Editorial: The expensive risk College of DuPage has placed on taxpayers
It was almost three years ago that we warned that the College of DuPage Board was risking the public's money in what we described as its "obsessive and oddly venomous" fixation with the destruction of onetime-president Robert Breuder.
While allowing that reasonable people could disagree with Breuder's style and performance, we also noted that his successor Joseph Collins conceded the controversies that enveloped him were "exaggerated" and his board nemesis Kathy Hamilton acknowledged they were "political."
(Regarding those exaggerations: Remember the much-ballyhooed headlines about both the DuPage County state's attorney and federal authorities investigating COD? Three years later, no charges. Apparently, nothing there but ruined reputations.)
"Unless there is clear cause," we said in this space at the time, "the board risks hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in a termination proceeding that appears tenuous to uphold, cynically searching out contract loopholes in maneuvers that belie the institution's moral standing."
The legal case has yet to play out so theoretically, we suppose, the college could still win that gamble.
But as of our latest tabulation in January, the college's legal bills in the case had already reached $527,600 and who knows if that's all of it. Transparency, thy name has not been COD when it comes to all the costs. What we do know is that those bills are going to climb considerably higher.
And if the college loses, it not only would be on the hook for whatever damages Breuder wins but most likely also his legal bills as well as the college's.
It's possible the college's insurance will pay much of the legal bills. Comforting, although if so, it undoubtedly would affect its future premiums. But it's also possible its insurer could end up challenging its responsibility if it's found that the college egregiously mistreated Breuder.
As far as the college winning its gamble, the ruling on April 17 by the U.S. Court of Appeals, with language that starkly repudiates most of the college's positions, strongly suggests the odds of that fall somewhere between a wing and a prayer.
The court rejected the college's primary argument that Breuder's contract was not valid. And in unusually harsh language, it declared the board "discharged him without notice or a hearing."
With all that established in the court proceedings, it's hard to imagine COD prevailing if the court case proceeds to a trial.
The board has been wrongheaded and unfair in its approach toward Breuder from the beginning of this debacle. But pro-Breuder or con- or somewhere in the middle, the rational response now by a board concerned with protecting the students and the taxpayers is to try to work something out.
We encourage Board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi and rest of the board to explore that path.