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NIC experts weigh in

Staff Writer | October 21, 2022 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Amid a contentious race for three open seats on the North Idaho College board of trustees, former trustees and executive staff shed light on the roles and responsibilities of those elected to the board.

Around 50 people gathered Thursday night at the Harding Family Center in Coeur d’Alene for the panel discussion, presented by the nonpartisan group DART.

The panel comprised retired NIC Vice President of Instruction Lita Burns, retired NIC president and former trustee Joe Dunlap and former NIC trustees Mic Armon and Ken Howard.

DART chair Rick Palagi said the panel format aimed to remove politics from the equation and instead provide factual information to help voters make informed decisions when casting their ballots.

Idaho law prescribes the general powers of the board of trustees. The first is to adopt policies and regulations for its own government and that of the college. The other nine powers are concerned with matters like property acquisition and money management.

“It’s a popular misconception that you get to be a trustee and now you’re in a position to tell everyone what the curriculum is going to be and who’s going to be hired,” Howard said. “That is not the case.”

He said trustees have the ability to hire or fire just one college employee — the president.

Howard added that the relationship between the trustees and the college president is one that requires mutual respect and cooperation.

“The institution won’t run if you don’t have a great relationship,” he said.

While the board and president may not always agree, Burns noted that discord between the two has a real impact on faculty and staff.

When trustees voted 3-2 last year to fire former NIC President Rick MacLennan without cause, for example, Burns said the move created a climate of fear.

“Unfortunately, fear is still running amok on the North Idaho College campus,” she said.

The ripple effect goes even further. Dunlap said two donors to the NIC Foundation specifically cited the disharmony on the board as their reason for withdrawing $5 million they had pledged to the college.

The panel also addressed the importance of NIC’s accreditation, which remains under a microscope.

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities sanctioned NIC with a warning last spring, citing persistent issues specifically related to the board of trustees.

“Our accreditation is now at risk,” Howard said. “We shouldn’t be on this road.”

If NIC loses its accreditation, the college will be in violation of state law and students’ credits won’t transfer to accredited institutions.

Burns pointed out that, while NIC’s professional-technical programs are separately accredited, they will also be put at risk if the college loses accreditation.

Coeur d’Alene is one of the few places in Idaho where students can get an education from kindergarten to a doctorate without leaving the city, Burns said.

“That is a tremendous value that North Idaho College brings to this community,” she said.