A College of DuPage board meeting -- already tense with residents', teachers' and students' comments on a controversy over $20 million in state funding -- morphed into a battle between two board members.
The college recently came under fire after a watchdog group requested and publicly released in May an email from President Robert Breuder to college trustees. The email detailed Breuder's plans to publicly thank Gov. Pat Quinn during commencement ceremonies for his commitment to the school to provide a $20 million state construction grant, though Quinn had not yet made the commitment.
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There were hopes to direct the $20 million toward a new teaching and learning center that would provide more classroom space on the Glen Ellyn campus. The college had committed $30 million already to the project.
"When I introduce Governor Quinn at commencement, I want to help our cause (obtaining the $20 million sooner rather than later) by thanking him for his commitment in front of 3,500 people," Breuder wrote. "There are many voters in our district. Please keep November 4 in mind."
After media reports about the email, a Quinn spokesman said the governor's office has suspended College of DuPage's ability to submit a project for the funding.
Board Chairwoman Erin Birt addressed the teaching and learning center issue Thursday evening but focused on what she called a fellow board member's "misstatements" to the public.
Birt said Vice Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton, who has publicly criticized the project in the media, cannot misstate board actions. "With respect to Ms. Hamilton's erroneous comments to the public and her misrepresentations to this board, Ms. Hamilton has not been upfront with the facts regarding the teaching and learning center," Birt said. She said Hamilton had signed off on board agendas that mentioned the proposed project, suggesting she supported the project.
At one point Hamilton, who had an attorney with her, asked, "When do I get to speak about this? This is kind of an ambush," but Birt continued speaking.
Hamilton also called out Breuder, who briefly stood up and walked away from the table to speak to a college administrator. "Dr. Breuder, I find that very rude of you to leave," she said. "I'm one-seventh of your boss."
Most of the people who made public comments expressed disappointment with Breuder's email, salary, what he spends money on, the college's tuition rates and the continued construction and spending at the college.
Lisle resident Denise Cattoni called for Breuder's resignation.
"You should be embarrassed," she said, adding that she was thankful to the media for exposing what she feels was a "scheme to use politics" to get the construction grant.
"What are you as a board going to do about it?" she said. "Where is the public discussion in tonight's board meeting regarding Dr. Breuder and the embarrassment that this has caused the school?"
Glenn Hansen, president of the College of DuPage Faculty Association, read a letter crafted and approved by the association's senate.
"We the senate, the elected representatives of the full-time faculty, call on the board of trustees to investigate and respond publicly to the statements made by Dr. Breuder," he said, adding that the college's institutional integrity has been damaged.
After the meeting, Breuder said he reached out to the governor's office seeking an explanation for why it is not giving the college the grant money.
The college also issued a news release at Thursday's meeting stating that the board will be asked to consider a proposal at its Aug. 21 meeting to reduce tuition by $2 per credit hour beginning with the spring 2015 term.