College of DuPage put on two years' probation by accreditation agency

 
Daily Herald report
Updated 12/17/2015 10:47 AM
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The College of DuPage has been placed on two years' probation by the Higher Learning Commission for failing to act "with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel and auxiliary functions."

The school, which is the largest community college in the state, also is out of compliance with criteria for accreditation and core components, according to details made public by the school Wednesday.

The commission's decision was made Dec. 9, and COD's acting interim president, Joseph Collins, was notified Wednesday by certified mail. The probationary period became effective immediately, according to a letter from Barbara Gellman-Danley, HLC president.

The college continues to be accredited and student credits are unaffected, but the probation means the college is given two years to address the commission's concerns. If it fails to do so, Gellman-Danley wrote, "the commission shall withdraw accreditation."

In a letter to students and faculty on the COD campus on Wednesday, Collins said the commission told him it took the action "because of concerns related to operating with integrity and governance of the college."

In his letter to the campus of the state's largest community college, Collins said COD has until February 2017 to "provide evidence that the college has ameliorated the findings of non-compliance ..."

"In my opinion," he wrote, "this decision by the Higher Learning Commission is not reflective of the excellence we provide at College of DuPage for our students on a daily basis. However, there is nothing more important to this college than its accreditation status with the HLC. As the acting interim president of this institution, I will do everything in my power to move swiftly to address all of the HLC's concerns."

The vice chairman of COD's board of trustees, Deanne Mazzochi, said she believes every member of the board, "individually and collectively, will take this very seriously. The HLC's concerns involving the board are readily fixable. I pledge my best efforts to search for ways to effectively compromise so we can overcome differences respectfully, for the good of the institution, while improving the overall temperament of the board."

Kathy Hamilton, who resigned as the chairman of the board earlier this week, said the school's probation "wouldn't have happened" had the audit committee established when she was chairman been in place earlier.

"A lot of it has been addressed by the audit committee, but there's got to be a change of culture," Hamilton said Wednesday night. "I think it demonstrates the depth and complexity of the problems at the college."

Martin A. Dolan, the attorney for Robert Breuder, said in an email to the Daily Herald Wednesday night that the report further underscores that the college's perceived weaknesses tie directly to the Hamilton board and its appointees. In October, Breuder filed a federal lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully terminated from the school. He is seeking more than $2 million in damages.

"This report further substantiates Dr. Breuder's lawsuit, where personal agendas controlled the decision to illegally void his contact and the dysfunction caused the destruction of Dr. Breuder's reputation," Dolan wrote in the email. "Perhaps this external wakeup call will encourage the current Board to start focusing on the welfare of the College."

In the HLC's letter, Gellman-Danley said COD is out of compliance in terms of meeting requirements to operate "with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel and auxiliary functions" and to establish and follow policies and processes for fair and ethical behavior on the part of its governing board, administration, faculty and staff." The commission identified the following problems:

• "Regular breaches" of the college's investment policies, including exceeding the limits of specific types of investments.

• The college's internal auditor alerted senior administrators to dozens of potential problems during the past three years, "but the college could not document college actions taken in response to such information or that such information was regularly shared with the college board."

• Several incidents raise questions about whether the college follows its own ethics policies and operates with integrity, including charges for alcohol at the Waterleaf restaurant that violated administrative procedures; money paid to a former employee to his own private bank account for unneeded equipment and services; and the awarding of noncompetitive bid contracts to vendors who were on the school's foundation board without a clear determination of whether such awards raised conflict of interest issues.

• The college provides limited or no ethics training for faculty, staff and students.

The HLC said such cases demonstrated "a lack of integrity in the college's operations and lack of adherence to established policies and procedures."

COD has taken steps to address the long-standing issues, the HLC said, but hasn't yet demonstrated those steps are effective.

The HLC also criticized the school's board of trustees for failure to promote "effective leadership and support collaborative processes" to enable the institution to fulfill its mission.

Among its criticisms:

• The full board did not regularly receive and review financial statements from May to July.

• Faculty governance did not function effectively when neither the criminal justice faculty at the college nor Suburban Law Enforcement Academy instructors were consulted about or approved the increase in credit hours provided for noncredit courses taken in the Law Enforcement Academy.

• The administration failed to take any action to address the concerns that led to a faculty vote of "no confidence" in then-President Breuder in fall of 2014.

Members of the HLC visited the COD campus during the summer after concerns arose about administrative practices at the Glen-Ellyn based school.

The commission accredits roughly 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states.

• Daily Herald staff writer Doug T. Graham contributed to this report

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