Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

The North Idaho College debacle demonstrates the dangers of extremism


The political extremists who took control of North Idaho College in the 2020 trustee election wasted little time trying to destroy what had been the jewel in Idaho’s community college crown since its founding in 1933. The hostile take-over of NIC’s board of trustees was engineered by Brent Regan and his collection of far-right extremists. They falsely claimed in the election that NIC was run by a bunch of radical liberals who were essentially brainwashing the students. Nothing could have been further from the truth but Regan’s candidates carried the day.

Regan chairs the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), which deplores public education. IFF’s president has said: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today.” This attitude would explain why Regan’s trustees have driven the college to the brink of disaster. Unless things take a dramatic turn very soon, NIC will lose its accreditation and just be a fond memory of the thousands who were educated in its hallowed halls.

Regan’s trustees fired one NIC president after taking control, prompting a lawsuit and settlement. The trustees attempted to fire a second president, Nick Swayne, who was reinstated by the judge. Swayne remains on the job despite repeated efforts to dislodge him. Luckily for Swayne, the trustees hired a lawyer last December who is better at cranking out hefty billings than providing good legal assistance. It is a clear demonstration that when you hire an attorney who will tell you what you want to hear, instead of what you need to hear, you are headed into legal trouble.

When the lawyer claimed that Swayne was hired in violation of Idaho’s open meeting law, the no-nonsense judge correctly shot down that specious argument on a number of grounds. Judge Cynthia Meyer ruled that the contention was about 4 months too late and “not done in good faith.” She also indicated that the intended conclusion of the lawyer’s investigation of the matter was evident from the beginning. The combination of a competent, courageous judge and bumbling lawyer have thus far frustrated the effort of Regan’s trustees to dump Swayne.

In what might be a hopeful sign at an April 26 meeting, one of the three trustees supported by Regan joined with the two reasonable, capable trustees, Brad Corkill and Tarie Zimmerman, to hire a qualified attorney to replace the bumbler (although the same trustee reversed his decision on the replacement attorney two days later). Some actual business–conferring tenure upon a number of faculty members–was also accomplished during the meeting.

And a recent evaluation indicates some progress in addressing accreditation problems. The efforts of the concerned citizens group, Save NIC, to push back against the destructive antics of the Regan trustees may be bearing fruit. They have awakened the community as to the danger posed by the Regan bunch. With the help of other good folk in the community, they might be able to save this treasured community college from destruction at the hands of Regan and his Freedom Foundation acolytes.

The rest of the state can’t rest easy, thinking it won’t happen elsewhere. Just last November, there was an unsuccessful effort by right-wing extremists to take over the board of trustees of the College of Western Idaho. In 2016, an anti-refugee candidate ran for the board of trustees of the College of Southern Idaho and came close to a win.

Regan’s plan is to turn Idaho colleges into indoctrination mills, forcing them to preach his hateful and divisive dogma. Our colleges have done a fine job over the decades of educating our children and preparing them to meet the challenges of the future. We don’t need interlopers coming in to wreck them with scare tactics and vague promises of reform. Idahoans must rise up to support public education like the pro-education folks in Save NIC.

Jim Jones

Jim Jones

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017).

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