COD to check backgrounds of accreditation team members

Before an accreditation agency inspects the College of DuPage, it first may need to ensure its representatives can pass an inspection of their own.

COD board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton said school officials plan to examine the backgrounds of any peer reviewers the Higher Learning Commission sends to investigate claims of possible wrongdoing at the Glen Ellyn-based school.

"To protect our college, it's important to know who's going to be examining us," Hamilton said Monday. "We are going to be looking into the backgrounds of the people who are going to be inspecting the college."

The Higher Learning Commission scrapped an accreditation visit to COD scheduled for this week after one member of the three-person evaluation team - Jackson College President Daniel Phelan - decided at the last minute not to participate.

Phelan dropped out a day after a government watchdog group - the Edgar County Watchdogs - reported on its website that he had received a vote of no confidence in January 2014 from his Michigan school's faculty and support staff unions.

The watchdog group compared Phelan to COD President Robert Breuder, who was placed on paid administrative leave this spring after months of revelations of possible improprieties at the college. COD faculty members called on Breuder to resign in September when they took a historic vote of no confidence.

John Hausaman, spokesman for the Higher Learning Commission, declined to comment Monday about why Phelan withdrew from the advisory visit.

"I can't really discuss that," he said.

Attempts to reach Phelan through a Jackson College spokeswoman were unsuccessful.

The advisory visit to COD - which has not been rescheduled - was designed to help the commission determine if the school still meets all 21 criteria required for accreditation.

The commission was expected to renew COD's accreditation for an eight-year period after giving the school a glowing review last fall.

But the agency launched a new inquiry after learning that questions about COD's administration had sparked state and federal probes into the state's largest community college.

The commission is examining claims related to the school's finances, alleged ethics violations, and changes to assigned credit hours for courses offered through the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy.

Until Higher Learning Commission officials make a new site visit and report their findings, the college's pending reaccreditation will remain on hold.

Loss of accreditation would be a major blow for COD and its 29,500 students. Without it, Hausaman said last week, students would have a difficult time transferring credits to other institutions and their degrees could be called into question. It also could affect the school's eligibility for financial aid programs.

On Monday, Hausaman didn't respond to Hamilton's concerns about background checks for peer reviewers.

But he sent information about the agency's standards of conduct, which requires peer reviewers to identify any potential conflicts of interest, predispositions or affiliations that could appear to jeopardize objectivity.

According to that policy, commission staff members reserve "final responsibility for determining whether the peer reviewer who has identified a potential bias or predisposition will participate in an institutional evaluation, or review."

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