What is Going On at COD?

By Linda Burke

What is going on at College of DuPage?

8 facts You may not know about the manufactured crisis at College of DuPage.

COD is the second largest institution of higher education in the state. It is a mainstay of opportunity for the middle class, offering a two-year associates degree, transfer to four-year colleges including the nation’s finest, vocational certificates, non-credit enrichment classes, and essential summer school courses taken for credit by full-time students at other institutions.

Fact: COD excels academically. Not even hostile trustees have tried to deny this. From the trumped-up charges and furor surrounding the college for the past two years, you might think that the academic record has been compromised. The opposite is true. In a recent interview with The Daily Herald, even former board member Kathy Hamilton admitted that COD students are getting an excellent education and enrollment is growing.

Fact: Kathy Hamilton abruptly resigned without explanation on December 13, 2015. Now, the board is split 3-3 along ideological lines. They have 60 days to choose a new board member, or a new one will be appointed by the Illinois Community College Board to serve until the next election in spring 2017.

Fact: The severance package offered to former college President Breuder was legal, proper, and would have saved the taxpayer millions of dollars. In January 2015, the board’s attorney advised that Breuder had done nothing that rose to the charge of being fired for cause which was the only reason for termination under his contract set to expire in June 2019. With this in mind, the previous board (Kathy Hamilton plus six opposing board members) negotiated a $764,000 buyout which was equal to half his remaining contract and would have led to his retirement in March 2016. Following the 2015 election, the new, extremist-majority board voted to fire Breuder and rescind his severance package, in violation of his contract. Predictably, Breuder sued in federal court for wrongful termination with a lawsuit that is sure to cost taxpayer millions of dollars. The terms of Breuder’s firing were so dubious that the college insurance company might refuse to pay the portion of damages owed by Hamilton and her former
allies on the board, should Breuder prevail.

Fact: Kathy Hamilton praised the $764,000 Breuder buyout before she opposed it! This story was broken by The Daily Herald, which obtained a recording of the December 18, 2014 closed session board meeting in which Hamilton can be heard “congratulating former Chairwoman Erin Birt for her ‘phenomenal work’ negotiating Breuder’s buyout compensation down to $762,867.” Later, Hamilton tried to make political points by attacking the buyout.

Fact: While controversial, President Breuder’s tenure was a substantial net gain
for the college. Newspapers reported that $120,000 was spent entertaining prospective donors at the now-closed Waterleaf Restaurant and a local hunt club. At the same time, Breuder’s efforts increased the COD Foundation’s endowment by $6 million. Interviewed by The Daily Herald, current interim president Joseph Collins “boasted of the ‘huge increase’ in new programs over the past four years that ‘far exceeds what you’d typically see.’” Of course, these improvements occurred under Breuder’s presidency.

Fact: Kathy Hamilton admits that the furor against officials at COD was largely
“political,” and so was the coverage in the Chicago Tribune. See her June 28, 2015 interview in The Daily Herald. Tribune coverage has made no pretense of objectivity, routinely sensationalizing alleged deficiencies by the administration and puffing Hamilton and her group.

Fact: The Board of Trustees is officially non-partisan. The issues aren’t supposed to be Republican or Democrat.

Fact:In only seven months of power, Hamilton achieved a long-term goal of her political group—the financial crippling of public institutions including public schools. The tax cut voted for by Hamilton’s majority will save the owner of a $300,000 home $14 a year, while intentionally depleting the financial reserve of the college. The damage will be long term, as each year’s levy must be based on last year’s levy. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s actions are costing the taxpayer millions of extra dollars including the $3.35 million in legal and financial consulting bills for her seven-month tenure as Chairwoman. This figure does not include cost of lawsuits by Breuder and two other administrators suing for wrongful termination. Typically the college’s legal bills amount to $550,000 a year. Perhaps that is why Hamilton resigned on December 13, 2015.

Conclusion: We must support every effort to find a responsible seventh board member to fill the spot vacated by Kathy Hamilton. COD’s programs have not yet suffered, but that is obviously a risk. Our community and especially our students deserve no less than our total commitment and continuing vigilance.