Editorial: Now in power, Collins defends COD against 'exaggerations'
Let us tell you about one of the oddest presentations our editorial board has been called to witness.
It took place last week. On the eve of an accreditation inquiry by the Higher Learning Commission, representatives of the College of DuPage -- the center of fiery controversies for many a month -- requested a bit of our time.
You could say that these representatives of COD are some of the victors who emerged out of the relentless uproar that has besieged the community college since last fall -- among them, Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton and Interim Acting President Joseph Collins.
In a way, both ascended by virtue of the recurring storms. And to be sure, Hamilton and Collins have decried the college's problems and vowed to clean things up.
In many respects, they appear to be moving in the direction of some positive change -- more involvement of faculty in the planning process at the school; a worthwhile evaluation of the use of the Waterleaf restaurant; the potential for lower taxes and lower tuition; rebalancing the power structure to reassert the board's oversight responsibilities.
These are all worthwhile things and worthy of exploration. We applaud the efforts so far.
But imagine our surprise when Hamilton emphasized that the school, seen by so many to be floundering, is excelling academically.
Imagine our surprise when she and Collins tried to put highly publicized challenges to COD's claims of increased enrollment into perspective by saying they centered around an update for one program's credits that had an almost infinitesimal effect on the overall enrollment totals.
Imagine our surprise when Collins boasted of the "huge increase" in new programs over the past four years that "far exceeds what you'd typically see."
And our surprise when he went item by item through the five controversies the accreditation team plans to explore, vehemently defending the college on each, describing the controversies as "an exaggeration" in a couple of instances and "blown out of proportion" in another.
"I think," Collins said, "they've all been greatly sensationalized in the media by the Chicago Tribune."
These are the things we might have expected those previously in power to say. But former Board Chairwoman Erin Birt seldom rose to the college's defense. Demonized President Robert Breuder, now on leave and persona non grata, apparently has been prohibited from saying much of anything.
Instead, these things are said by those who have risen to power and influence by virtue of the controversies they are largely debunking.
To be clear, we did not wring these comments out of the COD's representatives. For the most part, we listened. We did not grill.
There were no tough questions until finally one of our editors asked whether these allegations that Collins, and to some extent, Hamilton were now disputing weren't the same things that swept Hamilton's slate into office and Hamilton into the chairmanship.
At that point, Hamilton described Collins' characterizations as opinions where "we disagree." But she did not challenge his facts and she conceded that "a lot of those (controversial) articles were political."
She concluded with a call to move forward, to pay less attention to the past than to the future.
"We are here today to defend the college," Hamilton said, and then later added, "We want to continue to transform lives."