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‘Tough to read the room,’ NIC’s Swayne says of accreditation hearing; decision expected in July

An aerial photo of North Idaho College's campus in Coeur d'Alene
North Idaho College, via Flickr
North Idaho College's campus in Coeur d'Alene

The panel that holds the future of North Idaho College’s accreditation in its hands asked questions, listened to the answers, and betrayed no hint of its decision at a June 23 hearing in Seattle.

That was NIC President Nick Swayne’s assessment, shared in a message to college staff and made public Wednesday.

Swayne, NIC Board Chair Greg McKenzie, chief financial officer Sarah Garcia and other college leaders fielded questions from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) during the hearing.

The panel consisted of “about 30 or so” commissioners, according to Swayne. He delivered an opening statement. Then commissioners asked general questions directed to Swayne and McKenzie, and offered more specific queries about finances and human resources. Swayne said he felt the NIC team was well-prepared for the hearing. The accreditation panel kept its thoughts and reactions close to the vest, he said.

“The commissioners contained their facial expressions and body language, so we really did not get any hint toward the outcome,” Swayne wrote. “It was tough to read the room.”

NWCCU has 30 days after the hearing to notify NIC of its decision. Swayne said the group may take all of that time, which will be spent drafting, rewriting and reviewing the notification.

“So, expect the final word to come out very near the 23rd of July (maybe the 21st, based on the weekend),” Swayne wrote.

In a separate update Wednesday, the college said it had received general guidance from NWCCU not to speculate about potential outcomes. NIC said it would release NWCCU’s decision and “any additional information” about the college’s accreditation as soon as possible after it receives the formal notification.

North Idaho College was put on a “show cause” status in February, chiefly over the board’s dysfunctional behavior and the discord caused by its decisions. NWCCU cited several factors, including the firing of former NIC President Rick MacLennan without cause in September 2021; the indefinite suspension of Swayne for no disciplinary reason in December 2022; multiple votes of “no confidence” in the board from campus faculty, staff and student government groups; and civil suits provoked by Swayne’s suspension and the hiring of political ally Art Macomber as the school’s attorney.

The show cause notice alerted NIC that its accreditation was at stake, though revocation is not the only possible outcome of the hearing. NWCCU could choose to reduce its sanction, extend the show cause period, or take “adverse action,” which the college could appeal.

In late May, NIC asked NWCCU to remove it from show cause status. It argued the board and college leadership were moving toward solving their differences and governing in a manner compliant with NWCCU standards. NIC argued removing the show cause label would “provide employees, students - both current and prospective - and the community a strong sign of NWCCU's confidence that the college can return to good standing."

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty 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.