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NIC’s majority trio declines to bring Swayne back into office; opts to seek settlement with suspended president

North Idaho College's board meets Wednesday night, Feb. 22, 2023.
L to R: Todd Banducci, Mike Waggoner, NIC attorney Art Macomber, Greg McKenzie, NIC interim president Greg South, Brad Corkill and Tarie Zimmerman.

The conservative trio that controls the North Idaho College Board of Trustees turned down a motion to reinstate the president they put on leave nearly three months ago.

In a 3-2 vote Wednesday night, Chair Greg McKenzie, Vice Chair Mike Waggoner and Todd Banducci voted not to bring NIC President Nick Swayne back. Their decision defies the recommendation of the college’s accrediting agency and two NIC executives, and the stated desires of the college’s faculty, staff and students, and members of the public.

“President Swayne was hired at the end of a legitimate process,” said Trustee Brad Corkill, who proposed the motion. “And I think the first step in the healing process is to reinstate President Swayne.”

In a separate 3-1 vote, the board authorized McKenzie and attorney Kelly Drew to begin working on settling a civil suit Swayne filed against the college and its board last December. That suit contends the board didn’t have the authority to place him on administrative leave, and asks for Swayne to be reinstated.

Corkill joined the majority in the settlement vote; McKenzie did not cast a vote. Trustee Tarie Zimmerman voted no.

It’s unclear what the majority trio’s refusal to re-instate Swayne means for the college and the trouble it faces from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), NIC’s accreditor. Previous warnings from NWCCU have specifically identified the suspension of Swayne and hiring of interim president Greg South as problematic actions that jeopardize the college’s accreditation.

After casting the tiebreaking vote declining to reinstate Swayne, McKenzie said, “Nobody wins by NIC losing its accreditation.”

During a report on the college’s problems, South said, “We have to embrace our better selves, or we will not get through this accreditation process.”

Describing the current situation as a “difficult and divisive time for the college,” South said NWCCU has given North Idaho College a last chance, and that further rancor will only reflect poorly on the school and its chances to salvage accreditation.

If the board and the college’s other stakeholders can’t work together, South said, “There’s nothing I can do. I’m not the savior. I’m the person who’s here to fill the gap.”

Meanwhile, Swayne’s legal battle with the NIC board continues in court Friday. Kootenai County District Court Judge Cynthia Meyer will hear Swayne’s request to issue an injunction that bars the college from making substantial changes until his civil suit is resolved.

In a court filing, NIC’s counsel in the case, Bret Walther, asked Meyer to reject the injunction request. He argued Swayne hasn’t been harmed by the suspension; that the board had the authority to sideline him; and that the suit does not meet the standards for action under Idaho law and judicial interpretation.

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.