COD trustees vote to begin Breuder termination proceedings

  • College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton listens to attorney Timothy Elliott during Thursday's night's board meeting.

      College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton listens to attorney Timothy Elliott during Thursday's night's board meeting. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton reacts Thursday night to the board's vote to initiate termination proceedings against school President Robert Breuder.

      College of DuPage board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton reacts Thursday night to the board's vote to initiate termination proceedings against school President Robert Breuder. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 

A push to fire embattled College of DuPage President Robert Breuder -- and perhaps rescind his nearly $763,000 buyout agreement -- started in earnest Thursday night with COD trustees voting to initiate termination proceedings.

But the process of trying to fire Breuder is expected to take months. And it's still unclear whether Breuder, who is on paid administrative leave, can legally be ousted before his scheduled retirement next March.

Trustees voted 4-2 to authorize board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton to pursue the process to terminate Breuder's employment with the state's largest community college, which continues to be the subject of state and federal investigations as well as internal probes into its financial and administrative practices.

"This is not a conclusion," Hamilton said before the vote. "It is not a finding. It starts a process. The college states its case privately, and the president on leave, Breuder, has every opportunity to answer that case."

The move to part ways with Breuder was supported by Hamilton and her three political allies on the board -- trustees Deanne Mazzochi, Charles Bernstein and Frank Napolitano.

In late April, that same board majority voted to put Breuder on paid leave and ban him from the Glen Ellyn campus amid a public furor over the buyout deal the old board gave him.

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Since that time, attorneys hired by the board have done internal investigations of the school's policies, personnel, practices and finances.

Hamilton, a longtime critic of Breuder, announced this week that the recommendation to begin termination proceedings was the result of the internal investigations. The findings of those probes weren't released on Thursday night.

"There has been much in the paper about COD for the last 14 months," Hamilton said. "But the investigations have been private. That will remain the case. Dr. Breuder's rights must be respected."

During his time with COD, Breuder oversaw a $550 million transformation of its campus. But there's also been discord during his tenure. Last September, COD's full-time faculty members took a "no confidence" vote in his leadership.

This year, there were media reports that raised questions about, among other things, no-bid contracts for insiders and administrators dining at COD's upscale Waterleaf restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Acting Interim President Joseph Collins told the Daily Herald's Editorial Board in June that the media reports were "exaggerated based on what the reality was."

Still, Hamilton has long argued that Breuder should be terminated for cause with no significant severance payment. For example, she has said Breuder should have been dismissed for lack of oversight when financial irregularities surfaced at the college radio station.

Faculty Association President Glenn Hansen said the school's professors will welcome Thursday's decision "as good news."

"But the joy will be tempered by the damage left in his (Breuder's) wake," Hansen said. "At this time we are focused on repairing the damage, and he has become a small reflection in the rearview mirror."

Hansen urged all the board members to support firing Breuder.

However, trustees Dianne McGuire and Joseph C. Wozniak opposed the decision to start termination proceedings. Trustee Erin Birt was absent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

McGuire insisted the college has no legal basis to fire Breuder. She also said the board had no basis to approve Thursday night's motion.

"The majority is taking this action solely for political reasons," McGuire said. "Chair Hamilton and her slate of candidates ran on a platform of firing Dr. Breuder. They are determined to meet their campaign pledge regardless of the facts and the legal realities."

In the spring, Hamilton endorsed Mazzochi, Bernstein and Napolitano -- dubbed the "Clean Slate" -- and helped them get elected to the board. Hamilton also made it clear that she intended to work to "accelerate" Breuder's dismissal.

"Chair Hamilton and her majority are totally unconcerned with the cost -- and not just in dollars -- that their attempt to fire Dr. Breuder will inflict on COD and the community," McGuire said.

The opposition to Thursday's vote highlights the biggest hurdle facing those who want Breuder terminated.

A final vote to fire Breuder for cause would require support from at least five of the seven board members, according to the terms of his contract. That fifth vote would have to come from either Birt, McGuire or Wozniak.

On Thursday night, Napolitano asked if the five-vote requirement is allowed under state law. But he was told that the attorney couldn't answer that question in open session.

One way the board could get avoid needing five votes to fire Breuder is if a judge rules that his contract, approved in 2008, and subsequent extensions were illegally approved.

So trustees approved a measure calling on the DuPage County state's attorney's office to enforce a recent nonbinding opinion by the Illinois attorney general's office. That opinion said the COD board failed to properly inform the public in 2011 that it was voting on a contract extension for Breuder.

In the meantime, Bernstein called on Breuder "to put the college first, forego the severance and simply walk away."

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