The North Idaho College Board named its head wrestling coach the interim president of the institution on Monday in a raucous meeting during which two board members declared all three finalists unqualified.
Michael Sebaaly, who also is a physical education instructor at the college, became the head coach at NIC in 2019. None of the trustees discussed what qualifications Sebaaly has that made them decide he is qualified to run the college, which has more than 5,000 students.
Sebaaly has a doctorate in educational leadership from Southwestern College in Kansas. His online biography for NIC does not show any college leadership role outside of wrestling. He previously was the head wrestling coach at Northwest Kansas Technical College for five years.
Board members Christie Wood and Ken Howard characterized the selection process as far-right political corruption.
“Some of these people are just personal acquaintances with the board chair,” Wood said. “The process has been completely corrupted, and it’s been done so by three trustees who had people in mind for the position. It has nothing to do with qualifications to run a higher education institution. It has to do with personal friendships and (political) ideology.”
Sebaaly was chosen in a 3-2 vote, with Chair Todd Banducci, Vice Chair Greg McKenzie and Trustee Michael Barnes in favor of the appointment. The position carries a $180,000 salary prorated over the interim president’s term in office.
Banducci and McKenzie declined to comment immediately after the meeting.
Sebaaly is the interim replacement for Richard MacLennan, who was fired last month by the board soon after the board reversed MacLennan’s decision to impose a mask mandate. MacLennan, who became president in 2016, has since filed a legal complaint against the college, Banducci, McKenzie and Barnes, alleging unlawful termination.
The college board decided late last month to select an internal candidate for interim president to serve while the college conducts a national search for a new full-time president. Sebaaly will assume the job no later than Nov. 10. He will take over from Lita Burns, who currently is the acting president.
The board’s decision took place following a more than two-hour-long executive session.
Trustee Ken Howard left the closed-door portion of the meeting roughly an hour in, taking a seat in the lounge area of the Edminster Student Union Building. Trustee Christie Wood was not far behind, joining him approximately five minutes later.
Speaking with The Spokesman-Review during the executive session, both trustees said the session, while they were present, remained within the bounds of allowable discussion behind closed doors. Wood, nevertheless, described the session as “a complete sham.”
“(Ken and I have) been through numerous presidential searches,” Wood said, “and what’s occurring right now is not even close to a professional structure.”
The board went into executive session just after 5 p.m. and reopened to the public just before 7:30 p.m.
Banducci, McKenzie and Barnes did not say anything regarding the selection of Sebaaly at the time of the vote.
There were 10 applicants for the interim president’s position, according to the college.
Wood said there were three finalists – none of whom she would support if they were selected.
“Not even close,” she said.
The two said board trustees argued at their last meeting over the qualifications they would seek from interim candidates. Howard, for example, said he argued for a requirement of five years of administrative experience.
According to the job posting, the minimum qualification, and only requirement, is a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. Preferences include the following:
• A minimum of five years of experience in higher education administration/senior leadership.
• Progressive senior level administrative experience at community college.
• Experience working in business and industry and/or career/technical education.
• Higher education teaching experience.
Human Resources led the process with collecting resumes from internal candidates. The selection was ultimately up to the board.
Sebaaly completed his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Buffalo where he wrestled. He later earned master’s degree in history from Buffalo State College.
Regardless of whether it’s a selection process for a full-time president or an interim, Howard said he believes the process should be more open to the public.
As has been a trend in at least the last several months, Monday’s meeting did not include a public comment period. And while provisions were made for Barnes to connect remotely, the meeting was advertised to not include a option to watch or participate virtually.
“The function of a president on an organization like this has got to be one where the faculty, the staff and other people in the community stand behind them because they know the selection process has been open and we sought the best talent available,” Howard said. “When you start chipping away at that, it chips away at the confidence I think that people have in leadership.”
Wood said she hopes the public will take notice with what she believes is happening at North Idaho College.
“We’re looking for help,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re going to see a great institution continue to suffer greatly.”
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