New College of DuPage president focusing first on accreditation
New College of DuPage President Ann Rondeau refused to spend her first official day on campus behind a desk.
The sixth president in the Glen Ellyn-based school's 49-year history arrived at 7 a.m. Tuesday for the first in a series of meetings. But the 64-year-old retired Navy vice admiral still took time to walk around and chat with people.
When she met with a reporter around 3 p.m., she moved the conversation from her office to a table in a public area at the Student Services Center.
There -- surrounded by students studying and working on their laptops -- Rondeau talked about what's at stake for the state's largest community college, which has struggled with a long period of political division on its board of trustees and serious concerns about its accreditation status with the Higher Learning Commission.
"My first responsibility is to help us with the HLC accreditation and to get us off probation," Rondeau said. "You've got to get that right because everything else follows. We rise and fall on that issue."
Rondeau was selected after a nationwide search to replace Robert Breuder, who was fired in October amid state and federal investigations into the school's spending and administrative practices.
In December, the Higher Learning Commission placed the college on two years' probation for failing to act with integrity in its financial, academic, personnel and auxiliary functions.
While COD continues to be accredited and student credits are unaffected, the probation means the school must address the commission's concerns. If it doesn't, it will lose its accreditation -- and that could have a devastating impact on students by adversely affecting financial aid programs and the ability to transfer credits.
Officials are working to ensure the school meets all the commission's standards. Rondeau says that process is an opportunity for the college to learn about itself.
"Sometimes stumbles and difficulties give you a better self-awareness than if you're always winning," she said. "You learn more deeply from struggles. So we look forward to our own self-awareness, our own learning -- and to being the model for how you do this right."
Rondeau has 38 years of experience in military and educational roles, including as deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command in Illinois and commander of the Naval Personnel Development Command in Virginia.
Several times during her military career, Rondeau was given the task of turning around an organization.
She says she's mindful -- but not daunted -- by the challenge she's facing now.
"I'm not daunted by it because there's goodness here," said Rondeau, adding that she has confidence in the faculty and staff.
In addition to securing COD's accreditation, Rondeau says it's vital for the school to rebuild its image in the community. "You've got to be trustworthy," she said.
To win trust from taxpayers, COD will embark on an outreach campaign to ensure it's communicating with the public.
Rondeau, for example, is planning to speak with area mayors, business leaders, civic leaders and public education officials. She also wants to talk to taxpayers as much as possible.
In addition to moving forward, she says she wants the school to focus on student success and becoming a leader in the national conversation about higher education.
She said she believes those goals are achievable even though there's been a frequent 4-3 split on the COD board.
In fact, Rondeau knows that only four of the board's seven trustees voted to approve her appointment. Trustees Dianne McGuire and Joseph Wozniak voted "present" and Trustee Erin Birt abstained.
"That was unfortunate," Rondeau said. "Usually, you don't want to walk into a situation where the vote was not unanimous. But it is what it is. And I felt like I needed to be here. So you work with what you have."
In the meantime, Rondeau says she's going to serve the entire board. That includes ensuring that trustees have all the information they need to make educated decisions.
"If we do that, you can have some disagreement," she said. "I'm OK with that."