COD president defends push for state grant money
After the College of DuPage waited a dozen years for a promised state construction grant that never materialized, President Robert Breuder finally saw an opportunity to get the $20 million.
One week before Gov. Pat Quinn made a rare appearance at COD in May to speak during commencement ceremonies, Breuder sent an email to college trustees detailing his plan to publicly thank the governor for committing to release the grant money.
"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."
There was just one problem: COD no longer had a construction project to link to the money.
Breuder's solution to that problem is coming under fire from an Elmhurst-based government watchdog group.
For the Good of Illinois is accusing him of coming up with an "unplanned" classroom building proposal to help secure the $20 million.
In his email, Breuder told board members: "I needed to identify a project that would help release our state funding. My idea: a Teaching and Learning Center."
"Dr. Breuder pressured the trustees to fast-track a $50 million building with a political strategy to benefit Governor Quinn," said Adam Andrzejewski, chairman of the group.
But on Tuesday, Breuder said his May 9 email was part of an effort to get board members on the same page for the project.
Breuder said COD has known for at least a year it needs more classroom space. He said the school is operating at nearly 90 percent capacity during peak hours and needs to expand its facilities if enrollment continues to grow as projected.
"It's an internal memorandum trying to work the politics inside my own board," Breuder said of the email, which For the Good of Illinois obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Breuder said the original pledge for the grant dates to 2002, when then-Gov. George Ryan announced community colleges would get money to replace temporary buildings with permanent ones. COD never got its share, even though the state budgeted it in both 2004 and 2009, Breuder said.
The hope is Quinn will act to change that.
"All I know is he's willing to go ahead and release money that's been earmarked for us for a long time," Breuder said.
The college is in the midst of a $550 million transformation of its Glen Ellyn campus.
But the project COD originally was planning to use the state money for -- its Homeland Security initiative -- was completed without state funding.
In March, trustees agreed to set aside $33 million in reserves for a potential Teaching and Learning Center. Breuder says he asked the board in May to officially authorize the spending so the project can proceed -- with or without the state's help.
"For someone to say this building was fabricated at a moment's notice to be able to justify the $20 million wouldn't be aware of all that had been done before this," he said.
Breuder said it also "doesn't make sense" that he would try to help Quinn politically because education isn't supposed to be partisan.
"If I played all to one (political) party and the other party gets in, how would that benefit the College of DuPage?" he said.
A spokesman for Quinn said the governor's office will respond to questions about the grant today.
Andrzejewski, meanwhile, says he came to his conclusion because he read the email Breuder wrote to the board.
In part of the email, Breuder tells trustees COD has the option of telling the governor it will bank the grant money "until we figure out how to use it, and then build something."
"Bottom line: I need some room to breathe on this matter so I can enhance the likelihood we get the $20 million soon," Breuder wrote.
"So it is disingenuous at best now to say that they always had a project," Andrzejewski said. "Even when they voted for it, this project was completely on the drawing table with no details, no construction plans, no specifics."
Andrzejewski is calling on trustees to scale back the project and refuse to accept the $20 million from the state.
"After spending a half-billion dollars on buildings, Dr. Breuder wants to continue the construction binge on a project COD didn't plan for with dollars that a broke state doesn't have," he said.
Breuder acknowledges he probably would have used "a different choice of words" had he known his email would be made public.
"What's worse is when somebody wants to take that memo for a different reason and use it to benefit their cause," Breuder said. "That's what's in play here."
Despite his plan, Breuder never did get to publicly thank Quinn after the governor spoke on May 16. That's because Quinn left immediately after giving his speech.
As for the $20 million grant, Breuder says he hopes Andrzejewski's criticism doesn't prevent the college from getting the money.
If the state doesn't give the college the money, Breuder says COD shouldn't give up.
"We'll just go ahead until we, hopefully, get it," Breuder said. "Because it's going to be spent someplace. Why shouldn't it be spent here in DuPage County to the benefit of College of DuPage and the people we serve?"