COD faculty: Probation places 'black veil' on school

  • Deanne Mazzochi was at the center for Thursday's College of DuPage board meeting in Glen Ellyn.

      Deanne Mazzochi was at the center for Thursday's College of DuPage board meeting in Glen Ellyn. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • The people attending Thursday's meeting at the College of DuPage included faculty members who decried the school's probation status.

      The people attending Thursday's meeting at the College of DuPage included faculty members who decried the school's probation status. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/17/2015 9:40 PM

College of DuPage faculty and supporters Thursday decried trustees and administrators for actions that resulted in the college being placed on probation by the Higher Learning Commission.

"While the academics are solid, probation in the eyes of many puts a black veil on academics," retired economics professor Rosa Lee Danielson said. "I can only hope that the status of probation will not harm even a single student."

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Faculty members said that after the probationary status was announced Wednesday, students asked whether credits will transfer to other institutions. The Higher Learning Commission said "in most cases" credits from schools on probation are accepted but students are encouraged to confirm with the institution where they intend to transfer.

"The college's core functions of academics, teaching and learning are not called into question in the HLC report," English professor Tom Tipton said. "It's the board and administration who are on probation."

The board was led Thursday by Vice Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi, who called the meeting a "working group" because the board lacked a quorum to take action. Several professors who spoke called for resignations of three absent trustees -- Dianne McGuire, Erin Birt and Joseph Wozniak -- and top administrators.

The fallout came one day after the commission, in a letter to acting interim President Joseph Collins, informed the school it was placed on two-year probation for failing to act "with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel and auxiliary functions."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was terrible. It's the worst findings it could possibly have been," English professor Jackie McGrath said.

The three board members present Thursday -- Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein -- listened to faculty concerns about the probation status despite being unable to take action.

Mazzochi then listed actions in progress to address reasons the college was found out of compliance with accreditation standards.

Reasons cited by the commission include breaches of investment policies; lack of documented response to problems found by an auditor; alcohol purchases at the Waterleaf restaurant; money paid to a former employee for unneeded items; awards of noncompetitive bid contracts to members of the school's foundation board; irregular review of financial statements; ineffective faculty governance; failure to act after faculty expressed no confidence in then-President Robert Breuder in fall 2014; and limited or no ethics training for faculty, staff and students.

Mazzochi said that in several areas, changes have been made, but "the HLC wants some time to ensure we are serious and that this doesn't happen again. Let's prove to them that we are and it won't."

She said the college has taken or will take the following actions, among others, to correct areas where it was found noncompliant:

• The college has requested proposals for an independent investment firm to advise the board about investment policy compliance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Mazzochi has asked for audits to be given to all board members and will ask for documentation to show issues found by auditors have been addressed.

• There has been no board involvement in the Waterleaf restaurant since the college voted in August to make it a teaching facility staffed by students instead of professionals.

• The college and financial staff or consultants will ensure board members receive monthly financial statements.

• "Remedial steps" have been taken to improve faculty governance.

• Mazzochi has asked acting interim President Collins and faculty leadership to explain what steps should be taken to resolve outstanding concerns from the faculty's vote of no confidence in Breuder.

• The board was to have bought an ethics training program for faculty and staff but was unable to take action Thursday without a quorum.

She also called on the board to work with "civility" to continue addressing concerns.

"These are changes we each can individually bring about simply by controlling ourselves," Mazzochi said. "We can do this."

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