COD trustees: Faculty's 'no confidence' vote spurred Breuder's exit

Two College of DuPage trustees say their support for the school's president was shaken last September when full-time COD faculty members took a historic "no confidence" vote in Robert Breuder's leadership.

Trustees Kim Savage and Dianne McGuire said Tuesday the faculty's vote was among several factors that prompted them to seek a change in leadership at the Glen Ellyn college.

Trustee Kathy Hamilton - a longtime Breuder critic - also sought his removal.

That push, officials now say, helped lead the seven-person board to its controversial decision in January to approve a $762,868 retirement buyout of Breuder's contract.

"The vote of no confidence by the faculty was definitely of concern to me," said McGuire, a former teachers union president in Naperville. "There were other concerns as well, almost all dealing with communication and collaboration."

McGuire and Savage spoke out on the same day a column written by COD board Chairwoman Erin Birt appeared in the Daily Herald.

In the column, Birt defended the buyout decision. The agreement, which only Hamilton voted against, calls for Breuder to be paid nearly three times his base salary when he retires on March 31, 2016, about three years before his contract was scheduled to expire. It also calls for the school to name its Homeland Security Education Center in his honor.

The deal sparked a firestorm of criticism, including from some state legislators who have proposed several bills to prevent other public institutions from approving similar agreements and who have called for a performance audit of COD finances since 2011.

Even though Breuder's contract was to run through June 30, 2019, there were "several members of the board who wanted a change in leadership," Birt wrote.

"Dr. Breuder was made aware of those feelings and offered to retire, pending our ability to reach an exit agreement," she wrote.

Breuder declined to comment through a spokesman.

Not all of the college's seven trustees wanted Breuder to step down.

Trustee Joseph Wozniak said he didn't want to see Breuder go. In fact, he said he was "kind of surprised" to learn last year that Breuder was considering retirement.

He said Breuder has made positive contributions to the college. "I thought he was going to carry out his contract," Wozniak said.

Trustees Allison O'Donnell and Nancy Svoboda didn't return calls seeking comment. And a college spokesman said Birt wouldn't be able to speak about the matter until next week.

Savage confirmed she was one of those who wanted a change in leadership. She said she chose to speak now because Birt, who has been acting as the board's spokeswoman, went public with her letter.

"Part of my concern is there has been tension with the faculty all along," Savage said.

Indeed, Breuder's tenure at COD, which started in January 2009, has been marked with pitched battles between the college administration and its employees, including the full-time faculty.

Then in September, the union representing COD's 306 full-time faculty members announced the "no confidence" vote. It was the first time in the school's history faculty members had taken such a vote.

At the time, union representatives blamed Breuder for helping create "an environment of turmoil, distrust, fear and intimidation."

On Tuesday, faculty association President Glenn Hansen said some board members told him the vote concerned them, but they didn't ask for details.

"It shouldn't be that now, five months later, we've never had an official conversation about the details of why the faculty had a vote of no confidence," Hansen said.

The secret-ballot vote came after a controversy last summer in which Breuder told COD board members he would publicly thank then-Gov. Pat Quinn during commencement ceremonies for grant money from the state before the governor actually approved it.

Breuder defended his plan, saying that after the college waited a dozen years for a promised state construction grant that never materialized, he saw an opportunity to get the $20 million. But after an email detailing Breuder's plan became public, Quinn withdrew the grant.

Savage - who along with Svoboda is seeking re-election on April 7 - said she wanted a change in leadership even before the September vote because the full-time faculty and Breuder have had a strained relationship since tumultuous contract negotiations in 2011.

She said the no-confidence vote "was a factor that confirmed" to her the board needed to move forward and find a new president.

Hamilton said she wanted to part ways with Breuder for at least a year. She said she doesn't recall other board members pursuing a change in leadership during that time.

"As far as I can tell by the behavior of the other people on the board, none of them have actively pursued Dr. Breuder's dismissal from the college," she said.

If other board members really wanted change, Hamilton said, they wouldn't have approved the severance deal that lets Breuder stay on the job for more than year.

"They gave him $760,000," she said. "So that's not much of a change."

Hamilton said her desire was to have Breuder terminated with no additional compensation from the college.

"This is a retirement package," Hamilton said of the buyout. "The faction of the board that wanted true dismissal was me - and I got outvoted."

Kathy Hamilton
Kim Savage
Robert Breuder
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