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Return of the wrecking ball

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A tale of two college districts, where one has deftly managed to avert trouble spotted at a distance, and the other gleefully jumped back into a mud puddle from which it was only recently excavated.

The second case first: The elected governing board of North Idaho College. What’s happening there is just a new chapter in a running drama – really, just a new lap in the board’s ongoing exercise of institutional self-destruction. NIC, about 90 years young, operated as a normal and quiet but useful (to students and the region) community college up until November 2020, when a hard-right group elected a new board member giving them the governing majority.

Chaos of many flavors ensued. The new board tried running the college personally, went full-out culture war, fired a well-regarded president and installed in his place a wrestling coach who wouldn’t talk back and who got to preside over the quick departure of most of the institution’s administrators. The new president and board also became recipients of a warning that the regional organization accrediting the college was looking into a revocation.

As the local paper editorialized, “For anyone wondering what happens when unqualified, politically motivated candidates take over the governing board of a public entity, see the rapid and far-reaching destruction being wrought at North Idaho College.”

The months after that, the hard-right group lost its majority and the state Board of Education appointed new NIC board members, which allowed the college to start to correct course including the hiring of a new president (over the opposition of what remained of the recent rightist majority).

That reprieve may be short-lived. In Tuesday’s election, voters filled one of the three seats on the ballot with a Republican Party endorsee and an ally of the old wrecking-ball majority, which presumably will put them back in control come January. Will the chaos and sabotage of Coeur d’Alene’s college then resume? Don’t bet against it.

The people of Kootenai County, at this rate, could save themselves time and effort by just passing a ballot issue. They could declare that they disapprove of colleges and particularly that local one, and would rather students not go there at all (or go somewhere else far away if they must). They could also declare that the college district should be dissolved and NIC shut down, its operations ended and its buildings and land sold. That’s the direction the district’s voters are taking as it is, only in slow motion.

That at least would have the virtue of honesty. But then, many of the roiling activists would rather have the entertainment of chaos, however expensive (in so many ways) that may be.

If they should decide to take a different direction, they could look south 400 miles to the College of Western Idaho district, based in Ada and Canyon counties.

That district too had an important board election on Tuesday. There too a slate of candidates from the hard right was organized and ran hard for election to the board – with numbers enough to take over governing control of it if they won.

They didn’t. At CWI, the incumbents on the ballot for the centrist and sensibly functioning governing board all were re-elected. As Kevin Richart of the Idaho Ed News reported, “For the time being, at least until the next CWI trustee races in 2024, that adds up to no drama on the governing board of the state’s largest community college. And a board of trustees that is eager to work with President Gordon Jones, hired less than a year ago.”

Or, a bullet dodged at CWI – the same kind of bullet that struck home at NIC.

But at least Coeur d’Alene has all that chaotic drama to look forward to.

 

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