Higher ed is under attack, everywhere. We have grown to expect attacks on elite institutions, but now threats target regional and rural institutions, metastasizing. Conservatives are assaulting the very institutions that provide the surest access to higher education for their own constituents. A current case in point is what is happening at Northern Idaho College (NIC), a small, rural community college in Coeur D’Alene.
Early on a very cold Friday morning this past January, NIC Board Chair Todd Banducci sent five rapid-fire emails to the institution’s president, Nick MacLennan, giving the president “his marching orders.” Banducci was not happy. He demanded the president stifle student speech and change the college’s COVID-19 protocols. For good measure, he derided the president’s wife as a Hillary supporter. He directly threatened the president’s job.
Board chairs and presidents can often be at odds. But tension at NIC seems less about educational operations, outcomes, or fiscal responsibility. Instead, it seems to be pulling from the Trump political playbook. Schools like NIC that provide the bulk of the educational opportunities in this country get little attention and fewer resources. They train students for careers, focusing mainly on vocational outcomes, because jobs matter. In short, they are an unusual target for conservatives.