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The Courier

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Students and Faculty on Caputo’s Presidency: Perseverance-Driven Leadership

As Caputo’s presidency nears its conclusion, COD students and faculty reflect on his impact.
College+of+Dupage+president+Dr.+Brian+W.+Caputo+speaks+during+the+ceremony.
Rachel Wagner
College of Dupage president Dr. Brian W. Caputo speaks during the ceremony.

When COD students or faculty members are asked about President Brian Caputo’s leadership style, their answers share one aspect in common: the recollection of his evident care and compassion for the COD community.

Ayesha Shafiuddin, a Computer Science major at College of DuPage and president of the Student Leadership Council, said Caputo’s consistent presence at student events attests to his dedication.

“I’ve gone through quite a multitude of roles of leadership,” she said. “And I have always seen his presence connected to the student body. He’s always made an effort to come to different student events.”

Earlier last month, President Caputo announced that he will be retiring at the end of June. On Feb. 2, the Board of Trustees announced that they had begun developing a transition plan involving an interim president and a presidential search firm.

Emily Kesler, an International Relations major and Student Leadership Council member at College of DuPage, shared similar sentiments regarding Caputo’s constant involvement with the student body. She took notice of how Caputo has always made an effort to talk with students and hear what they have to say.

“The experiences that I’ve had with (President) Caputo really show that he cares about students and outreach with students [through] the events that he does,” she said. “He really makes an effort to talk to students and understand what’s important to us and be connected. I always make an effort to go and say ‘hi,’ and he always will talk with me, and I really appreciate that. [The fact that] someone with such high authority really cares [is amazing].”

Linda Jenkins, a law professor at College of DuPage and co-adviser of Paralegal Club and Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX) Honors Society, praised Caputo’s meticulous attention to COD’s student body as well, sharing an incident in which that attention was particularly prominent.

“His ability to make everyone he talks to feel special is a gift,” she remarked. “Few people have it. When he attended the Paralegal Club’s celebration of our former department chair Sally Fairbank’s retirement, I invited him to attend this ‘Sallybration,’ and asked him to say a few congratulatory words to Sally. I was thrilled when he accepted, and hoped he would be able to stay a few minutes to chat with Sally. I was even more thrilled when he brought [Executive Assistant to the President] Tracey Frye, and they both stayed for the entire event! He spoke to dozens of students, alumni and faculty from the Paralegal Studies program that day. Many attendees came up to me later and expressed their delight in having had a chance to talk to him. He always makes time for students and really listens to what they have to say. Naturally, that makes each student feel very special.”

Photo provided by College of DuPage

 

Shafiuddin witnessed Caputo’s involvement in student advocacy, not just on behalf of COD students, but on a nationwide basis through his participation at national events for community college students.

“I think our professional relationship really came together in my year as student trustee where I got to travel with him twice,” she recalled. “Once for an ACCT (Association of Community College Trustees) conference that is for student trustees as a whole, and then another time for the NLS or National Legislative Summit. I got the opportunity to go advocate for community college students. (President) Caputo was there as well. Working with him in that capacity and speaking to our legislators together as a team, I really got to see his leadership first hand and how much he cared truly for the students— not just students at our community college, but for the students as a whole— at the individual level, across the nation. I really got to see his leadership up close and just how much he cares.”

Kesler agreed. She highlighted Caputo’s role during a statewide panel centering on the improvement of community colleges and the college transfer process.

“Me and 11 other students had the opportunity to talk to Governor (J.B.) Pritzker on a panel about community college, barriers to transferring, and how state and local governments can better support community colleges,” she recalled. “(President) Caputo was a big part of that as a moderator.”

Jenkins made mention of how Caputo often went out of his way to personally congratulate and interact with COD students despite his packed schedule, further emphasizing his dedication and care toward the COD community.

“He always graciously says ‘yes’ when I ask him to give congratulatory comments to our LEX National Paralegal Honor Society inductees at our ceremony each year,” she said. “He gives generously of his time to say great things about our inductees. They and their families are always blown away by the fact that the president of COD took time out of his extremely busy schedule to congratulate them personally. It makes quite an impression. It should. It is very special and very kind of him.”

Shafiuddin reminisced on the challenges and hardships Caputo faced throughout his presidency, stating that he handled such situations with grace and competency and still currently works to address the consequences of those challenges.

“When you captured the little window of time that he was president, he went through a lot,” she affirmed. “He went through the pandemic almost immediately after he took on his position. He was also president during the time when we were coming back from the pandemic. There was a rise of mental health issues. He did everything he could to assist with that cause, and he still is working really hard on that.”

In 2020, Caputo helped to implement the Equity Plan and establish the Equity and Access Team, which aims to “eliminate completion gaps among Black, Latinx and under-resourced students.” He appointed DEI director Nevien Shaabneh, Ph.D., in July 2023.

Shafiuddin particularly commended the manner in which Caputo addressed the recent controversy regarding the hanging of a blue line American flag on a COD office door, a symbol that some associate with white supremacy and opposition to social reform.

“Just this past semester, we had a sensitive issue come up with the blue line flag again,” she recalled. “He led the college with compassion, care and justice, and made sure to guide the college in a way that was holistic, not just considering one party over the other.”

When asked about expectations for the next presidency, Shafiuddin mentioned that leadership styles may vary between leaders, but that she wishes for the next president to resemble Caputo in how approachable he was to students.

“Every president has a different leadership philosophy,” she said. “So I think that the next president will certainly bring in their own style and flavor of leadership. But I would really hope that that president stays as connected to the student body as (President) Caputo did to make an effort to continuously check in with Student Leadership Council, different student orgs and clubs, and see what he could do as president [to help the student body], so that the disparity between the hierarchy of power rate is not there anymore, because he’s consistently crossing those lines and breaking the barriers so that students can directly email him and talk to him.”

Kesler also wished to see the same level of care from the next president as demonstrated by Caputo. She added that she hopes the quality and affordability of education at College of DuPage is maintained, even with differing leadership.

“It’s very difficult to run a school,” she acknowledged. “But being able to prioritize the quality of our education is important, because I think there’s a lot of different ways that community colleges and colleges in general have to balance funds. We come here because we need help and probably can’t afford to go to a four-year university, so keeping prices down while keeping quality of education up [is important].”

 

Caputo shakes hands with Sally Fairbank, former Program Chair of Paralegal Studies at COD. (Photo provided by Paralegal Club)



Shafiuddin regarded Caputo’s forthcoming retirement with sadness while acknowledging the positive impact he has had on COD.

“I am a little sad to see Dr. Caputo go,” she lamented. “But at the same time, I know he’s done incredible work.”

Jenkins wished Caputo good luck after his retirement, pointing out that his presidency was exemplary in the history of College of DuPage.

“(President) Caputo’s work ethic is amazing,” she said. “He works tirelessly for the betterment of COD, and for student success. His wife Karen is frequently at his side, also encouraging students at events and games. They make a great team. I wish him the very best in his retirement and envy those to whom he lends his considerable talents after he leaves COD. In my book, he is a COD treasure!”

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