Friday, June 14, 2024

NIC trustees clash during presidential interview

Staff Writer | June 11, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A college presidential candidate temporarily walked out of his interview Friday after North Idaho College Trustee Greg McKenzie disparaged and shouted at his fellow trustees.

The board met on campus in the Driftwood Bay room to interview Dr. James Taylor, senior associate vice president for Utah State University and finalist to become NIC’s permanent president. The interview was also streamed via Zoom.

Trustees interviewed Dr. Samuel “Todd” Brand of Ashland, Ky., on Thursday.

They will interview Dr. Nick Swayne of Harrisonburg, Va., on Monday and Dr. Chad Crumbaker of Parkersburg, W.Va., on Wednesday.

Dr. Steve Condon of Winston-Salem, N.C., withdrew from the process this week.

Tensions ran high throughout the meeting, where McKenzie and Trustee Todd Banducci immediately objected to an amended agenda that included a change to the interview process.

McKenzie said he felt “stifled” when the board voted 3-2 to hold follow-up questions until after the candidates have answered all 10 prewritten interview questions.

The questions were written by Dr. Angela Provart, president of the Pauly Group, the consulting firm chosen by NIC to facilitate the presidential search.

Provart shared the questions with Banducci and Trustee Pete Broschet, who are both on the presidential search committee, and requested feedback.

She said Thursday that Broschet made no changes to the questions and Banducci did not respond.

Before the meeting, Banducci told The Press he doesn’t think the board can “objectively” choose a permanent president at this time. He said he did not attend Brand’s interview on Thursday because of conflicting Air Force Reserves obligations.

He said he believes the board set an “artificial deadline” to select a president.

NIC’s accrediting organization, which sanctioned the college with a warning in April, requires its recommendations be resolved over the next year. That includes hiring a permanent president.

Still, Banducci said he thinks the matter can wait until next year.

“I don’t understand the necessity,” he said.

Banducci asserted that the current timeline is politically motivated.

“I think it’s purely a political decision,” he said. “They’re trying to find a president they can control.”

He declined to elaborate on what politics were at play or who “they” are.

“I’ll leave that to your imagination,” he said.

During Friday’s meeting, both McKenzie and Banducci said they believe interviews with candidates should not be open to the public and should instead occur in executive session.

McKenzie repeatedly interrupted NIC Board Chair David Wold, twice calling Wold a “dictator” and sometimes raising his voice to a shout.

“Please let me finish,” Wold said at one point. “You’ve got to learn some manners, young man.”

McKenzie’s interruptions continued after Taylor entered the room for the interview.

Banducci and McKenzie strenuously objected to plans for some trustees to have dinner with the presidential candidates after each interview.

They asserted that all five trustees should be present for the sake of fairness — a plan that could violate Idaho’s Open Meeting Law.

Under Idaho law, when a quorum of a governing body of a public agency meets to deliberate on matters related to official business, the meeting must be open. This includes informal and social meetings.

NIC legal counsel reportedly advised the board that only two trustees should have dinner with presidential candidates. Three or more trustees constitutes a quorum.

McKenzie reportedly showed up uninvited to a Thursday night dinner with Brand, creating a quorum.

Wold said that Broschet left in order to avoid violating Open Meeting Law.

A motion by McKenzie to cancel informal dinners unless all five trustees attend failed 3-2.

A subsequent motion by Wold to cancel the remaining dinners passed 3-2.

Taylor left the room midway through the discussion about dinners and returned after the matter was settled. He later said he did so in the interest of fairness.

During the meeting, Banducci described three of his fellow trustees as “rent-a-trustees.”

Broschet, Wold and John Goedde were appointed last month by the Idaho State Board of Education, after trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard resigned, leaving the board without a quorum. Idaho law required the state board to step in.

During the interview, Taylor described how he reduced the average graduation time for a four-year degree at his current college from more than seven years to around five years — close to the national average.

“Students don’t have time to waste,” he said. “Reducing graduation time is one of the fastest things to build retention.”

In his six years at Utah State, Taylor said enrollment has increased during all but one semester.

He emphasized the importance of not simply responding to change but predicting change and preparing for it.

“There are more crises coming in higher education,” he said.

Taylor said NIC’s appeal lies not just in its scenic location, but in the passion and dedication of its staff and faculty, with whom he met Friday.

“It’s the dedication of almost a century of people putting their blood, sweat and tears into this institution,” he said. “I’ve been impressed with North Idaho College.”