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NIC receives warning

by HANNAH NEFF
Staff Writer | April 5, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — More than a year after four regional human rights organizations filed the first of two complaints against North Idaho College, the college was notified last week that its accreditation is officially in jeopardy of being rescinded.

According to a news release issued Monday by the college, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities issued a letter of action Friday sanctioning NIC with a warning, citing persistent issues specifically related to the NIC board of trustees.

The commissioners found the college to be out of compliance with an eligibility requirement for the governing board, as well as two standards related to governance and institutional integrity.

“I’m not surprised the NWCCU has focused on the board and we have received a warning,” wrote Trustee Greg McKenzie in a message to The Press. “Having recently returned from a national governance leadership institute for college trustees, I am committed to implementing lessons learned in prioritizing the needs of the college above self-interest and bringing the higher purpose of good board governance back to this board.”

A peer review panel convened by NWCCU previously recommended the college’s accreditation be placed in probationary status, but the commission issued a warning instead, with requirements for monitoring and recommendations to bring the college into compliance with accreditation standards related to board governance.

“The NWCCU has identified specific areas of focus and improvement and I am personally committed to making sure we succeed because NIC plays a critical role in our region, for our students and for our local economy,” said Board Chair Todd Banducci in a press release from the college.

Banducci’s leadership was specifically cited in several complaints in the peer panel report. The Press published details of the panel report in a March 4 article.

When contacted by The Press Monday for additional comment, Banducci said he did not have time to respond but he would try to reach out if able to make time.

“We are fortunate to have avoided being immediately placed on probation,” said Trustee Christie Wood in a statement to The Press. “I am grateful to the NWCCU for their decision. However, if Chair Todd Banducci and Trustee Greg McKenzie do not adhere to NWCCU recommendations, begin to follow policy, law and educational standards, it’s clear there will be immediate and severe sanctions placed on NIC.”

Wood said the actions by the two trustees in the past year and a half have been reckless, motivated by personal agendas and caused great harm to the institution.

Following the imposed sanction of warning, the commission requires that NIC take appropriate action to ensure the recommendations listed are resolved over the next year. This includes adding a fifth trustee to meet the minimum requirement of five trustees.

Former Trustee Michael Barnes resigned from the board in January when faced with a potential lawsuit over his claims of legally residing in Zone 5. The board is meeting on Wednesday to hold interviews with candidates for the vacant position.

Regarding NWCCU’s monitoring of NIC, the college is required to submit reports within seven days of each board meeting through spring 2023. The reports will cover governance, agenda and draft minutes for the board meeting, notification of changes in board membership, links to video recordings of meetings and a list of public comments.

The NWCCU letter states that despite commitments the board made over the last year to rectify areas in need of improvement, “… the institution continues to be non-compliant with Eligibility Requirement 9 and Standards 2.A.1 and 2.D.2 relating to the demonstration of high ethical standards in governance and management, including the NIC Board of Trustees’ responsibility to ensure integrity in its deliberations and actions, ethical treatment of stakeholders and constituents, adherence to institutional and Board policies, and adherence to conflict of interest policies.

“In light of the above, the Commission concludes that the NIC Board of Trustees’ actions to date do not provide assurance that the Board has or will follow through with the steps agreed to … to restore effective governance at North Idaho College.”

Interim President Mike Sebaaly said the college takes the warning very seriously.

“I will continue to work with our board and continue to ask them to work together and find commonality and move forward and address the concerns the NWCCU has given,” Sebaaly said. “We’re going to continue operationally doing the work of the college.”

The college is hosting two forums for college leadership to share additional details about the sanction in the Lake Coeur d’Alene Room in the Student Union Building. The first forum is today at noon, and a second forum is Wednesday at 5 p.m.

The sanction of warning may be removed or continued based on the results of a spring 2023 on-site visit by the commission. Lack of demonstrable evidence of progress to address the issues raised above could result in a sanction of probation or show cause, according to the letter of action.

Show cause is the last step prior to removing accreditation. The burden of proof would rest with NIC to demonstrate why its accreditation should be continued, according to NIC’s webpage.

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