Foundation Follies

Powell Tribune Publisher Dave Bonner explains to the NWC Board of Trustees his plan to rule the world starting with them.

After the last Board of Trustees meeting (February 14), it’s pretty clear that The Northwest College Foundation has declared war on “Yellowstone College.” They’ve sat quietly over the last two years as this idea has been kicked around, and much to their surprise, has built up steam. My guess is, they were hoping it would eventually go away on its own, and without their input. But, something happened since those early discussions that Foundation members didn’t foresee… Yellowstone College could be a real thing.

As a result, Dave Bonner, the Foundation President stood up in front of the Board and in so many words yelled an emphatic “no” to the idea of a name change at Northwest College. Sitting quietly nearby was Shelby Wetzel, his daughter and Executive Director of the Foundation. Bonner was provided back-up from his Foundation minions Chris Taggart and Clay Cummins who also serve on the Foundation as assistant treasurer and one of the directors respectively. Along with Bonner, these two reek of rich, affluent Whiteness. On the Foundation website, Taggart is listed as a modest “insurance and investment rep” for Taggart Co. However, Taggart Co. is an affiliate/partner with Dun & Bradstreet, and Taggart himself is the principal owner. Cummins is listed as a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

Despite this Johnny-come-lately pushback from key members of the Foundation, one has to wonder what their true motivation is. Of course they claim it’s mostly about the money—the “huge and ongoing cost” of a college name change despite plenty of evidence provided over the past year that says otherwise. They also make claim to the Northwest College name itself—in its “rich tradition.”

Yeah, whatever. Maybe the die-hards of “Eastern Montana College” will be sympathetic.

The question that all of us should be asking today is: If the Foundation supports the college in all it does, why are they leaning so hard on the Board of Trustees now? One would think someone was proposing we change our name from Yellowstone College to Northwest College instead.

If you believe I’m overreacting to the “weight” of the Foundation on college policy and decisions, you haven’t attended many of the various college meetings I have over the years to discover the Foundation’s Executive Director front and center in attendance. So many times my faculty colleagues and I have asked ourselves, “What is she doing here? This doesn’t concern her.”

With all of this in mind, I’ve been seeking input from others in contemplating what might be the Foundation’s true rationale in resisting the name change. Of course, the Foundation leadership would never declare or reveal their true motivation, but given the profile of a group like the Foundation, its cultural geography in the country, and even its own little history, what I propose in the following is hardly a stretch.

1. The executive director doesn’t want to work hard
Explaining to her easy-money base (i.e., staunch Republicans/Trumpers/good-old-boy network) why the college needs to change its name and why they need to keep on giving to it will surely be challenging. Yet, quite possibly she fails to see the opportunity to gain alumni that could get behind “Yellowstone College” those who have never supported the institution before. Further, she doesn’t want to deal with the future new donors of Yellowstone College who will likely be cut from a different cloth than her typical clientele. All of this is way too much work for the cushy position she has carved out for herself over the years.

2. Yellowstone College means more diversity.
With the new name of Yellowstone College, our institution will net greater interest from far beyond our service area. We will be found and researched easier from other parts of the country and world. We might even get better students, better faculty, better staff, and God forbid… less Whiteness. They don’t want outsiders coming in here and discovering how stupid we are or having our “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality challenged. Consider the Whiteness of the Foundation itself.

Ethnic or cultural diversity is not the strength of the Northwest College Foundation Board.

This same grim rationale was said to have played out once at Flathead Community College when they passed on the opportunity to hire Phil Jackson after he retired from playing but before he started coaching. When they turned him down one of the trustees came right out and said that with him, the school might attract the wrong sort of players.

As one colleague said, “The powers-that-be at Northwest College want to keep it sleepy because it’s easy.”

3. It’s not their idea.
Beyond what is mentioned above in their opposition of a college name-change, it could be as simple as they weren’t the ones to initially offer this up to the public. For years when the few of us mentioned name-change in conversation, it was considered more of an impossibility and thus, treated like a joke. Seldom in the past did anyone every arrive at that point of, “You know, that’s not a bad idea.”

Some people probably think, “Well Morgan, you just don’t like the Bonners.” That’s true, but it’s not baseless or whimsical. My only reasoning has to do with their strangle hold on our campus community via their unscrupulous and overt display of nepotism and their monopoly on information within and beyond the campus. Any ethical newsperson would refrain from taking any kind of leadership role within an institituion such as the Foundation given its wealth of finances. And any ethical Foundation director would divorce themselves of a newspaper operation—let alone serving as one of its directors. Some refer to these kind of scenarios as a “conflict of interest.”

Yet, there they are embedded like ticks in a suffering dog. Bonners own and dictate the only source of news for Powell and the campus community, as the campus newspaper and journalism program were cut years ago. And, we shouldn’t be so naive to think that someone named Bonner didn’t weigh in on that decision either. Two Bonners now hold key positions on the powerful Foundation—Executive Director and President, not to mention all of their powerful Foundation friends who kowtow to them as well.

In all of this, my only surprise is they haven’t offered up the compromise of “Bonner College” in lieu of Yellowstone College.

Absurdity from a Local Oligarch

It was a laughable presentation at the recent Northwest College Board of Trustees meeting when community leader and Powell Tribune owner Dave Bonner stood up before the Gods of Northwest College (a.k.a. Board of Trustees) to challenge the idea of renaming the college.

Sadly, Bonner’s new plan is nothing more than a new spin on our worn-out, vanilla moniker.

His solution? “Northwest College: On Yellowstone’s Door” with the words “at Powell and Cody” awkwardly included somewhere in his proposed word salad. It all struck me as a textbook illustration of beating a dead horse. Might as well include our zip code too.


Bonner spoke of the additional cost associated with a name change, but failed to mention how the college dedicated an extra $80-grand almost three years ago on a new marketing plan for good-old, multi-directional, but-we’re-not-in-Washington-state, Northwest College. How did that go? I didn’t see any results from that little investment. So now Bonner is telling us that “Northwest College: the gateway to Yellowstone” and including “Powell • Cody” will make it all less confusing? That’s the best we can come up with—doubling down on vanilla? Wow!

If our name is as great as he declares, surely it can stand on its own without a clumsy clarification statement attached to it. And history has proven over and over, that’s not the case—not when there’s dozens of other schools out there using “Northwest” in their names as well.

Let’s apply this “Bonner Logic” to that popular television series…“Yellowstone: mostly in Montana, but some in Wyoming.”

Or, consider that Major League Baseball team in Cleveland. “The Cleveland Indians: Guardians of the Land.”

Or how about that pro football team in Washington? “The Washington Redskins: Commanders of the Capitol.”

Yeah, those are much better.

The publisher’s antiquated thinking was also endorsed by his Zoom-based, posse-of-two, affluent Foundation officers and directors who basically said, “Yeah, what Dave said.” Added to that, Bonner provided more “evidence” for not changing the name because all the old guys in his morning coffee klatch said it was a bad idea too.

I was tempted to stand up and shout, “Well, the old guys in my coffee klatch think the name should have been changed to Yellowstone College back in ’89 when ‘Community’ was deleted from the name!” So, there’s that.

Bonner referenced that time as well saying that the Board of Trustees also considered Yellowstone College back then, but didn’t do it; as if there was a greater wisdom present in the ’89 Board of Trustees than today’s.

No doubt, it will be disappointing if the Board of Trustees heeds the vapid rationale from this Powell oligarch and his Foundation cronies. But, beyond disappointing, it will be downright embarrassing.