Q&A, new College of DuPage president: Time to 'rise above the norm'
New College of DuPage President Ann Rondeau has been appointed and approved, signed her contract and toured the school's Glen Ellyn campus.
Come July 1, the sixth president in the college's 49-year history will begin leading the institution forward from a long period of political division on its board of trustees and serious concerns about its accreditation status with the Higher Learning Commission.
Rondeau says it's an opportunity for the college to "rise above the norm."
A 64-year-old retired Navy vice admiral, Rondeau has 26 years of experience in military and educational roles, including a stint as deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command in Illinois and commander of the Naval Personnel Development Command in Virginia.
She replaces Robert Breuder, who was fired in October.
Board President Deanne Mazzochi says Rondeau's leadership will guide the college as it aims to come off probation by meeting Higher Learning Commission standards.
"I'm hoping that all the trustees will take Dr. Rondeau's appointment to the college as really an opportunity to say, 'You know what? What's past is past. This is a new day. This is a new opportunity. Let's really try to see where we can move forward to do great things that are actually in the best interest of the institution,'" Mazzochi said Friday.
"Dr. Rondeau's pre-existing reputation for integrity and excellence is going to help us to move forward and to really ensure that we're also rebuilding the institutional trust that we need."
The Daily Herald met with Rondeau on Friday to ask about her priorities as she prepares to take the helm. Here is an edited version of the conversation.
Q. How will you work for this board, which clearly has been divided, and move the college forward?
A. I am delighted and comfortable to work for this chairman and I will tell you that we can, as a body of leaders, lead by example as to what good governance is, about what accountability and transparency are and about what actually objective, informed, intelligent conversation can be about. We can lead by example, and the chairman is pointing us in that direction. It's very comfortable for me to be there with her.
Q. How will you create a good working relationship with the faculty?
A. Faculty/administration dynamics are a common challenge for most colleges and universities, entities of higher education. This is not unique to the College of DuPage. What can be unique to the College of DuPage is that we rise above the norm and that we are a model for how administration and faculty will get together toward student outcomes and learning experiences.
I have high confidence that as we go through this journey of reaccreditation -- which is an opportunity -- as we go through the journey of increasing transparency and trust and accountability, that we'll all come together to do that because we are about our students. If we stay focused on that, we're going to do fine together.
Q. What is your plan to address concerns raised by the Higher Learning Commission?
A. It is obviously a governance piece for us. So the board of trustees and the president, the faculty, administration, staff, everyone -- this is a full team sport.
We also see the Higher Learning Commission as being partners ... so they will help us to see ourselves and to improve. I see them gladly as a partner in the further growth and quality of the College of DuPage. I can guarantee to you that the board of trustees, the faculty and the students and the staff are all very focused on meeting the highest standards and exceeding them and again, setting the mark for the country, and I believe that we can. It is not, for me, an issue -- the fact that we've had ourselves put on probation -- it's how we take advantage of that and excel and optimize and make this a terrific opportunity. ... The demands here are wonderful for us, and it gives us, actually, an extraordinary advantage that we're going to really use to our benefit.
Q. What do you think about being the school's first female president?
A. I've been the first woman in a number of different environments, and for me, that has been less important than being the best leader. For some, it's important I'm the first woman, and I respect that and I welcome it warmly because it's a nice thing. But what will be the most impactful for this college and the students is that I be a good leader. You can be man or a woman and be a good leader or a bad leader. I'm very, very pleased to be here. The first woman is a fact. The best leader will be the impact.
Q. What skills do you have to be successful at a community college?
A. I care about people. I care about mission accomplishment. I care about teams and individuals succeeding. I believe deeply in covenant leadership -- we all owe an obligation to each other, and that's why this is a really good school, because that's evident here right now. My success will only be measured in one way -- the success of our students and our staff and our faculty. So if they are succeeding, I am succeeding.
Q. Will it be a difficult transition from the military to a college?
A. It's not. The military trains people constantly. We train each other constantly. We prize education. We take in the views of experts and the skills, and we listen to our people before we make major decisions. ... This is my body of work. I've spent my entire adult life learning and helping others to learn, and then to do and to act and to be.
Q. What will you do to hit the ground running July 1?
A. You've got to listen and learn to lead. If we need to make immediate decisions, that will come up through the executive leadership and the cabinet. But right now, I think it's to understand, and I'll do that first. But we've got work to do on accreditation. My first plan is to be sure that we're all in line and what can I do to help the team for accreditation. That's the first thing that I'll do. I'm going to study hard. So I'll listen and learn, but I'm going to study pretty hard to be sure that I am completely advantageous to the team as we tackle accreditation.