Thursday, December 08, 2022

NIC Board tables ombudsman talks

Staff Writer | September 29, 2022 1:08 AM

With three “ayes” and two abstentions, the North Idaho College Board of Trustees on Wednesday decided to table discussions regarding developing an ombudsman program.

Trustees Greg McKenzie and Todd Banducci abstained from the vote. McKenzie participated via phone conference call.

“I don’t think the board that’s sitting now with one meeting left has the time to really fully address the ombudsman program,” Vice Chair John Goedde said. “I’ve supported it in past discussion, but I think it’s time now to table it.”

An ombudsman program would provide personnel to resolve disputes from neutral, independent viewpoints. The NIC Board held discussions about implementing an ombudsman at previous meetings. It was tabled at the June meeting amid board policy discussions.

Previously, a recommendation was made to copy the University of Idaho’s ombudsman policy, change the name and implement it at NIC, which President Nick Swayne presented during the August meeting.

“What they do, essentially, they’ve contracted the ombudsman out to somebody in New York, it’s not even done on campus, a person reports to the president,” Swayne said.

He said he was told this is not what NIC is seeking.

“Trustee Banducci said he wanted a different policy that would compel action from the chair to the ombudsman and compel action inside the college,” Swayne said.

He said that such a plan would violate the college’s standards for accreditation, and asked: “Do you want the (University of) Idaho plan, which is absolutely acceptable, would be endorsed by any of the accrediting bodies in our region … or a plan that would almost ensure our loss of accreditation, or something in between?”

Swayne said in speaking with his colleagues in education, other colleges have deans of students to whom students report their issues, and those issues come to the president. Employees report their grievances to the head of human resources.

He said what is unclear is what is would transpire if the president, dean of students, head of human resources or members of the board are the reporting parties.

“People just assume that’s not going to happen, so those policies are kind of fuzzy,” Swayne said. “If we’re going to adopt that, we need to clean that up and make that work. I would recommend that we go forward with that, or hold off for more guidance or discussion for a different policy.”

McKenzie said, during the discussion leading up to the vote, that he believes the college needs an ombudsman program and volunteered to write his own policy, if given a month’s time.

After the vote to table the ombudsman discussion, McKenzie seemed confused or as if he hadn’t been able to hear what was said.

“Did we just vote on tabling it indefinitely?” he asked, and suggested the discussion could be reopened later if he brought back a policy himself.

“If you bring back a policy, it can go on the agenda,” Chair David Wold said.

Wold encouraged McKenzie to meet with Swayne.

“Policies basically say agenda items go through the president to get on the agenda,” McKenzie said. “So am I clear that if I don’t meet with the president that I don’t get my policy on? Is that what’s going on here? Am I essentially being blackmailed?”

He questioned whether his policy, if brought to Swayne, would appear on the agenda.

“I’m going to find out, I’m going to tell everyone right now, because you a--holes are being a--holes,” McKenzie said.

Goedde immediately objected to McKenzie’s use of language. Secretary/Treasurer Pete Broschet called for a break.

“May I recommend a two-minute recess so Trustee McKenzie can compose himself and come back and deal as an adult?” Broschet asked.

This concluded the trustees’ discussion on the ombudsman program.

The next meeting of the NIC Board of Trustees is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Lake Coeur d'Alene Room of the Edminster Student Union Building at NIC's main campus in Coeur d'Alene.



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