COD board fires Breuder, lists its findings of misconduct

Robert Breuder's controversial tenure as president of the College of DuPage came to end Tuesday night when the school's board of trustees approved a resolution to fire him roughly five months before he was scheduled to step down.

Trustees at the state's largest community college voted 4-1 to fire Breuder, president since January 2009, in the wake of internal investigations that, according to the resolution, found evidence of "misconduct and mismanagement" that Breuder "participated in, oversaw or failed to prevent."

Breuder didn't attend Tuesday night's meeting.

"We promised to end fraud, waste and abuse at the College of DuPage," board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton said after the vote. "By ending this chapter, this board has kept its promise."

The resolution says Breuder, who had been on paid administrative leave since late April, "violated specific policies established by the college, violated board of trustee and legal directives, breached his duties and engaged in conduct damaging to the reputation of the college and the reputation of the office of the college president."

The move to fire Breuder was supported by Hamilton and the three new board members she backed during the April election - trustees Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano.

In a reflection of continued divisions on the elected seven-member board, holdover Trustee Dianne McGuire opposed the decision. Two other holdover trustees - Erin Birt and Joseph C. Wozniak - were absent.

"This is a politically driven vendetta, and it is unworthy of this board," McGuire said.

But Bernstein said: "Let us not question each other's motives. This is not a politically inspired witch hunt. I will cast my vote because of what I see."

The decision to fire Breuder voided the Glen Ellyn-based school's $763,000 severance package with him - a deal approved by a previous board that sparked a public furor and was staunchly opposed by Hamilton and her allies.

As part of that package, Breuder was scheduled to step down on his own in March 2016.

Breuder has not been available for comment since going on leave, but he is expected to contest his firing in court.

He is now the third high-ranking administrator to be fired this fall at COD, after Thomas Glaser and Lynn Sapyta. Glaser served as the school's senior vice president of administration and treasurer, and Sapyta was assistant vice president of financial affairs and controller.

Both Glaser and Sapyta have indicated they plan to file federal lawsuits against the state's largest community college to contest their firings.

During his tenure at COD, Breuder oversaw a $550 million transformation of its campus. But he also made numerous enemies at the school, and last September the full-time faculty gave him a vote of "no confidence."

This year, calls for his ouster from some quarters increased amid media reports raising questions about, among other things, no-bid contracts for insiders and administrators dining at COD's upscale Waterleaf restaurant, which has since been closed.

Hamilton long has been a vocal critic of Breuder, and the three new board members she supported as part of a "Clean Slate" all had pledged to work with her to force Breuder from office and to "claw back" the severance pact that triggered a furor earlier this year.

On the same night the new majority took control of the board, it voted to put Breuder on paid leave and banned him from the campus.

They then hired attorneys to do internal investigations of the school's policies, personnel, practices and finances. A decision to begin termination proceedings in August was the result of those internal probes.

Among the college's findings, according to the resolution:

• Breuder failed to preserve electronically stored information on his college-issued iPad.

• Breuder engaged in electioneering and prohibited political activity during the school's 2010 bond referendum and this year's board election.

• Breuder mismanaged college and foundation funds, "including a lack of oversight, lack of accountability and failure to implement proper controls."

• Breuder damaged the reputations of the college and the president's office "through improper conduct" with respect to a $20 million grant from the state in spring 2014.

• Breuder failed to secure a confidential recording of a closed board session that was sent anonymously to the Chicago Tribune and Daily Herald.

• Breuder failed to respond to a request for information from the college's Freedom of Information Act officer.

• Breuder converted an ADA-compliant family locker room into an executive changing room, inaccessible to people with disabilities, primarily for his own use and the use of a select few others and provided misleading information to the board about the project.

• Breuder conducted himself in a way that led to a "no confidence" vote from the school's faculty in September 2014; "numerous, and scathing" press reports about the college; an advisory visit from the Higher Learning Commission that may lead to sanctions for the college; state and federal criminal investigations; and an audit from the Illinois inspector general.

Trustee Mazzochi said the board had "a duty" to terminate Breuder because of the list of violations.

"If this list is not sufficient to convince you," Mazzochi said, "then I would really like to understand where an employee would have to go to justify their termination."

Still, board member McGuire insists the college had no legal basis to fire Breuder and could end up spending millions of dollars defending itself against a lawsuit. "The college, the students, the taxpayers and this community will lose," she said.

Breuder had a contract with COD that required votes from at least five of the seven board members to fire him for cause.

But last month, trustees agreed to void that contract and to treat Breuder as an at-will employee. As a result, the board needed only four votes to fire Breuder - not the five previously required in his contract.

Breuder was given the opportunity to challenge his termination with the board, but he declined, according to Hamilton.

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  Dozens of people attended Tuesday night's special COD meeting to watch trustees terminate Robert Breuder. Paul Michna/
  COD board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton joined three other board members in voting to fire President Robert Breuder. Paul Michna/
  Trustee Dianne McGuire cast the only vote opposing Tuesday night's resolution to fire Robert Breuder. She said the college had no legal basis to terminate Breuder. Paul Michna/

Breuder's employment history

March 1981: Hired as president of Williamsport Area Community College in Pennsylvania, later renamed Pennsylvania College of Technology.

September 1997: Resigns to take over in January 1998 as president of William Rainey Harper College in Palatine.

April 2001: Harper faculty issues vote of "no confidence."

October 2002: Faculty stages 12-day strike.

December 2002: Announces plans to retire when his contract ends in July 2005.

October 2004: Begins collecting $33,412 annual pension from Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System and withdraws contributions in the plan amounting to $134,657.

December 2004: Signs 2-year contract extension at Harper.

September 2005: Signs another extension to keep him at Harper until June 2009.

September 2006: Harper faculty threatens to strike.

October 2008: Announces plans to retire at end of contract.

November 2008: Accepts president's job at COD with contract through June 2012, starting salary of $249,000 and perks. Gets $508,000 retirement package from Harper.

January 2009: Begins presidency at COD.

April 2009: Contract extended through June 2015.

July 2010: Feud with Glen Ellyn over placement of COD's electronic signs begins and leads to court battle.

July 2011: Contract extended through June 2016.

October 2011: COD opens Breuder's pet project, a $25 million culinary arts and hospitality center featuring an on-campus boutique hotel and restaurant.

June 2012: Union and COD board agree on 3-year teachers contract.

July 2014: Leaked email shows Breuder seeking $20 million in state funding without actual plans for a project. Gov. Pat Quinn withholds the funds.

August 2014: COD board censures member Kathy Hamilton for "inappropriate conduct" after she questions spending and leadership of the college.

September 2014: COD faculty issues vote of "no confidence" against Breuder.

November 2014: Writes in COD newsletter he has no plans to quit and will serve remainder of contract until June 2019.

January 2015: Announces plan to retire in March 2016 although he's really being forced out; board approves $763,000 severance package.

April 2015: Placed on paid administrative leave.

August 2015: Trustees begin termination process.

September 2015: Trustees void employment contract and declare him an "at-will employee" without a contract.

Oct. 20, 2015: COD board votes 4-1 to fire Breuder in special meeting.

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