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NIC student government leaders wary of plan to put non-voting student member on Board of Trustees

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In a meeting Wednesday night, the North Idaho College Board of Trustees will consider a proposal to add a non-voting student member to its ranks. The students most likely to hold the position said they are doubtful it will lead to effective student participation in the college’s governance.

NIC’s interim president, Greg South, approached Associated Students of North Idaho College (ASNIC) President Damian Maxwell and President Pro Tem Alex Elliott January 11 with the idea, according to Maxwell’s planning calendar.

Maxwell said he wasn’t opposed to the concept, but he questioned its value.

“I’m not sure how this is completely beneficial,” Maxwell said in an interview Monday. “I’m already sitting in these meetings. So moving me over to sit with [the trustees] might look good, [but] I just don’t see it doing too much for our accreditation.”

In a separate conversation, Elliott also mentioned accreditation concerns. He referred to the recent scrutiny applied by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), the agency that accredits NIC.

Last April, NWCCU placed NIC on a warning status over its tumultuous governance, and it is preparing to re-evaluate the college this spring. On December 17, the agency sent a letter asking NIC to explain how it remained in compliance on more than a dozen potential violations of its eligibility for accreditation.

“Everybody knows the NWCCU is intensely watching North Idaho College, as far as accreditation standards and requirements go,” Elliott said. “And I’m wondering if having a student representative up on the Board of Trustees might be a political move to sort of give the impression that North Idaho College and the trustees are listening to the voice of the students. But…a non-voting member doesn’t give us the weight that would actually be beneficial.”

Under the current setup, the ASNIC president – this semester, it’s Maxwell – verbally presents a report to the board of trustees, which is usually the limit of the group’s participation in the meeting. But a student member on the board, even a non-voting one, would have more freedom to jump into active board discussions, offering countering viewpoints or different perspective.

“It is a possibility that we would be able to provide meaningful and helpful information during the meeting,” Elliott said. “I’m just unsure of what the situation would actually look like. I’m just…erring on the side of being skeptical and careful about it.”

The two student government officers said they have deeper concerns about NIC than whether a student is added to the five-member board of trustees.

In a three-week period in December, a three-person conservative majority on the board – Chair Greg McKenzie and trustees Todd Banducci and Mike Waggoner – voted to hire a political ally as the college’s attorney, violated Idaho open meetings laws, put NIC President Nick Swayne on administrative leave, and hired South to be NIC’s interim president, despite advice from NWCCU and top NIC administrators to reinstate Swayne.

In the middle of that storm of activity, ASNIC members produced a vote of “no confidence” in the trustees. And, separately from their official responsibilities as student government officers, Maxwell and Elliott helped organize a rally in support of Swayne just before Christmas.

Mentioning that the board’s decisions came during finals and the college’s winter break, Maxwell said, “These are times students really shouldn’t be worrying about accreditation and what the Board of Trustees is up to. Students are just now coming back onto campus. And they’re hearing bits and pieces about what happened over break, or when they weren’t looking. And they’re not too happy.”

The NIC board’s track record and its silence on the no-confidence vote led Maxwell to believe serving as a student representative on the panel wouldn’t help the situation the college faces.

“I want my voice to be heard in these meetings, and I haven’t felt heard,” Maxwell said.

NIC’s Board of Trustees will consider an initial proposal to add a non-voting student member at a meeting Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. The meeting takes place in the Edminster Student Union Building on NIC’s campus in Coeur d’Alene.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.