Dr. Riedel files lawsuit against community college

By Zach Jensen,

Herbert H. J. Riedel, Ph.D.

A special report from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has stated that Northeast Iowa Community College’s (NICC) former president’s complaints lack merit, but that same former college president is questioning the authenticity of the report and the thoroughness of the commission’s investigation.

In November 2023, the NICC Board of Trustees voted to terminate the contract of its then-present, Dr. Herbert Riedel, for undisclosed reasons. But, a later Driftless Journal article showed that Riedel had no intention of going quietly; that he was going to fight the termination any way he could. 

“This letter is to inform you that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC or “the Commission”) has reviewed the response provided by Northeast Iowa Community College (“the Institution”) to the complaint received by HLC on November 15, 2023,” said the Jan. 9 letter from the HLC. “Thank you for submitting this information. 

“As you recall, HLC initially reviewed the complaint to determine whether it suggested potential substantive noncompliance with the Institution’s ability to meet the Criteria for Accreditation or other HLC requirements,” the letter continued. “Based on that initial review, HLC determined that the information contained in the complaint raised potential concerns regarding the Institution’s compliance with the HLC requirements noted in the letter dated November 20, 2023.”

The HLC letter went on to say that NICC was given the opportunity to provide evidence that it continued to meet the requirements noted in light of Dr. Riedel’s complaint. NICC submitted its response to the HLC on
Dec. 20 — after which, the HLC concluded that NICC provided evidence sufficient to show that the “matters raised in the complaint do not indicate substantive noncompliance with HLC compliance” and that no further review or investigation would be conducted by HLC regarding the termination of Riedel as NICC’s president.

In response to the HLC report and NICC’s continued perceived mistreatment of him, Riedel filed a lawsuit against the community college Jan. 16. According to information from Riedel, the lawsuit seeks to hold the NICC Board of Trustees accountable for violating Iowa’s Open Meetings Act, Iowa Code Chapter 21.  The lawsuit alleges that at a June 19, 2023, closed-session meeting, the Board acted to implement a Performance Action Plan (PAP) for the President and did so without a vote in open session, as required under Iowa law. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the Board’s action of implementing the PAP and also requests damages from each Board member who participated in the violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“The illegally-imposed Performance Action Plan resulted from a deeply flawed evaluation process that was manipulated and designed to distort my actual performance, which was highly successful based on objective measures,” Riedel said. “The political motivation of the PAP is seen among other things in the initial draft that included a plan to subject me to “re-education” on DEI, a highly ideological and controversial movement favored by some at the College. When I arrived at the College, the DEI Committee had plans to institute training on gender pronouns and to survey students on private sexuality, gender, and race issues.  I directed the Committee to follow Iowa’s laws, refrain from controversy, include an openness to viewpoint diversity, and foster a workplace and learning environment that is respectful of employees and students, while promoting diversity and inclusiveness.”

Information from Riedel said that according to Iowa Law, a hearing before an administrative law judge will be held in which Riedel plans to contest his proposed termination. “The board is wasting a lot of taxpayer money by its politically motivated and ego-driven refusal to allow me to return to my job and provide solid leadership to advance NICC’s mission for the benefit of our students,” Riedel said.

“NICC’s focus remains on its commitment to its mission and student experience, and it does not publicly comment on personnel matters,” said Tara Cooley, NICC’s Public Relations Manager. “NICC intends to vigorously defend itself against the Petition recently filed by Dr. Herbert Riedel and will not comment further on pending litigation.”

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