College of DuPage trustee calls divide on board 'disturbing'
A College of DuPage trustee told members of an accreditation team Tuesday that a divide on the board overseeing the Glen Ellyn school is "disturbing" and "upsetting."
"This has been an intensely political, very destructive experience that we have had," Trustee Diane McGuire said to the representatives sent by the Higher Learning Commission, which is working to determine whether the state's largest community college still meets all 21 criteria required for accreditation.
McGuire's remarks came as fellow board members tried to show that questions raised about COD's administrative practices -- and the state and federal investigations that followed -- shouldn't cause the school to lose its accreditation.
Accreditation is crucial for COD, officials say. Without it, students could find it difficult to transfer credits to other institutions, the value of COD degrees could be called into question, and the school could lose its eligibility for financial aid programs.
The evaluation team sent by the commission spent Tuesday meeting with faculty, administrators and others. The three-person team will conclude its visit Wednesday.
During Tuesday night's discussion with COD trustees, evaluation team members asked why there's been "a 4-3 split" on the board, which has been operating with a new majority since the spring election.
Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton responded by saying "there's always been a split" for as along as she's been on the board.
"There was always a 3-4 split," Hamilton said. "It's just shifted because of the election. Different people have aligned with other people because of changes in ideology."
That led to McGuire voicing her displeasure about how the board has functioned since the three "Clean Slate" candidates who supported Hamilton won the election.
At their first board meeting on April 30, new trustees Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano joined with Hamilton to hire law firms, authorize the state to conduct a performance audit, approve an internal investigation and place embattled school President Robert Breuder on paid administrative leave.
All of those decisions came in 4-3 votes of the seven-member panel, with holdover trustees McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph C. Wozniak providing the opposition.
"When the Clean Slate won, we had an organizational meeting that was a fait accompli before we were ever seated," McGuire said. "There were engagements of attorneys with letters to the chair before she had ever been elected the chair.
"We have conflicts of interest all around us," McGuire added. "We have individuals being hired here on campus who have personal and political affiliations with various members of this board. I am very disturbed about that."
Birt said she believes there is a lack of trust and a lack of rapport on the board. She also said there is a lack of information for board members who are part of the minority.
"It's a problem that I hope can be fixed," she said.
Bernstein agreed that board communication can be improved. "I would love to work with all of the members of board," he said.
However, Bernstein said, he's doing the best he can to provide oversight that "just wasn't there before" the election.
Hamilton said what people are seeing with the board right now is acrimony.
Still, she said, "We are very focused on the quality of education here at the college. And we're very focused at meeting the criteria (for accreditation)."
The Higher Learning Commission was expected to renew COD's accreditation for an eight-year period after giving the school a glowing review, but the agency decided to re-examine accreditation after newspaper accounts raised questions about no-bid contracts for insiders, administrators dining at the school's upscale Waterleaf restaurant and other issues.
Since being seated, the new board majority raised additional concerns and placed two of the school's top financial administrators on leave amid questions involving their investment practices.
Meanwhile, COD's reaccreditation will remain on hold until the evaluation team reports the findings of its on-site evaluation.