COD's better tomorrow starts today

  • Kathy Hamilton, chairwoman of the College of DuPage board of trustees.

    Kathy Hamilton, chairwoman of the College of DuPage board of trustees. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
By Katharine Hamilton
Guest columnist
Updated 7/30/2015 12:49 PM

The College of DuPage must be better tomorrow than it is today.

The board of trustees must instill and lead a daily orientation to academic excellence, institutional integrity and community support. We are accountable for effectively delivering adult education that enables our students to compete successfully in the 21st century's globalized economy.

 

In an editorial online and in print on Wednesday, the Daily Herald asks the difference between talking about an illegally released tape of a privileged conversation that resulted in a deal to pay $763,000 to make our then-president depart and the state attorney general finding, last Friday, that in 2011, COD violated the Open Meetings Act when extending that president's contract.

COD's board is obligated to apply the attorney general's finding to our current legal relationship with this employee. The attorney general has created a dense and complex legal matter that the board must fully understand to do its job -- today.

Never, on any occasion, did I endorse payment of one cent to make the president leave the college. I said many times -- even in the Daily Herald -- we should fire for cause. That would alleviate any buyout burden. My collegial remark to Trustee Erin Birt, recognizing her negotiating, was nothing more than that. The Daily Herald, in its words, "mischaracterized" my remark Tuesday in a headline and a promotional email.

The Daily Herald ignores the other defining condition of the conversation. Why did the board have to start negotiations at $1.5 million for a community college president's buyout? Because prior boards had given away the store.

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But the illegally leaked tape also reveals the best evidence yet on the public record of the prior board's failure to govern COD, since it failed to govern its president.

"We have never given him goals," one trustee says. "We were never personally involved in his leadership style, and now we can be."

The last 20 minutes of the recording is a searching review of "reform directives" that my colleague, Diane McGuire, hoped to impose on COD's president as a condition of the buyout.

"We have inserted ourselves into these processes because right now," Trustee McGuire says, "they are meaningless."

But it was too late. The board disagreed with me and the $763,000 deal was struck. While reciting the president's disregard for the board, faculty and school, the board -- stunningly -- sought to stuff his pockets with taxpayer money. It never had my support.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

All those in the executive session knew my position well. This was the context the Daily Herald ignored in reporting based on one tape selected for a political attack out of a series of dozens of privileged conversations.

The attack comes from those who oppose change, no matter what is best for COD and its students. It shows taxpayers, students and faculty are winning. With each passing week, College of DuPage leaves this employee's era further behind.

We have returned authority to the board, held the first-ever budget hearings, announced plans to cut tuition and the property tax levy, closed house accounts at the Waterleaf, reviewed plans for making the Waterleaf a benefit to students, opened a new relationship with the faculty and recruited a blue ribbon transition team led by Northwestern University professor Don Haider to give the board a road map for improving policies and COD's strategic plan.

On Tuesday, I welcomed the office of the Illinois Auditor General to campus to start the General Assembly-mandated performance audit that the prior board had blocked. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay the auditor general to investigate us adds to an extraordinary tab for attorneys, accountants and investigators, all arising from the past board's failure to govern. It will be so noted to taxpayers.

And, because the board gave the president a jackpot, its successors carry the largest public Golden Handshake in Illinois and a profoundly weakened legal position in dealing with this employee.

Today, we address the attorney general's decision, and the $763,000 deal, because both have a bearing on our choices -- today. For tomorrow, we will continue our comprehensive and uncompromising reforms to improve COD.

Katharine Hamilton is chair of the College of DuPage Board of Trustees.

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