State Senate panel looks at 'loopholes' COD controversy exposed
From tracking administrator pay to professional development for board members, a state Senate panel heard testimony Monday on legislation proposed in the wake of questionable spending, investment and severance practices at the College of DuPage.
The College of DuPage has been under investigation by law enforcement and state education officials since questions arose about a $763,000 severance package offered to end President Robert Breuder's contract early. Some of the school's investments, donations and influence also have come under scrutiny.
"While we are sympathetic to the notion that the entire higher education community in Illinois should not be forced to serve penance for the sins of one college. We also believe that the controversy at College of DuPage has exposed potential loopholes in state law that could lead to future abuses at other colleges and universities," Sen. Bill Cunningham said.
Following news reports about COD, Senate Democrats pushed for a review of Illinois' nine public universities and 46 community colleges. The caucus issued a report in May detailing spending perks, such as country club memberships, and six-figure severance agreements.
Cunningham has proposed legislation that would require regular community college audits, performance reviews of presidents and chancellors, and at least four hours of training for elected board of trustees' members. Other legislators have also pushed to cap severance packages.
Among those testifying Monday were College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton, who said the school has taken steps to make improvements, such as freezing certain accounts.
She blamed a "culture of insiders" and objected to legislation calling for more training, saying certain associations providing such professional development may have ties with a college president or board members, and could create more problems.
"Your independence is lost and, honestly, you can backtrack many of the reforms that we're talking about here," she told Senate committee members.
She suggested broadening language in the proposal, which Cunningham said he'd consider.
Breuder, the school president, has been placed on leave and subpoenas have been served on his employment agreements, emails and college-issued credit cards. Two college finance officials also have been put on leave after an internal audit of investment practices.