(UPDATED, 9:31 a.m. Monday, to correct timeline for NIC “show cause” letter and accreditors’ site visit.)
A district judge has ordered North Idaho College trustees to reinstate President Nick Swayne.
The Friday evening order leaves the NIC with two presidents on the payroll — and opens a new round of turmoil, as a regional panel considers pulling the beleaguered community college’s accreditation.
District Judge Cynthia Meyer ordered trustees to reinstate Swayne on a temporary basis, while he pursues a lawsuit to get his job back permanently.
On a divided vote, trustees placed Swayne on paid administrative leave in December, saying they wanted to investigate his contract — and wording change made in September, three months after he was hired.
“In the most charitable light, the Board’s initial decision to place Dr. Swayne on leave without cause can be characterized as misguided,” Meyer wrote in her ruling, as reported by KHQ TV in Spokane, Wash. “However, the Board’s decision to keep him on leave without cause is hostile and arbitrary.”
Days after placing Swayne on leave, a divided board of trustees brought back former NIC administrator Gregory South to work as interim president. South’s contract will continue through at least June 30, 2024, at an annual salary of $235,000. Swayne is receiving $230,000 a year — meaning NIC’s two presidents are being paid more than the president at any of Idaho’s four-year schools.
Meyer addressed the situation in her ruling, according to KHQ.
“By keeping Dr. Swayne on leave, the Board is permitting its Interim President to make discretionary decisions that should be made by Dr. Swayne,” she wrote.
NIC trustees have postponed a special meeting, scheduled for Saturday evening. Instead, trustees will meet at 6:30 p.m. PST Monday.
A regional panel has cited the leadership questions — and the move to put Swayne on leave — as a factor jeopardizing NIC’s accreditation. Saying trustees have failed to take the matter seriously, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities has ordered NIC to submit a “show cause” letter — a document laying out the college’s case to remain accredited. That letter is due March 31. Accreditors are scheduled to visit the college on April 26-27.
If the college loses its accreditation, students will not be able to transfer their credits from NIC to another school, and NIC students would no longer qualify for state-funded scholarships.
NIC’s troubles drew the attention of legislative budget-writers this week. They proposed a budget slashing $454,300 in line items for new NIC hires. That money would instead go into across-the-board raises at all four community colleges, including NIC.