged in discussing and determining the role of the college in the broader context of community. A bullet point in a campaign ad in Sunday's Press offers just such an opportunity for healthy discussion.

The ad stated: "Under Robert Ketchum, the failed 3 year Fort Sherman Institute cost taxpayers $886,625 of local and state tax dollars."

Some might take issue with use of the word "failed." It's an unfortunate word that, in this instance, more accurately reflects the college's previous administration than it does Ketchum's.

Ketchum was a staunch advocate for giving the anti-terrorism institute enough time and funding to become profitable, which Ketchum and the institute's founder, David Dose, vehemently asserted was imminent. But then-NIC President Michael Burke and the Board of Trustees pulled the plug on the institute, and Dose was compelled to privatize the endeavor.

Free of NIC trustee control and manipulation from the president's office, Fort Sherman Institute became immediately profitable and is a national leader in its field. The program could be buying a lot of test tubes for NIC chemistry classes and paying instructors of English and math. It could also be a flagship program that would separate NIC from everyone else. Instead, it is making David Dose a wealthy man, in part because he continued to lean on Dr. Ketchum for advice.

The Fort Sherman experiment is history as far as NIC is concerned, but its example offers a broader opportunity for discussion. For instance, why do most academic courses at NIC deserve to be subsidized by taxpayers but a potentially profitable, educational and useful program does not? English 101 improves lives. Fort Sherman Institute saves them.

Moving forward, the NIC board of trustees has many important matters to decide, including development of the Education Corridor and its interrelationship with University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College programs. Now that the election is over, we encourage citizens to assert themselves in these discussions and help ensure there is balance that protects the community's interests.

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