Email prompts Quinn to withhold $20 million in funding for COD
The College of DuPage won't receive a $20 million state construction grant now that Gov. Pat Quinn has seen an email detailing President Robert Breuder's strategy to secure the long-promised funding for the Glen Ellyn school.
"The tactics used by the president in his email" convinced the governor not to release the $20 million the school hoped to use for a Teaching and Learning Center, a Quinn spokesman said Wednesday.
"We are suspending the possibility that they can submit a project for that funding," David Blanchette said.
COD spokesman Joseph Moore said the school did not have a comment Wednesday evening but may have one Thursday.
The controversy centers on an email Breuder sent May 9 to college trustees detailing his plan to publicly thank Quinn during commencement ceremonies for committing to release the grant money, which COD has waited a dozen years to receive.
"When I introduce Governor Quinn at commencement, I want to help our cause (getting the $20 million released 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."
Blanchette said $25 million in capital funds were appropriated for COD in 2009 by the state legislature as part of the Illinois Jobs Now! program. To date, $5 million has been obligated toward the demolition of structures on the Glen Ellyn campus.
Blanchette said the remaining $20 million hasn't been committed or approved by the state. He said Quinn won't release that money for construction projects at COD because of what Breuder wrote.
In part of Breuder's memo, he told trustees "There is always the option of telling the Governor we want the money, will bank it until we figure out how to use it, and then build something."
"We have no tolerance for any misrepresentation of how funds will be used," Blanchette said.
Breuder's email was made public last week by an Elmhurst-based government watchdog group that obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The group, For the Good of Illinois, accused Breuder of coming up with an "unplanned" classroom building proposal to help secure the $20 million.
Breuder countered this week by providing documentation showing the college has been planning for at least a year to construct a classroom building. The school is operating at more than 90 percent capacity during peak hours and needs to expand its facilities if enrollment continues to grow as projected, COD officials said.
Trustees in March agreed to set aside $33 million in reserve money for the Teaching and Learning Center. Last week, the board approved the project so it can proceed -- with or without the state's help.
School officials say preliminary plans call for the center to house several 35-seat general purpose classrooms, a smaller number of 25-seat general purpose classrooms, two 50-seat general science classrooms, four 25-seat computer classrooms and a computer lab.
In addition, the building likely will include administrative space, office space for the faculty, a student commons area, a multipurpose room and unfinished space for future development.
Breuder said the original pledge for the state grant dates to 2002, when it was announced that community colleges would get money to replace temporary buildings with permanent ones.
While the state already has given COD $5 million, Breuder said his internal email to trustees was intended to identify a plan for getting the rest of the promised grant money released.
Still, Adam Andrzejewski, chairman of For the Good of Illinois, said Breuder pressured the COD board to fast track the classroom project to obtain the $20 million state grant.
"The COD trustees quite obviously have a president whose leadership style and public actions are very troubling," Andrzejewski said. "The trustees need to reassert control of school governance."
He said Quinn "made the right call" by deciding to withhold the grant money.
"Until today, Dr. Breuder's entire strategy was coming to fruition in real-time," Andrzejewski said. "The only piece missing was Governor Quinn granting the money. After media pressure, thankfully, some sanity finally resulted."
Kathy Hamilton, the vice chairman of the COD board, said she had not spoken to the rest of the board as of Wednesday and was speaking as a private citizen.
"The board has a responsibility to review carefully any allegations of wrongdoing," she said in an email, "and also has the responsibility to assess the repercussions of Governor Quinn's statement."