COD interim president says he'll be a collaborative leader
The man appointed to oversee day-to-day operations at the College of DuPage, now that embattled President Robert Breuder has been placed on administrative leave, says he has a distinctly different leadership style than his old boss -- a style he will employ as interim leader of the state's largest community college.
"Dr. Breuder is sort of the old-school type, whereas my style, people have called it 'servant leadership' or 'humble,'" said Joseph Collins, appointed Thursday as acting interim president in one of the first actions of a new board majority that at the same time placed Breuder on leave and barred him from campus.
Members of the college's Faculty Association have been calling for Breuder's ouster and the appointment of Collins, the school's executive vice president, for months, pointing to his recent work on a panel of administrators and faculty that is working on ways to improve the college.
During his first full day in the interim position Friday, Collins already was meeting with faculty union representatives to discuss the administrative transition.
"I am more of that school -- the collaborative, teamwork," Collins said. "I believe strongly in shared governance. I like working with groups. I like the idea of discussing something and coming to a consensus agreement that everybody is comfortable with. It's just the way I'm built."
Collins is one of the few top COD administrators whose tenure at the Glen Ellyn-based school precedes Breuder's arrival on campus in 2009. An electrical engineer by training, Collins spent 20 years in faculty and administrative roles at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before coming to COD in 2005 to take a job as associate vice president of academic planning and assessment.
Collins was able to ascend to the second-highest leadership position at the college, though Friday he described an increasingly distant relationship with Breuder in recent months, particularly after Breuder was awarded a $762,868 buyout package and state and federal investigations began into the college's spending practices.
Collins said he welcomes those investigations -- as well as one by an outside law firm hired by the board Thursday -- but personally doesn't know whether the concerns have weight.
"I couldn't speak to anything related to the president because I really did not know much about what was going on in the president's office," Collins said.
Collins was hired in March 2005 by then-President Sunil Chand, and four years later, with Hal McAninch as interim president, Collins was promoted to vice president of academic affairs. Breuder appointed him executive vice president in March 2011, a role that has had Collins overseeing the departments of academic affairs, student affairs, planning and institutional effectiveness, and information technology.
Early on, Collins said he worked closely with Breuder. But they hardly spoke in the last year and a half, and it was as long ago as last fall that they had any "meaningful conversations" about college business, Collins said.
"It was quite a while. It was just unusual. But I don't know exactly what caused it," Collins said.
The lack of interaction, Collins said, may be due to his role as executive vice president, a position Breuder created so Collins could manage "the core internal function of the college so that he could do something else externally."
"I think that was kind of his plan," Collins said. "It wasn't as if we had a falling out."
Under the administrative structure established during Breuder's tenure, Collins was part of a three-person "executive management team" that directly reported to Breuder. The other top administrators are Tom Glaser, the senior vice president for administration and treasurer, and Linda Sands-Vankerk, vice president for human resources.
Faculty Association President Glenn Hansen said he sees Collins as "distinctly different" than other COD administrators who have been hired by Breuder. Collins, with four other administrators, and Hansen, with six other members of the Faculty Senate, have been meeting the last several months to address a faculty survey that gave low marks to the way the college is run. They're recommending more collaboration and communication into decision making.
Hansen said the administrators on the committee were hired before Breuder came to COD.
"The true power at the college seemed to be within the administrative affairs and finance office, HR, and Dr. Breuder," Hansen said. "Many decisions were made that would lock Joe Collins out. There have been many times in regular meetings where we'd ask Joe a question and he'd have to (go) get the answer."
Collins was the choice of the new board majority, led by Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton, to fill the interim role after placing Breuder on administrative leave while an investigation into the "policies, personnel, practices and finances" of the college takes place. At the same time, Breuder is on medical leave for unspecified reasons for an unspecified period of time.
"Dr. Collins has been Dr. Breuder's backup for quite a while and he's developed the skills necessary for the job. He has hit the ground running," Hamilton said. "He's collaborative. He's open. He's friendly. People like working with him."
The board will be putting together an ad hoc committee to search for an interim president. Hamilton said the board is "open to" having Collins' "acting" title removed.
Collins said there are some things he would like to change immediately regarding the college's operations, but it would be "presumptuous" since he is serving only in an interim role.
Collins said he aspires to be a community college president -- whether it's at COD or elsewhere. He's interested in the COD job, but he says he's not lobbying for it.
In his role as executive vice president, Collins is being paid $235,086 a year and won't be receiving anything extra as acting interim president.