Editorial: Unless there's cause, COD should drop the Breuder firing bid
Several weeks ago, College of DuPage Board Chairwoman Kathy Hamilton, Acting Interim President Joseph Collins and Faculty Association President Glenn Hansen met with our editorial board to go over issues the Higher Learning Commission would be exploring as it reviewed the college's accreditation.
This was the meeting in which Collins downplayed the controversies that for months had plagued the college and President Robert Breuder as "exaggerated" and that Hamilton acknowledged were often "political."
The conversation was cordial, even cheerful. We asked questions, but didn't interrogate. Since they had asked for the meeting, we mainly listened to what they had to say.
There was, however, one terse exchange.
It came when one of our editors asked if, in its review, the learning commission would be seeking to speak with Breuder. This seemed like an innocuous question. The learning commission wanted to review COD operations; Breuder had been running COD for the period under review. It seemed natural that the commission would want to ask his perspective.
It was a gentle question. But Hamilton recoiled as if her side had been nudged with a hot poker. With face reddening and lips thinning, she snapped: "Dr. Breuder does not represent the college."
You had to be there to appreciate the abrupt shift in emotion.
We hearken back to that exchange now as we consider the board's action Thursday to begin termination proceedings against Breuder. There is something obsessive and oddly venomous about Hamilton's fixation with Breuder's destruction. Not satisfied with removing him from the stage, she seems bent now on exacting her pound of flesh.
Sadly, her trio of rubber stampers on the COD board seem inclined to follow her off the same cliff of vengeance.
Look, we get that Breuder's style rubs many the wrong way. We understand the disagreements with his spending, his benefits and his retirement package. We appreciate the disenchantment of union faculty.
We get all of that. He's a strong personality. But unless there's something beneath the surface that hasn't been revealed -- and Trustee Dianne McGuire suggests there isn't -- he does not deserve to be the pariah that Hamilton and her allies have made of him.
The spending, the benefits, the contract and the buyout, after all -- these were approved by the board trustees. They can't blame him for taking what they gave, casting it as some sort of Machiavellian Breuder-made-us-do-it magic spell.
The old board's alleged lack of oversight was argument for its removal, not for his.
As to Breuder's relationship with the faculty, that is a genuine concern. But the context shouldn't be ignored. It's hardly incidental that Breuder played point in tough contract negotiations, and it's more than ironic that Collins has now given union chief Hansen a promotion and a raise.
This is less a defense of Breuder than it is a call for reason and fairness.
Breuder is more than the controversies that have erupted around him. His tenure remade the college, holding the line on teacher salaries, boosting enrollments, improving facilities, building a sound fund balance and delivering an enviable credit rating.
While the generosity of his contracts and his retirement packages reasonably provoke debate, and the public uproar over them is understandable, he signed them in good faith.
The board owes him good faith in return.
He already has agreed to step down. And Hamilton already has banished him to administrative leave, frequently excoriating him while leaving him in no position to offer a defense.
Enough. Unless there is clear cause, the board risks hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in a termination proceeding that appears tenuous to uphold, cynically searching out contract loopholes in maneuvers that belie the institution's moral standing.
Frequently, Hamilton says she doesn't want to dwell on the past, that the college needs to move forward. We agree with that sentiment.