ECC board members relieved Sam won't be leaving
Though Elgin Community College President David Sam was poised to leave to help run the tumultuous College of DuPage, ECC board members say there are no hard feelings. In fact, they're relieved Sam will be sticking around another four years.
"This was an unusual circumstance where a college was in trouble, and Dr. Sam has all of the talent and skills to address those issues that they have," said longtime ECC board member Donna Redmer.
Redmer added Sam sought the COD position with the blessing of the ECC board.
For his part, Sam has said he was tapped to apply for the presidency at COD -- the state's largest community college, and also the most controversial. He was among three finalists for the job, which ultimately went to Ann Rondeau, a retired Navy vice admiral.
Rondeau's predecessor, Robert Breuder, was fired last fall and criticized for his spending at a college-owned restaurant, a college-paid membership at a private hunting club and other perks. Before the firing, he was given a $763,000 severance package that helped inspire a state law signed in September by Gov. Bruce Rauner limiting community college severance deals to one year of pay and benefits. Adding to the turmoil, the college was under state and federal investigations and placed on two years' probation by the state's Higher Learning Commission.
Sam declined to be interviewed about his flirtation with COD. Instead, he issued a statement that he is "happy to continue" in his present role. His five-year contract runs through June 2020.
Sam said he will be working with the college board to set new goals during an annual retreat next month.
"These are exciting times for the institution. I remain 100 percent committed to ECC," he said in his statement.
At ECC, Sam is paid a base salary of $269,100, part of a total benefits package of roughly $380,000. The latter could have been bumped to upward of $500,000 if he landed the COD job. His COD counterpart will receive a $325,000 base salary in the first year of the three-year agreement, not including benefits.
It's not the first time another educational institution has tried to poach Sam, ECC board President Eleanor Mackinney said.
"He gets offers all the time," Mackinney said. "He is in high demand. He could leave anytime he wanted to leave. He is such an outstanding leader and he does it with such dignity and grace."
Sam said, in another statement, the COD job is the only one he specifically applied for during his tenure at ECC.
During Sam's nine years with ECC, the college has seen increasing student graduation rates, received a perfect accreditation score from the Higher Learning Commission, and narrowed the achievement gap between Latino and white students, according to officials.
"We're one of the top 10 community colleges in Illinois," Mackinney said.
Sam's yearly performance evaluation is underway and the board's findings will be presented during a closed session meeting this month. ECC leaders also will begin working on a new five-year strategic plan starting this fall.
Redmer said board members have numerous goals they would like to see Sam achieve for the college. Among them is expanding the college's Pathways and Accelerate College programs that help students achieve degrees faster.
"That requires a lot of leadership and a lot of faculty support so students can go forward with those programs," Redmer said. "That is something we have been working on and now it will be a more intense project."