Taira’s Timeline: COD’s year under the media’s microscope

Taira Alabi, News Editor

In just a year, the College of DuPage has been thrust into the forefront in the media. The second-largest higher education institution in Illinois has been the talk amongst news outlets near and far in the past year. Board bickering, taxpayer’s plight, and a highly criticized severance package were plastered amongst web pages, newspapers and television screens. How did this all happen? How did COD go from a large community college serving the western suburbs of Chicago to a juicy media firestorm that had board meetings attended by hundreds coming to show their distaste for the college? The Courier News Editor takes a deeper look in the how COD trended this year in Taira’s Timeline.

May 9, 2014 – Email to Pat Quinn – A reform advocacy group obtains emails from COD President Robert L. Breuder insinuating that he was going to coerce Commencement Speaker and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to give COD $20 million dollars. After the emails were leaked, the now former governor decided to withhold the funds citing Breuder’s email as the prime reason why the funds would be withheld. When a powerful public official who was up for re-election took a stance against COD, the media began to pay attention the college.

Aug. 22, 2014 – Watchdog Hamilton – The Board of Trustees voted to have then Board Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton censured over her comments against the board. This drew the attention of media as well as criticism over the board allegedly being quick to silence a lone dissenter. Slowly, Hamilton started to build up a reputation as a watchdog on the board, and the public and the media began to look to her as the only board member that was ‘transparent.’

Sep. 19, 2014 – Faculty No Confidence Vote – In September of 2014, the COD faculty association voted that they had “no confidence” in Breuder. The move was another massive dent in the Breuder regime and the harbinger to the public and media that there was trouble in the suburban paradise of COD.

Jan. 20, 2015 – State of the Union – In his State of the Union speech, President Obama discussed the possibility of free community college. Obama generated a conversation that piqued new interest in community colleges.  Just days later, COD would enter into a massive scandal that changed the interest from intrigue to suspicion.

Jan. 23, 2015 – Breuder Buyout – The $763,000 severance package given to Breuder was the big flashing siren that really drew attention to the school. The package was given in an attempt to cut Breuder’s ties with the college and had him scheduled to leave the school in 2016. The package was voted for by the board 6-1, with Hamilton being the sole ‘no’ vote. The buyout drew criticism from media and the public around Illinois. It seemed like everyone from Tea Party watchdog groups to Illinois state representatives were speaking out against one of the largest severance packages given to a public official in Illinois.

What followed Breuder’s buyout was a storm of lawsuits in fighting and uncovering of more alleged corruption at COD. The school was fully engulfed in a media storm.

April 7, 2015 – Board Elections – With new interest in the college and the idea that the current board was not doing its job well, the COD board election lit on fire. 14 candidates ran. Hamilton used the influence she had cultivated by being the lone no vote on the Breuder buyout to endorse three candidates dubbed the “Clean Slate.” It featured Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein. The slate promised reform to the “Breuder era of corruption.” Apparently, Hamilton’s influence was strong enough as the slate won all three open seats on the board. The impact? A new majority on the board.

April 16, 2015 – Federal Investigation – People in Illinois were not the only ones paying attention to what was going on at COD. On April 16, three subpoenas were served to the college. The investigation was looking into the school administration’s expenses, the college’s foundation and the suburban law enforcement agency.

April 28, 2015, Breuder Takes Medical Leave – Before the newly elected board could meet and decide his fate, President Breuder took matters into his own hands by taking medical leave.

April 30, 2015 Board Holds First Meeting – On April 30, the Board held its first meeting and swore in the three new members. After a vote, Hamilton became the board chairwoman, Mazzochi was made vice chairwoman, and Napolitano was made board chairman. The board also voted 4-3 to place Breuder on administrative leave as well as his medical leave. Under administrative leave, Breuder is not allowed on campus without permission from Hamilton. The board also voted to enact vice president Joseph Collins as acting interim president.
As the college goes into summer session, questions still remain about its legal position. What will the new board majority do with their influence? Are they on the side of students, taxpayers or themselves? After a year of under the lens of the media, only time will tell whether public interest remains in the college through summer.