Debating the College of DuPage President
by Adam Andrzejewski
September 8, 2014
Prevailing wisdom in Illinois says, “You can’t fight city hall.”
We think that’s nonsense. But, it’s not an easy ride. You need facts. Starting at Openthebooks.com, you can start researching local governments. Find out how much your government costs you.
When you start searching and asking questions, prepare for the defenders of the status-quo and their obfuscation (the opposite of transparency). A great case study is provided below. Note how our facts help expose the truth.
Familiarize yourself with my Forbes editorial “The Real Financial Crisis in College.” Many other instances of our work are linked throughout the debate below.
If you don’t want to read this entire narrative, please skip to the End Note & Conclusion.
Last Thursday, September 4, 2014, College of DuPage President Robert Breuder responded to us via COD This Week- A Message from the President published by the Marketing and Communications Office. Today, we answer him.
ROBERT BREUDER: The Board of Trustees censure of Trustee Kathy Hamilton was a significant event. Censuring a trustee does not occur very often. It is the strongest action a Board can take relative to one of its members.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: The Board censure of Kathy Hamilton was simply emblematic of troubled College of DuPage governance. Let’s use this debate to illustrate why systemic changes are necessary.
First the censure was illegal. The Illinois Community College Act does not give the power to a Board of Trustees to censure a follow trustee. Elected trustees only have the power conferred by law and possess no other powers. Recognized in an opinion by Attorney General Roland Burris, censure is simply an attack on free speech and public debate. Please read Burris’ opinion here.
Next, the Chicago Tribune editorial Board wrote A Censure for Speaking Out. “If you serve on the College of DuPage board of trustees…You’re also expected to sit down and shut up. The COD board recently censured one of its members (Kathy Hamilton) in a resolution that reads like a teeny-bopper temper tantrum.”
The Tribune piece concluded, “If COD officials want to secure state money again, they had better show they run a place that respects free speech that tolerates dissent. In short, that they run a college.” August 27
Third, COD Board of Trustees Chairman Erin Birt repeatedly violated of the Open Meetings Act and board policy. Citizen comments were moved by Chair Birt (unilaterally) to the very end of the meeting. All discussion, policy, votes and censure took place and only then was public comment from citizens permitted. Furthermore, the censure of Hamilton was actually a sneak attack with no due process notice to Hamilton of the “charges.”
So, President Breuder starts off this weekly communication to stakeholders by embracing Board action that muzzled basic First Amendment rights of elected COD Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton, stifled dissent and comment by citizens, and possibly violated state and federal law.
Okay, this is going to be interesting…
ROBERT BREUDER: From the beginning of her tenure on the Board, Trustee Hamilton has communicated to me that she intends to uncover wrongdoing at our College.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: Bravo. In Illinois “our number one manufactured product is corruption,” so we applaud a CPA like Kathy Hamilton trying to do something about it. Hamilton was elected trustee on a reform platform and received the most votes in the fifty year history of COD elections. Hamilton has a mandate for reform and it’s refreshing that she’s executing on her election promise.
The proper response to Hamilton would have been to join arms and create an honest, open and transparent environment at COD- not to fight her. But, of course, folks like Breuder shun the sunlight.
ROBERT BREUDER: She has also made known to me her interest in running for statewide office. When I connect the dots, it seems to me that Trustee Hamilton wants to use our College to augment her visibility in the political arena. A prominent national educator recently authored a publication entitled “The Rogue Trustee: The Elephant in the Room.” According to Inside Higher Education, in it he discusses the observation of 59 community college presidents from 16 states who experienced significant conflicts largely due to the influence of one troubling trustee. The author writes, “Rogue trustees run rough shod over the norms and standards of behavior expected of public officials. They place their own interests over the interest of the college.” Often rogue trustees align themselves with unions or other employee organizations. Presidents participating in the survey underlining the study observe the number one motivation of the rogue trustee was to act in ways that would help them politically. Most believed that these troublemaking trustees were only on the board to leapfrog to higher political offices. These same presidents bemoaned the fact these rogue trustees incapacitated other well-meaning trustees and did damage to the institution’s reputation. The rogue trustee often costs the college time and money. Had I been among the presidents interviewed, I would have joined the majority who observed that a trustee’s political motivation all too often creates problems for the college they say they are committed to serving. These “rogue” trustees would, of course, argue they are doing what the electorate expects of them.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: Breuder didn’t include a hyperlink to the referenced David Moltz piece at Inside Higher Education – so please read it here. Breuder didn’t want you to actually read the article.
Moltz writes that the Rogue Trustee “study” was flawed with bias in the president’s favor and all study responses were anonymous. From the piece, Moltz writes “At the outset, (Terry) O’Banion admits his study (The Rogue Trustee) has many flaws, the most obvious being that it is ‘clearly biased in favor of the president’s point of view.’”
But still, Terry O’Banion (author of Rogue Trustee) advises college presidents, “I hope you won’t use these descriptions to badger people on your boards who are trying to make a point or say something important.”
Breuder didn’t characterize the story accurately and used it to badger Vice Chair Hamilton.
On July 25, 2014, Inside Higher Education posted a piece specific to Dr. Breuder written by Charlie Tyson entitled $20 Million Email. Within the piece Breuder uses the phrase “…shit out of luck” and continues his attack on Hamilton. Breuder didn’t cite this piece.
In the end, Breuder’s $20 million email laying out a political strategy to bring support to Governor Quinn just may be the most expensive email in the history of American higher education.
ROBERT BREUDER: Trustee Hamilton has aligned herself with a political action group, “For the Good of Illinois” and apparently the Tea Party.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: The facts here are wrong. For The Good of Illinois is a 501(c)4 social welfare organization, not a political action committee. We educate, engage and demand aggressive financial transparency of public spending. For The Good of Illinois does not participate in elections or political campaigns.
In 2013, we sued Republican Comptroller Judy Barr-Topinka as defended by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to open the books on the state checkbook. A half million vendors for a half billion dollars of spending since 2005 will soon be online at OpenTheBooks.com. Political affiliation does not matter to us- both parties fight open government.
We have a long history at College of DuPage. In 2008, we spearheaded and won Board approval to open the books on all checkbook expenditures and salaries. We are going to make sure President Breuder is held accountable to these important transparency ordinances.
The governance at COD is so bad that it’s uniting union leadership with tea party leadership. At COD and in other circumstances, an alliance on open and transparent government can make for a better Illinois. Folks are finding areas of commonality and are communicating with one another- this is good for Illinois.
Robert Breuder has managed to unite some pretty disparate folks.
ROBERT BREUDER: For the past several months, about two dozen supporters have attended Board meetings and severely criticized the College, members of the Board and the administration. Their emotional, inflammatory rhetoric is often laden with misrepresentations of the facts, a distortion of the truth, and uncivil. Their agenda seems to be one of slash and burn. As one of our student leaders observed publicly at our most recent Board meeting, these people do not have the best interests of students or the College at heart. They are here to further their organizations and/or personal agendas. I was very proud of that student’s insight and courage. In the months ahead, I hope more students and employees will come forward and talk about our exceptional College. When leaving the College one evening last week, another student leader came over to me and wanted to compliment me on how I remained silent during our last Board meeting when the orchestrated group berated the College, Chair Birt, myself and the senior management team. He asked how I could exercise such restraint. My response was simple: Sometimes saying nothing is saying something. And, given the abundance of misinformation and misrepresentation of the facts, I wouldn’t know where to begin with an intelligent response. Earlier in the day, I observed to three Courier reporters that when people, individually or collectively, have a destructive agenda, they spew out everything and anything in the hopes something sticks and uninformed people by way of the media are influenced by what they say. Their desired outcome is: inflict discomfort and create a negative view of COD. They also want to remind voters they are the vehicle for reform at College of DuPage and they should keep April 2015 in mind. In the long run, people and organizations whose agenda is not honorable will be discovered. They may enjoy some near-term success; however, the longer it continues, the more it becomes evident to people who care that the negative picture they paint of COD is not reality.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: It’s a well-worn PR strategy that if you’re wrong on the facts, you attack the messenger. We expect more of this behavior because Breuder simply can’t defend his tuition, tax and spend decisions for the past five years. Nor can Breuder defend his $500,000 annual compensation cost, or the fact that the top nine senior executives clean off approximately $2,400,0000 in total annual compensation cost to students and taxpayers.
At the public meetings, we are limited to three minute public comments and we post our videos permanently on YouTube. The college removes video of their meetings after thirty days. Our speeches are professional and as you’ll see below in the coming examples, our teams and allies are well researched.
After that warm-up, let’s get started…
ROBERT BREUDER: I will share with you six examples (there are many others) of unfounded criticisms that have been directed at the College: Example 1: The College spent more than $500 million transforming the physical plant. Those who criticize us say we have squandered taxpayer funds. There was no need to renovate/demolish old buildings and build new teaching/learning facilities. May I remind those who allege we wasted taxpayer dollars, that those very taxpayers in 2002 and 2010 approved two capital referenda by a wide margin (in 2010 when our economy was tanking). The critics need only read the ballot questions to see taxpayers knew exactly what they were voting for. These two referenda provided about 80 percent of the dollars we spent providing current and future residents/taxpayers with state-of-the-art teaching and learning facilities. Their overwhelming positive response to our efforts to improve our campus is evident to any who care to listen.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: The total physical plant renovation and construction cost is $600,000,000 million. Why short the true cost by $100,000,000 ($100 million) in your answer above?
Certainly, the DuPage community has been extremely generous to COD. Here’s the question: did COD take advantage of this good-will?
Recently, COD Executive Vice President Joseph Collins wrote a Daily Herald opinion editorial entitled “Enrollment Increase Justifies New Building” arguing that “increasing student enrollment” was the justification for the hefty construction spending.
Here are the facts: official numbers show student enrollment down 6,000 students over the last fourteen years and only up 1% per year on average for the last five years. Since 2008, enrollment is up by only 1,530 students. Please review COD official enrollment numbers 1996-2013.
Breuder’s trying to drive a $600 million construction spending bus through this recent enrollment increase. When citizens hear this, they are justifiably outraged.
ROBERT BREUDER: Example 2. These same critics say we are responsible for a total property tax increase of 59% since 2008. Not true. It increased 23%. What they do not say is our Board of Trustees approved an operating tax levy increase of $10.3 million or 14% for this five-year period (2008-2014). The operating tax levy is the levy we control (subject to the tax cap) and 14% over five years is minimal. In 2010, District 502 residents approved a $168 million capital referendum. The referendum requires that our debt levy increase by $10.3 million (2008-2014) or 66%. The total tax levy (operating and capital) increased 23%. Because DuPage County has financial obligations and property values declined during these years due to the recession, DuPage County increased the tax rate base on the equalized assessed value (EAV) of real estate which they also set. DuPage County sets the tax rate at a level necessary to generate the revenue it needs to pay their debt/operating obligations. COD has no control over setting the EAV or the tax rate. Misrepresenting the facts is one way they hope to advance their cause. Factual accuracy is not their ally.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: First, let’s start where we both agree: COD hiked local property hikes by double digits since 2008. During one of the worst financial crisis of our lifetime, College of DuPage increased property taxes while home values dropped.
Next, COD has $177.1 million in the bank! An extra-ordinary sum- that’s equal to two full years of property tax receipts or nearly three full years of student tuition fees.
Property tax increases, extreme home value decreases, and COD has $177.1 million in the bank. Isn’t that management malpractice?
At the June Special Budget Meeting of the Board of Trustees meeting, Treasurer Thomas Glaser told us that COD hiked the property tax rate by 59% to ensure that taxes increased while home values decreased.
Glaser’s 59% property tax rate hike number is what we’ve been using for the last three months. All told, COD taxed to the maximum rate and 2x the inflation rate.
ROBERT BREUDER: Example 3. We have known for more than two years we need more classroom space during prime-time hours. That was reaffirmed by the Deans last fall. Our RAMP application (capital request to the state the past two years) requests $25 million to construct instructional space. The need didn’t come out of the air as our critics observe. Our PUD (campus development) application to DuPage County in 2012 shows a 70,000 sq. ft. Teaching and Learning Center programmed for where Building M once stood. Fact is, we have been a line item in the state’s budget going back to 2010. We were promised $25 million for building replacement on the west end of our campus as far back as 2002. Three presidents prior to me tried in vain to get the money released. All were unsuccessful. All of our efforts are documented. As I have said on multiple occasions, the state will release the limited capital dollars it has when and where it benefits the person(s) releasing the money. That should not be a surprise to anyone who knows how government operates, particularly in Illinois. And the money has been flowing.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: Without mentioning it, Breuder is still trying in vain to justify his expensive $20 million email to the Board of Trustees (that we exposed) which outlined a strategy to bring political support to Governor Quinn in return for state construction grant monies.
Breuder’s conduct damaged the integrity of College of DuPage:
Dr. Robert Breuder, May 9, 2014 | READ ENTIRE EMAIL HERE
“I needed to identify a project that would help release our state funding… however, not being able to say how we would use the state money (perhaps no real need) could lessen our chances to break the money loose at this time (the political moon is rising)… When I introduce Governor Quinn at commencement, I want to help our cause (getting the $20 million released sooner rather than later) by thanking him for his commitment in front of 3,500 people. There are many voters in our District. Please keep November 4 in mind.”
Dr. Breuder’s May 7, 2014 email to Board of Trustees-
Question for you: If Governor Quinn gives us $20 million, how do you propose we use it? We have taken care of our Homeland Security needs and the temporary buildings are gone. Would building a 22nd century Teaching and Learning Center (need a better name) not be a good thing given our emphasis on teaching and it can also be serve as an attractive announcement for the Governor? We need to think ahead in order to help make good things happen, like getting our $20 million.
Governor Quinn called Breuder’s email tactics “extremely alarming,” used “misrepresentation,” and suspended all future capital payments. But, Breuder called the governor’s statement “an inflammatory accusation.“
Source: Chicago Tribune | July 18, 2014
Here are more voices:
“The president’s actions have reached the tipping point that challenges future plans for COD, We at the College of DuPage have had our institutional integrity damaged.” Glenn Hansen, President | COD Faculty Association
For the college to use the $20 million in this way – to fund a project the money wasn’t appropriated for – the Illinois legislature would likely have to change the appropriation language in the next year’s state budget, said Ellen Andres, Chief Financial Officer, Illinois Community College Board.
Inside Higher Education, Charlie Tyson | $20 Million Email
On July 7, 2014, the Chicago Tribune editorial entitled “Use it or Lose it” called Breuder’s email scandal a “seedy little money grab.”
On August 27, 2014, the Chicago Tribune Board again weighed in with an editorial entitled “A Censure for Speaking Out” writing “If COD officials want to secure state money again, they had better show they run a place that respects free speech, that tolerates dissent. In short, that they run a college.”
After $550 million in recent construction and $177.1 million in the bank, with enrollment down 6,000 students over fourteen years, and without proper planning, Breuder’s greed got in the way of his integrity. Breuder wanted another $20 million from a broke state government.
Unfortunately, he’s is still trying to justify his bad behavior.
ROBERT BREUDER: Example 4. Our critics take credit for the Board adopting a two-year tuition freeze. Really. No two-year tuition freeze has been adopted by the Board. I made the recommendation to reduce Spring 2015 tuition by $2/credit hour. No one influenced me that I can recall. At the Board meeting, Trustee Savage recommended the reduction be $4/credit hour. If she was influenced by Open the Books, she did not communicate that to me or the Chair.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: Former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen famously said, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.” At For The Good of Illinois, we are used to bad policy being reversed and others getting credit. Yes, Bob- it was your idea to freeze tuition.
Here’s the timeline: Tuition was hiked in February. In May, we called for a 1. tuition freeze, 2. property tax freeze and 3. extra dollars being re-allocated into the classroom. We are pleased the tuition freeze took only two months to effectuate. Watch my May, 2014 public comment
If it’s only a one year tuition freeze, then we’ll keep pushing for two years.
ROBERT BREUDER: Example 5: Open the Books says: “Trustee Hamilton spearheaded our policy to ‘open the books’ on the millions of hidden ‘petty cash’ payments. Up to $30 million in non-transparent payments…” How can this be? We do not have $30 million in a petty cash account. The funds being referenced are monthly bills paid which are reported in the monthly Board agenda which the Board is asked to affirm payment. Imprest fund payments are not separately delineated in the Board reports. Totals are shown for each of the three categories: employee, student refunds and vendor payments. Payments shown in the imprest fund are for invoices less than $15,000. Any invoice greater than $15,000 is shown as an operating payment and reflected as a separate line item on the Board report. This practice precedes this administration.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: We both agree: “’Imprest’ fund payments are not separately delineated in the Board reports.” NO transparency. NO public disclosure.
In only sixteen months, $26,100,000 flowed from “Imprest” funds during Erin Birt’s tenure as Chairman. At this rate, $104,000,000 has been paid to vendors without Board disclosure during Robert Breuder’s tenure as COD President (2008-2014).
The definition of “Imprest” funds is “petty cash” from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, United States Treasury:
http://fms.treas.gov/imprest/questions.html. But, let’s not get caught up on the terminology. Let’s just call $26.1 million in non-disclosed, non-transparent funding extremely bad public policy.
It’s no wonder that the Board is surprised that students and taxpayers paid for Breuder’s private shooting club dues, nine weeks of global satellite phones for trans-continental hunting trips, or the $110,000 in wine purchases tagged as “instructional supplies.”
The record also shows Breuder and the senior management team double dipping in-district mileage reimbursement in addition to car allowance for over $3,600. Breuder’s employment contract specifically delineates a $700 per month car allowance “for the use of his personally owned or leased automobile for in-district business travel associated with his duties as President inclusive of all necessary expenses (i.e. insurance, maintenance, gas & mileage).”
In the coming days, more will be exposed regarding connected vendors and these payments.
Again, Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton deserves much compliment spearheading on a 7-0 Board vote to open the books on these payments going forward. Over the coming days, we’ll expose much more hidden spending.
Background: In 2008, For The Good of Illinois led the effort to pass the COD ordinance to open the books and post the checkbook online. The requirement of disclosure extends to all payments- not just those over $15,000. Breuder’s administration has violated this ordinance over the past five years.
ROBERT BREUDER: Example 6: One citizen alleges “…your office space (she references executive offices) now exceeds the classroom space of every single community college in Illinois.” We “built more office space for the executives than classrooms for the students!” Truth is COD has 502,416 sq. ft. of instructional space (next is Harper at 384,728) and 224,988 sq. ft. of total office space. Of the 224,988 sq. ft., 2,887 sq. ft. (or 1.3%) is to house the College’s Senior Management Team (N = 11). The ratio of general office space to instructional space ranges from a high of 0.64:1 to a low of 0.17:1, with a mean of 0.42:1. COD is at 0.45:1. COD along with 31 other Illinois community colleges are within one standard deviation of the mean. Open the Books say “COD now has more office space than any other Illinois community college has in classrooms!” Oh my. Fact is COD’s 224,988 sq. ft. of office space is below the instructional space of ten (10) other community colleges. Enough said.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: Fancy statistics don’t hide the absolute fact that COD built more office space than classroom space! In the above figures, Breuder adds a lot of numbers together for his “instructional space” figures.
We didn’t say COD built more ‘instructional space’ than office space, but more office space vs. classroom space. Click here to review the 2008-2012 (latest figures) chart from the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB).
According to the ICCB, room classifications are broken down into nine distinct categories: classrooms, laboratory, office, study, athletic/PE, special use, theater/ auditorium, general use, and support. From 2008-2012, COD built an additional 38,442 square feet of classroom space, but built 49,534 square feet in office space. Total office space is 224,988 at COD which EXCEEDS the classroom space at every single IL community college. (2012 is the latest data available and the same data that Breuder is using above.)
In fact, COD increased “net assignable square feet” by 515,507 (source: ICCB 2008-12). After $550,000,0000 in construction spending, how can “not enough teaching and learning” space be uttered with a straight face? Remember, enrollment is up only 1% on average for the last five years, and down by 6,000 students over the last fourteen years.
Did taxpayers approve a referendum to build an upscale French restaurant that lost over $500,000 in first year of operation, the wine cellar with $200,000 in bottles, or a hotel?
After bungling a half billion in construction, Breuder wants another $30- $50 million in construction. We’ve proven it’s unneeded and without a documented long-range plan.
ROBERT BREUDER: Trustee Hamilton maintains we didn’t make the case for a $30 million or $50 million Teaching and Learning Center. And yet she sent me an email on May 21 supporting the project. At the June 26, 2014 Board meeting she flip flopped saying she did not have enough information to support the project. At no time did she ever request more information to justify the recommended construction prior to the June 26 Board meeting. Even then, the staff through Joe Collins, in particular, provided justification for the need for the Teaching and Learning Center. Although Trustee Hamilton’s only response was simply that the Board should have had that information before the June 26 Board meeting.
ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI: We’ve unmasked Breuder’s six points above. But, he’s still trying to attack Vice Chairman Kathy Hamilton. Hamilton had the audacity to ask basic questions and vote against the project at the June Board meeting. Long before the June meeting, here’s Hamilton at the May meeting balking at spending up to $50,000,000 without reasonable documentation.
The basic Breauder administration line was “trust me.” But, they didn’t have the planning documents.
Not only did she vote no on expansion for expansions sake, but Hamilton provided rationale in the local newspapers. Citizens appreciate the communication from our elected officials.
Chicago Tribune Editorial Board: Her (Kathy Hamilton) straightforward and rather benign letter explained her position. The proposal for a new building would cost millions and should come after a long-term assessment of the college’s needs. She just explained her vote, in writing. | August 27, 2014
Even now, Brueder doesn’t have a long-term assessment of need. Breuder is still reliant on Ex. VP Joseph Collins and his “enrollment increase justifies new building” argument which we have de-bunked with official enrollment numbers spanning fourteen years.
END NOTE & CONCLUSION:
College of DuPage is a historically top performing community college. Colleges thrive when collaborative learning environments are fostered. All stake holders must have ownership of the forward vision. Under Robert Breuder’s leadership, we conclude that stakeholder collaboration is impossible when so compromised by self-interests.
Incredibly, Robert Breuder’s rhetorical flourish continued in his posted attack piece for another approximately 2,000 words. At this point, to continue to answer point by point would prove a fruitless exercise. We encourage you to read it and draw your own conclusions. Here’s another link.
Robert Breuder wants a one-man show at COD. Period. Let Breuder tell you in his own words during an interview with Penn State University in 2011 explain why he’s president at COD: http://www.pct.edu/centennial/pdfs/interview_breuder.pdf
Interviewer: Why–why did a President’s position really appeal to you?
Robert Breuder: Well, you know, I think when I look at myself and look in the mirror, I’m not much of a follower, Tom, I’m really a leader, I’m cut out to be at the front as opposed to the rear. I don’t take directives too well. And I always felt that if I went into the military, which I avoided, quite frankly, I’d have to go in as a five-star general or nothing at all. And I don’t think that’s the way it works in the military. I think you got to work your way up. So I’m just more comfortable leading than I am following.
It’s Dr. Robert Breuder’s own words summing up his management style. Breuder respects no one- not even our heroic military service men and women.
Our local community college needs new leadership. Leaders with a vision owned by all stakeholders.
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