Monday, April 22, 2024

Seen but not heard

Staff Writer | April 27, 2022 1:08 AM

North Idaho College’s interim president has instructed key college leaders to submit written reports but not speak at tonight's trustee meeting.

In an email to Sarah Martin, chair of NIC’s staff assembly, and Molly Michaud, chair of faculty assembly, Interim President Michael Sebaaly wrote that the decision was “made to keep as much emotion out of this meeting as possible.”

“As a senior leadership team, we are working to turn down the temperature at board meetings,” Sebaaly wrote in an email Friday. “What NIC needs right now is not more controversy, but cooler heads.”

Sebaaly wrote that “the purpose of your reports our [sic] for our board, not for the public,” in the email Friday morning.

The chairs were directed to give their reports to the board in writing.

Martin said she, Michaud and Geoff Carr, chair of the college senate, were not consulted about removing the agenda items.

Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard said Tuesday they also were not consulted or informed about the change.

Board Chair Todd Banducci and Trustee Greg McKenzie did not respond to a Press request for comment.

In his email to Martin and Michaud, Sebaaly wrote, “Many in your assemblies have come to me sharing that you do not represent them anymore. There’s been talk of no confidence votes in leadership of both assemblies and requests to even disband your assemblies.”

Carr, however, was sent a separate email from Sebaaly on Monday morning, in which Sebaaly said the agenda was “made this way as we are trying to get the budget and other items passed on a first reading.”

Martin said the request and discrepancies in the reasoning behind why they were submitting written reports were drastically different between what she and Michaud had received and what Carr had received.

“I have expressed concerns about retaliation for speaking up,” Martin said.

At the last board meeting, Martin and Michaud read resolutions passed by their assemblies calling for Banducci to resign immediately. Faculty assembly also renewed their vote of no confidence in Banducci’s ability to serve the college’s best interest.

“That’s their right to do that,” Wood said Tuesday. “I’m not an advocate of trying to shut down that kind of discussion and so I have no idea if that’s a concern that maybe they were going to do another vote of no confidence. I just can’t imagine.”

In an email to Sebaaly on Monday afternoon, Carr said he wished he was consulted prior to the decision to exclude the senate report, which would have lasted 30 seconds or less and was limited to an account of their previous meeting.

“Since you’ve decided to permit the ASNIC report and exclude all other constituent leaders, it appears the Board of Trustees isn’t the only campus entity attempting to silence the constituent leaders of this institution,” Carr wrote in an email.

Laura Rumpler, spokesperson for the college, said the change in the agenda is being done this month to help streamline the meeting and keep the focus on the business of the board. She said since NIC is student-focused, the ASNIC report will be the final opportunity for the ASNIC student president to present to the board before he finishes his time at the college. Rumpler said the reports to the board will resume in the fall.

Howard said he's disappointed with the decision and the change in protocol that’s existed for years without consulting the trustees. He said the constituent groups are an important part of the meeting, allowing the board to ask them questions as well as offering the community an opportunity to hear from the staff and faculty.

“I was also disappointed that it was done without the consultation of the trustees,” Howard said. “I was not consulted, anyway, about whether or not to do this.”

Howard said that with NIC’s accreditation organization monitoring the college closely to analyze whether or not constituent groups' views are honored, the agenda change could raise questions about why it’s being done at this stage by an interim president.

In a letter from the accreditation organization, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, notifying the college it received a sanction of warning on its accreditation status, the commission found NIC out of compliance with requirements and standards on its governing board, governance and institutional integrity.

The commission noted that the multiple “no confidence” resolutions by staff and faculty did not appear to have been “authentically considered” by the board, although the board affirmed the role of the faculty and staff in a May 2021 statement, including it “understands that the views of these constituent groups must be authentically considered.”

The commission found NIC to be noncompliant with requirements and standards regarding the trustees’ responsibility to ensure ethical treatment of stakeholders and constituents and adherence to institutional and board policies, among other items.

The NWCCU placed NIC under monitoring, with the college required to submit reports until the commission's spring 2023 visit, including agenda and draft minutes for board meetings and links to video recordings of the board meetings.

Howard said he doesn’t know how the action of removing the reports from the agenda will be received, but he can’t see it as a positive without significant explanation.

Wood said longtime faculty going back over 50 years said they could not remember a time when they were not allowed to give their reports in public as part of the regular board meeting.

“This is just the total opposite of what our commitment was,” Wood said.

Wood said that after noticing the change, she asked Sebaaly to make sure the lack of the three reports wasn’t an oversight. Wood said she did not get an initial response and followed up again on Monday to make sure the reports were added to the agenda.

While she did not want to speak for Sebaaly, it was clear they were in disagreement on whether the agenda was a board agenda in purview of the board, or in purview of the interim president, she said.

Wood said her opinion is that the agenda is at the pleasure of the board, while Sebaaly’s opinion appears to be that it is an operational matter and in his purview.

She said Sebaaly refused her request to add the reports back to the agenda. She also said any board member has the ability to put something on the agenda.

At the board meeting tonight, Wood said she will attempt to amend the agenda for the constituent groups to give their reports in public.

Sebaaly was unavailable for comment.

The board will meet at 6 tonight in the Edminster Student Union Building, Lake Coeur d’Alene Room on the NIC main campus in Coeur d’Alene.