Complaint against NIC could impact accreditation
Staff Writer | April 30, 2021 1:09 AM
Just as tensions in North Idaho College seemed to be settling down, a complaint by four regional human rights task force boards has brought the institution's accreditation eligibility into question.
The complaint, dated March 12, was sent to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) and Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, demands a full investigation of the institution's leadership.
The document was signed by the Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, and Spokane County Human Rights Task Forces. It says NIC, more specifically, members of the NIC board of trustees, are violating the civil rights and liberties of employees and students.
"This is a serious matter for NIC that we are not taking lightly," Laura Rumpler, NIC's Chief Communications and Government Relations Officer, said Thursday.
The organizations further indicated that board chair Todd Banducci and newly elected trustees Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes have created an adverse board majority. The majority, the complaint states, conducts itself in a manner that is "counter to the civil and human rights and civil liberties protected by the United States Constitution, Federal laws, Idaho laws, and NIC policies for all NIC employees and students."
Pointing to several instances throughout Banducci's tenure as trustee, the complaint argues that NIC has severely violated criteria necessary for NWCCU accreditation.
Notably, the organizations mentioned the repeal of the trustee board conduct policy, Trustee Christie Wood's call for Trustee Todd Banducci's resignation, NIC faculty and staff's vote of no confidence for Banducci, and a series of harassment and assault allegations.
Rumpler said the NWCCU reached out to NIC leadership earlier this spring to alert the college that recent events had caught the commission's attention and they were monitoring the situation.
"It's publicly known the significant conflict at the board and leadership level," Rumpler said. "The parties involved have acknowledged the conflict and have agreed to take steps forward to resolve the conflict."
On Monday, NWCCU President Sonny Ramaswamy alerted NIC President Rick MacLennan that the commission would be investigating the college for three accreditation requirements — nondiscrimination, governing board, and academic freedom.
If NIC's accreditation is negatively impacted, Rumpler said the college could lose federal funding, be ineligible to offer specialized health and auto courses, and no longer guarantee students that their credits would transfer to another institution.
MacLennan shared the letter Wednesday night at the trustees' monthly meeting, notifying the board and senior leadership that the college is now required to provide evidence that they are following the appropriate policies and procedures.
MacLennan met with the college's executive accreditation and planning team on Tuesday, Rumpler said, and has tasked them with taking the lead on developing an institutional response.
"NIC's ability to document how we are meeting or effectively resolving the eligibility issues brought into question by the NWCCU is our current core focus," Rumpler said. "Success will look like the board and president working together to demonstrate confidence and action in making corrections and resolving issues to meet all the NWCCU eligibility requirements."
McKenzie said he has complete confidence in NIC's executive accreditation team to address the latest concern as it did during the last accreditation investigation, which was received during the 2020 campaign. He noted that there are always two sides to a story, and affording each party its due process is "what has made America great."
"When Chair Banducci's opponents' repeated attacks fail, they try yet another angle," McKenzie said. "Their obsession is notable, and it appears the material offered is a compilation of past alleged accusations. I commend Chair Banducci for his restraint.
"As a member of the Human Rights Education Institute board, Trustee Wood's provided claim of no prior knowledge appears questionable. NIC's executive accreditation team has many years of experience, and I look forward to serving alongside everyone."
Wood said she is not a member of the HREI board and that HREI is not affiliated with the situation. However, as president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights, Wood said she recognized the conflict of interest and removed herself from the complaint process. She said she saw the letter for the first time during Wednesday's meeting.
"I'm very disappointed in his statement," Wood said. "He should be focused on doing everything he can do to assure the community that we will keep our accreditation. Instead of sitting down and focusing on the fact we have a serious issue, they (Greg and Todd) would rather go after the people who brought it to the attention of the people."
Rumpler said she is not aware of any past accreditation issues.
"(President MacLennan) acknowledged that many are aware of the challenges that have led us to where we find ourselves today," she said. "He assured the college that he remains committed to doing everything he can to achieve a positive outcome."
The college has until June 11 to provide an institutional response.