How this college’s conservative takeover has led to lawsuits and accreditation troubles

In 2021, North Idaho's board fired then-president Rick MacLennan without cause and installed the school's wrestling coach as interim president, drawing community backlash.

Before Gov. Ron DeSantis quarterbacked a conservative takeover of New College of Florida and fired the college’s then-president to combat woke indoctrination, there was North Idaho College.

Following the George Floyd protests in 2020 and NIC’s ensuing support of the Black Lives Matter movement, a county Republican committee urgently endorsed the nomination of two Board of Trustees members that better champion conservative values. The two committee-backed nominees won, joining Todd Banducci to form an informal conservative majority among the five-member panel.

Since then, the college has ousted two presidents, introduced two interim leaders, and nullified a judge’s order to reinstate a president improperly placed on leave. Now, however, North Idaho College fights for its accreditation.

How did North Idaho College get here?

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), the accreditation agency responsible for NIC, issued a “show cause” letter in February for a slew of reasons, including declining enrollment, a “continued exodus” of faculty and a string of 13 no-confidence votes passed by students, faculty and staff in the last two years. However, the predominant factor leading to the accreditation’s skepticism was its ongoing leadership problem.

In 2021, North Idaho’s board fired then-president Rick MacLennan without cause and eventually instated the school’s wrestling coach as interim president, drawing community-wide backlash and a lawsuit from MacLennan against the school, according to the NWCCU letter.

“Staff and faculty have made it clear. They are the boots on the ground here on this campus,” Wood said, “and they find great value in the leadership of Dr. MacLennan, as do I,” said Christie Wood, a trustee who strongly opposed the firing, according to The Spokesman Review. “I think this is a train wreck for the rest of the trustees that we have personal liability that you’re bringing upon us with this motion. It doesn’t make any sense at all to remove this president.”

With the help of interim trustees nominated by NWCCU, the board approved the presidential hiring of Nick Swayne in June 2022. However, the board then decided to suspend Nick Swayne a few months later without cause and inject Greg South as interim president. Swayne waged a lawsuit against the school for the suspension. Then came NWCCU’s February threat to strip NIC’s accreditation.

Where the college is now

With pressure from NWCCU and a judge’s order to reinstate Swayne as president, the board decided to maintain Swayne as president. However, they simultaneously nullified his presidency after the conservative majority-backed attorney Art Macomber found Swayne’s initial hiring the year before illegal. This move again drew the ire of students and staff as such a nullification goes directly against NWCCU’s mandate that Swayne remains president as long as his lawsuit and the commission’s accreditation loom.

“If this motion is passed, I can guarantee you we will lose accreditation. Simple as that,” said Swayne, according to KREM.

Students, faculty, alumni and other community members have banded together to create to warn the community how the college’s loss of accreditation could impact the state’s northern counties. They posit that Banducci’s leadership has cost the school $5.2 million in cancelled gifts, lawsuits, hiring firms to replace NIC members and other values.

Swayne subsequently won his lawsuit and has been reinstated as president of NIC. However, NWCCU’s final judgment on the school’s accreditation will not occur until June 23. When that time comes, Swayne and Board Chair Greg McKenzie, who voted to first suspend and then nullify Swayne’s presidency, will have to work together to make their accreditation plea.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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