NIC still wrestling with presidential vacuum

(UPDATED, 2:00 p.m., with details that the NIC Staff Assembly will vote Wednesday on a statement of no confidence.)

After an unruly, three-hour Saturday afternoon meeting, North Idaho College is no closer to filling its leadership vacuum.

Trustees didn’t budge off their decision to place President Nick Swayne on administrative leave. But they also read a letter from former interim President Michael Sebaaly, in which the former NIC wrestling coach said he had no interest in returning to Coeur d’Alene to take the president’s job on an acting basis.

Sebaaly has been a central figure in the controversy surrounding NIC — a furor that has contributed to a chronic decline in enrollment and has placed the college’s accreditation in jeopardy. Sebaaly was named to replace President Rick MacLennan, who was fired without explanation in September 2021. Sebaaly, who served in the interim role until Swayne was hired in June, resigned from NIC in September after being placed on administrative leave.

Michael Sebaaly

Sebaaly’s decision to turn down the job drew raucous applause from the audience — which also applauded an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate Swayne.

‘I am seen by many as the enemy’

On Monday, Idaho Education News obtained emails between NIC board Chairman Greg McKenzie and Sebaaly, offering a look into the college’s short-lived attempts to recruit Sebaaly.

“We are looking for a unique leader,” McKenzie wrote Friday afternoon, describing yet another challenge facing the trustees: a potential vote of no confidence from college staff. The NIC Staff Assembly has scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday morning to vote on a statement of no confidence, college spokeswoman Megan Snodgrass said Monday.

McKenzie also alluded to “unprofessional post treatment” Sebaaly endured after stepping down as president, including the loss of vacation and leave time. NIC could not immediately provide additional information Monday on Sebaaly’s vacation and leave time. McKenzie also suggested Sebaaly return under his old interim president’s contract, and a salary of $180,000 per year.

Sebaaly turned down the offer Saturday, citing the ongoing divide on the board of trustees. When board member Todd Banducci on Thursday suggested approaching Sebaaly to serve as acting president, fellow trustee member Tarie Zimmerman lampooned the idea, describing Sebaaly as nothing more than Banducci’s “bestie.”

“I am seen by many as the enemy, and all I ever wanted was to build consensus,” Sebaaly wrote. “I could only take this position again if I truly had the whole board behind me, and I do not feel this is the case.”

Sebaaly did make a counteroffer. In an email to Art Macomber, recently hired as NIC’s attorney, Sebaaly said he would be willing to work as a consultant, for $200 an hour.

Recesses, fire alarms and other plot twists

The trustees’ third meeting in a chaotic week took many strange turns. Trustees called five recesses over the course of Saturday’s meeting, as audience members heckled. On two occasions, a fire alarm was pulled, forcing trustees to clear the room and call recesses. At one point — and despite McKenzie’s urging — Banducci threw verbal barbs at the audience.

“Wow, some of you really are special,” said Banducci. “You know, actually, the women are scarier than the men. But I don’t know that your men are real men, so sometime hopefully they’ll prove it.”

The meeting took an odd procedural turn. Trustees discussed negotiating with another presidential candidate — with Banducci relating the candidate’s credentials, but refusing to identify the candidate by name. On a divided vote, trustees gave the go-ahead to approach the unidentified would-be candidate.

Meanwhile, the Associated Students of NIC have passed a vote of no confidence in the trustees, according to according to Kaye Thornbrugh of the Coeur d’Alene Press.

“We’re not happy with how the board is going about these changes,” ASNIC President Damian Maxwell told the Press after Saturday’s meeting. “It’s appalling. We have all worked with Nick Swayne and we love working with him. He’s a very student-centered person.”

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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