For the better part of a month, we have watched with growing concern for the welfare of College of DuPage as a political firestorm has swelled almost out of control over the contents of a memo the college president emailed to the board of trustees last May.
In that memo, President Robert L. Breuder constructed an apparent strategy to prod the state of Illinois to come through with a $20 million building grant it had promised 12 years ago.
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So much to say here.
Let's start with this: Breuder bungled things with the memo pretty badly. We believe Breuder is an exceptional and tough-minded visionary, but even we have to acknowledge that he comes across as a bit of a cowboy and a bit of a whiner, pushing his board for a building commitment that it hadn't quite made.
People make mistakes. Breuder made one here and, as with all mistakes, they're opportunities to learn. No doubt Breuder has learned from this one. We're confident he has.
But let's also be clear about this: The flap isn't about an imaginary building project conceived as a way to garner state money. From a reading of the memo, we can see how those unfamiliar with the college could misinterpret it that way. But that's not the case. The project had been under discussion for weeks. It is and had been a concrete proposal.
The flap is really about so much more. The memo is mainly a convenient rallying cry for vested interests.
First, the state. Somehow, it's escaped everyone's notice that the state never followed through on its commitment to COD, that in fact COD and local taxpayers had to pay off the state's earlier obligation to the Homeland Security Building. Instead, Gov. Pat Quinn now gets away with pointing to the memo as his excuse for backing out on COD and giving the grant money to downstate community colleges.
Second, the growth critics. This is what this firestorm is really about -- COD's building program, one that has revitalized and re-energized the school.
Take a look at COD in 2009 and then at COD today, and you'll see a school that has grown toward its potential to become one of the top community colleges in Illinois serving the state's largest community college class of students.
This is a good thing, not a bad thing. And it has happened with a disciplined operation that for the most part has managed COD expenses frugally like a business.
Which leads to the third vested interest, faculty union leaders. Breuder and his team are tough at the negotiating table. That's why some teachers have joined forces with the no-growth tax watchdogs in this furor.
COD is moving forward. That progress is what is at stake here. The memo fiasco deserves answers and criticism.
But don't fritter away COD's progress and its future by making more of that fiasco than it is.