Board Fires College President Without Cause

One trustee believes board members acted in retaliation against the president for supporting an effort to recall the chairman.

September 24, 2021
 
Courtesy of North Idaho College
Rick MacLennan had served as president of the community college since 2016.

The North Idaho College Board of Trustees fired Rick MacLennan, president of the college, without cause during a tense meeting Wednesday.

The decision split trustees the way many previous votes have, with board chairman Todd Banducci and trustees Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes voting in favor, while trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard strongly opposed the motion.

Months in the making, the decision to terminate MacLennan’s contract likely grew out of a complaint MacLennan brought against Banducci months ago, Wood said in an email. Wood called for Banducci’s resignation in February after MacLennan emailed her about Banducci’s “aggressive and intimidating behavior.” Dozens of faculty members also joined the recall effort, and the faculty assembly voted no confidence in Banducci’s leadership.

The recall ultimately failed, but since then the relationship between Banducci and MacLennan has soured, leading to MacLennan’s termination, Wood said Thursday. She also said she was embarrassed by the board’s actions and by its treatment of MacLennan.

“I believe there is a very sufficient public information paper trail that shows the actions of Trustee Banducci to be retribution for a personnel complaint filed by Dr. MacLennan,” Wood wrote. “To date this Board has failed to investigate the complaint or take any action to remedy it.”

Banducci, McKenzie and Barnes did not qualify their votes during the meeting, and Banducci did not yield the floor to MacLennan at all while the trustees publicly discussed his contract.

“Trustee Banducci, you have bullied me for a long time, and you are doing it again,” MacLennan said during the meeting.

Banducci and MacLennan did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Dozens of faculty and staff members attended the meeting in support of MacLennan, though there was no public comment period. At least one audience member was removed by security, the Spokesman-Review reported.

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“Is this what you like, Todd? Chaos?” a woman shouted. “You have ruined a great institution!”

MacLennan’s presidency ended Thursday evening. He had served as president of the community college in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for five years. He will be paid a year’s salary and benefits, per his contract, according to the Spokesman-Review.

Lita Burns, vice president for instruction at the college, will likely serve as acting president until the board either appoints an interim leader or selects a new permanent president. The board will meet Friday to officially appoint Burns as acting president and to authorize a presidential search, according to a special meeting agenda.

Wood said during Wednesday's meeting that the board had not discussed the potential appointment with Burns. In turn, Burns requested 24 hours to discuss the terms of the appointment prior to agreeing to it. When Banducci told her it might not be possible, she agreed to accept on the condition that such a meeting would take place soon.

“I am serving under my fourth president at North Idaho College in 20 years, so I have witnessed the process for presidential searches,” Burns said. “I will attest to the fact that if you want a really good president, this is not something that can be rushed.”

Wood said that the three trustees intend to appoint Banducci to search for MacLennan’s permanent replacement.

“You can expect this coming action to be hotly debated,” Wood wrote. “We are a board of five elected public officials, not three.”

The decision to fire MacLennan could complicate an ongoing investigation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities -- North Idaho’s accreditor. The agency has been investigating the college since it received a formal complaint in March from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. The college has been instructed to send a report by next August that demonstrates how it has complied with the agency’s governance bylaws.

“I am not certain how the NWCCU will respond to the on-going issues. They have already informed this Board we need to be in compliance with governance standards,” Wood wrote. “If they choose to view the video of the board meetings I believe they will see we continue to be out of compliance.”

A spokesperson for the accreditor did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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