North Idaho Board to Discuss President’s Contract

Faculty and staff support the president. But his relationship with several trustees has deteriorated following a failed recall of the board chair.

August 26, 2021
 
Rick MacLennan

The North Idaho College Board of Trustees will meet this afternoon to take action on the president’s contract, the college announced Wednesday.

For months, the relationship between the board and Rick MacLennan, president of the community college in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has worsened. After a failed February recall of Todd Banducci, chair of the board, trustees and the president have struggled to unite.

The trustees will have to decide today whether to renew MacLennan’s contract for another three years. During the public meeting, the trustees will break for an executive session, in accordance with Idaho law, which allows private sessions to “consider the evaluation, dismissal, or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent, or public school student,” according to the meeting agenda.

The board could move to terminate MacLennan’s contract, though no one has said publicly if the trustees intend to do so. Christie Wood, a trustee and public supporter of MacLennan, said she opposed the special meeting, which was convened by Banducci and two other board members.

“I have no intention of seeking the termination of President MacLennan,” Wood said in an email. “He continues to do a stellar job as our president.”

North Idaho faculty and staff members passed a joint resolution in support of the president on Wednesday, which directly asked the board to renew MacLennan’s contract in order to prioritize “operational stability and campus morale.”

“Dr. MacLennan is a champion of educational opportunity and an ambassador for entrepreneurship in North Idaho,” the resolution said. “Over the last eighteen months, he has led the campus community in successfully navigating a number of challenges while maintaining our focus on educational excellence and student success. Under his leadership, NIC responded to COVID-19 with resilience and creativity as it continued to offer students safe, high-quality educational opportunities through a variety of instructional modalities.”

The resolution passed unanimously among the faculty and “by an overwhelming majority” among staff, said Molly Michaud, a professor of English and chair of the Faculty Assembly.

Employees also addressed the tense relationship between MacLennan and the board.

“The employees -- both faculty and staff -- are hopeful that everyone can focus on providing our college community with high quality educational opportunities, a strong commitment to our mission, vision, and values, and our unwavering dedication to student success,” the resolution said. “This is our first week of classes, and we are happy to be back with our students and colleagues.”

The board will also discuss North Idaho College’s recent mask mandate during the Thursday meeting. MacLennan announced last week that students, employees and others must wear a multilayer face covering at all times while in college buildings when two or more people are present. The mandate will stay in place for at least two weeks.

“While not the least bit desirable, we know, based on information from state and local health experts, that wearing face coverings improves our chances of being able to stay open this fall,” MacLennan wrote in his announcement. “This is one change we are making in order to continue offering students and community members the highest possible access to our programs and services. We remain committed to keeping those learning experiences as normal as possible for our students.”

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The sour relationship between Banducci and MacLennan came to light earlier this year, when Wood wrote a letter demanding Banducci’s resignation as board chair. In the letter, she described Banducci’s alleged “physically threatening and verbally abusive behavior,” including one meeting in which Banducci pointed his finger at Wood and said, “I ought to take you outside right now and kick your ass,” The Spokesman-Review reported.

Dozens of faculty members supported Wood’s effort. So did MacLennan, who wrote to the board in January to express concern about Banducci’s “aggressive and intimidating behavior.” At the time, MacLennan outlined several of his own bad experiences with Banducci, including one instance when Banducci allegedly disparaged MacLennan’s wife as a Hillary Clinton supporter and another when Banducci threatened to fire the president.

Banducci did not publicly address the allegations in a statement he put out in January. Instead, he wrote in a Facebook post that “it’s unfortunate that Trustee Wood feels the need to continue her attack on me,” The Spokesman-Review reported.

“It appears this is a concerted effort to finally be rid of me because she doesn’t appreciate the questions I ask as I attempt to fulfill my role as Board Chair,” Banducci wrote. “I and others hope to effect positive change at NIC while increasing transparency and community oversight. The key word being oversight. Too often, people forget that NIC works for the community, which I represent as a member of this board.”

In a 3-to-2 vote, the board ultimately rejected a February resolution to remove Banducci.

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