Sunday, November 28, 2021

Op-Ed: North Idaho College: Cultural battleground, Part 2

| November 19, 2021 1:00 AM

Fairly or unfairly, North Idaho College has been caught up in a broader struggle to force colleges, if necessary against their institutional will, to restore intellectual freedom to higher education. What brought university culture to this sorry state was surveyed in Part 1 of this column, published last Friday.

NIC has become a battleground not because it is the most egregious offender in converting education into woke indoctrination. NIC’s identity is at issue because it is one of the few colleges which is accountable, through its trustees, to a conservative electorate.

Can reformist representatives make NIC an intellectual “Free Speech Zone?” Can NIC inspire students to discover their own truths, regardless of the personal leanings of many of its administrators and professors? Can a student’s freedom to imagine be allowed to violate the taboos of political correctness?

In hopes of saying yes to these questions, voters like me supported the elevation of Trustee Banducci to Board Chair by electing Trustees McKenzie and Barnes. This new majority, supported by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, was chosen to reform NIC for the better.

Since this change, the hope for reform has become bogged down in an increasingly vicious street fight. Because many saw no need for NIC to reform, this majority has been met by the obdurate resistance of many in the college’s administration and faculty, as well as among activist students.

Unfortunately, when provoked these reformists behaved as embattled people often do, by closing ranks and intensifying their determination to win. Conflicts that should have been professional or philosophical became grudges and feuds.

Was this provocation intentional? Did the various institutional elements within NIC’s structure employ Toreador’s tactics and enrage and distract a bullish opponent? I think that this is likely.

However, it is the responsibility of the ruling majority to lead more than it is to win. This means demonstrating character that is worthy of trust, motivated by good will, and guided more by common sense fairness than by factional conformity.

This is a fight for the soul of NIC. Like all combat, it is ugly. This is a test case for citizen-driven campus reform. Very skilled resistors are trying to outlast this temporary reformist majority.

We have reached a genuinely poisonous impasse. The crisis sparked by the termination of the former president, and a concomitant possible loss of accreditation, has revealed that this board’s reformers have alienated more stakeholders than they have inspired.

Every successful leader must inspire those beyond the faction that brought them to power. They must earn widespread trust by being responsible stewards of their institution. True leaders must demonstrate that they can be intellectually honest and objective enough to see beyond factional gain.

The reformist majority should acknowledge that damage has been done and that they need to change how they will lead if they want to succeed. A shift in roles between the three reformist trustees, with a new chair, might signal such a change.

The reformist majority should increasingly advertise their specific goals for campus reform at NIC. These trustees should make it crystal clear that reform does not mean the dissolution of the institution. They must offer a positive vision for supporters to rally around. They need to make a solid case for the undecided to consider. They should state why and how their reform will improve NIC.

In fact, all who fight in this arena should make their case on the basis of principle, and not personality. North Idaho College, and North Idaho’s citizens, are witnessing what seems to be a purposeless mayhem. All involved would be wise to remember that a Pyrrhic victory is no victory worth having.

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In Maine and then Idaho, Ralph K. Ginorio has taught the history of Western Civilization to high school students for nearly a quarter century. He is an “out-of-the-closet” Conservative educator with experience in special education, public schools and charter schools, grades 6-12. He has lived in Coeur d’Alene since 2014. Email: