The latest at NIC: A lawsuit, a warning letter, a series of no-confidence votes

(UPDATED, 9:30 a.m. Dec. 20, to correct the name of NIC acting co-CEO Lloyd Duman.)

It’s been a news-filled few days for North Idaho College — and none of the news is good.

On Friday, President Nick Swayne sued the college, protesting trustees’ Dec. 8 decision to put him on paid administrative leave.

On Saturday, a regional governing body sent a stern warning letter to college leadership, raising new questions about the college’s accreditation.

And late last week, the NIC Faculty Assembly and Staff Assembly joined the college’s student government in casting votes of no confidence in the current board of trustees, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported.

The developments come after another tumultuous turn of events at the troubled Coeur d’Alene-based community college. In a series of tense meetings in early December, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee-aligned trustees hired political ally Art Macomber as the college’s attorney, placed Swayne on leave, and made an unsuccessful attempt to bring back NIC wrestling coach and former interim president Michael Sebaaly on an acting basis.

Trustees are next scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

Swayne’s lawsuit

Filed Friday in Kootenai County district court, the lawsuit contends the college had no authority to place Swayne on administrative leave.

Swayne can only be placed on administrative leave if he resigns his job, according to the five-page complaint. Since Swayne has not resigned, he cannot be placed on leave, according to Swayne’s attorney, Tara Malek.

Trustees placed Swayne on leave in order to allow them to review the president’s contract — particularly a clause that now says that only Swayne can decide to terminate his contract without cause. Originally, the contract said the college could also terminate the contract without cause.

Attached to the lawsuit is a Dec. 9 letter from Macomber to Swayne, saying the president was facing no disciplinary action. But in order to safeguard Swayne and “the investigative process,” Macomber said Swayne is forbidden from coming onto campus to conduct college business, or from accessing the college computers. However, the letter said Swayne could attend Christmas parties or sporting events on campus.

The warning letter

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities didn’t just give NIC a warning Saturday. It gave the college a Jan. 4 deadline.

By that date, the college needs to submit a written “show cause” letter explaining why it believes it is still in compliance with accreditation guidelines.

“In such cases, the burden rests with the institution to demonstrate why its candidacy or accreditation should be continued,” NWCCU President Sonny Ramaswamy said in a letter to Lloyd Duman and Sarah Garcia, the college’s acting co-CEOs.

If NIC loses its accreditation, college students and high school students in dual-credit classes would be unable to transfer their credits to another institution. NIC students would also be ineligible for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship.

The letter cites several accreditation concerns, including the lack of “a sufficient number of qualified administrators” at the college.

“(NIC) is reminded that membership in the NWCCU is voluntary and that a fundamental assumption of the commission is that its member institutions willingly seek to maintain compliance with commission bylaws, eligibility requirements, standards, and policies,” Ramaswamy wrote.

The State Board of Education said last week that it “recognizes” concerns about NIC’s governance and accreditation. The State Board had no comment on the NWCCU letter, and NIC is not a formal agenda item for Wednesday’s State Board meeting, board spokesman Mike Keckler said Monday. However, State Board President Kurt Liebich is likely to comment on the NIC situation at the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Keckler said.

No-confidence votes

The Coeur d’Alene Press reported Friday on the faculty and staff assembly’s votes. Both bodies call on trustees to reinstate Swayne immediately.

“Upon placement of President Dr. Nick Swayne on administrative leave, the board created a leadership vacuum without a chief executive officer,” according to the faculty assembly resolution, which passed unanimously. “This is a crisis of the board’s own creation.”

The decision to place Swayne on leave was “shocking,” Staff Assembly Chair Keri Simonet told the Press. “That was one of the biggest blows to morale.”

The Associated Students of NIC have also called for Swayne’s return, the Press reported.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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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