Faced with a sweeping federal investigation and constant criticism of his lavish spending, College of DuPage President Robert Breuder will go on medical leave beginning Wednesday, upending a plan by incoming trustees to place him on administrative leave later this week.
The college made a one-sentence announcement just before 8 p.m. Tuesday and did not say whether Breuder is expected to return. College policy allows employees up to one year of unpaid medical leave, though they can get paid for unused sick and vacation time.
Breuder declined to comment Tuesday when he left campus at 5:30 p.m. carrying his dog. His compensation this year is $484,812, including a $22,000 housing allowance, a $10,200 car allowance and thousands of dollars more for his cellphone and professional development.
The college's executive vice president, Joseph Collins, will likely oversee the publicly funded community college in Breuder's absence.
Public demands for Breuder's ouster have grown since January, when the school's board of trustees approved a $763,000 severance package — one of the largest for a public employee in state history — to end his contract in March 2016, three years early. Voters reflected that ire earlier this month by electing a slate of candidates backed by the only trustee to oppose the buyout.
A Tribune investigation has revealed numerous issues at the Glen Ellyn-based college, from extravagant tabs for administrators at the campus's fine-dining restaurant, Waterleaf, to the awarding of noncompetitive contracts to businesses connected with the school's fundraising foundation.
Federal and state prosecutors also have launched investigations, according to grand jury subpoenas obtained by the Tribune.
Breuder missed the last two board meetings, and sources said he has alluded to medical conditions since the outcry began over his severance deal. By going on medical leave, Breuder most likely will receive his full buyout, which is to be paid in a lump sum when his contract ends next March 31.
The announcement came hours after three new trustees, who form a new majority along with board member Katharine Hamilton, were officially certified and named to the board. After winning control in the April 7 election, the four trustees planned to oust Breuder at their first meeting Thursday night, when Hamilton is expected to become the board's new chairwoman.
After learning of Breuder's medical leave, Hamilton said: "One way or another, we are starting anew."
Glenn Hansen, the faculty union president, echoed that sentiment and said Breuder's leave will not cause much upheaval at the college because he was expected to be placed on administrative leave anyway.
Before the announcement, Hamilton had submitted an agenda late Tuesday night that included placing Breuder on administrative leave and naming Collins the acting interim president. The vote on Breuder's future was scheduled after a daylong power struggle over who was in charge of the state's largest community college. The outgoing board had planned to hold a different meeting Thursday night — and vote on a list of agenda items that did not include Breuder's employment.
But after marathon meetings with attorneys, a flurry of letters to state officials and intervention from DuPage County prosecutors, Hamilton and her board allies successfully challenged the old board's attempt to meet because state law prohibits an outgoing board from having a lame-duck session after election results are certified.
Hamilton said placing Breuder on leave — and barring him from campus — would have been an immediate signal of the new board's mission of "uncompromised reform."
"We are putting in place a foundation to not only correct the problems today but prevent these kinds of problems from happening in the future," Hamilton said. "As part of that, we are putting together an all-star transition team to establish new priorities for the college."
The college canceled the old board's meeting shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday and announced that the new board would meet Thursday after its installation. The agenda for the new meeting includes a resolution to put Breuder on leave because he "cannot achieve the philosophy, mission, vision and goals" of the college.
Breuder, however, did not leave his fate in the hands of his longtime adversary Hamilton, instead taking the medical leave.
Federal grand jury subpoenas issued earlier this month sought a variety of documents from the school, including the president's employment agreements, college-issued credit cards and emails dating to his arrival in January 2009.The subpoenas also asked for records related to the college-based police academy. The Tribune reported that the school increased the number of credits given to recruits in the training program without increasing the amount of instruction — a change that boosted enrollment figures and led one top official at the police academy to question "the integrity of this process" before resigning late last year. Breuder has made boosting student enrollment a priority and he has been working tirelessly to break enrollment records.
Two days after investigators served those two subpoenas, a grand jury issued a third seeking all surveillance video from the hours after administrators learned about the federal investigation. Authorities specifically want footage from the building that, among other things, houses the president's suite and the financial affairs office.
The incoming trustees' proposed agenda for Thursday night has 12 other items for approval. They include retaining new legal counsel; suspending all travel and entertainment reimbursements for members of the board; authorizing a performance audit by the state auditor general; and approving office space on campus and equipment for trustees.
The new board also is expected to vote to suspend all house accounts at Waterleaf. An investigation by the Tribune found that the publicly funded college and its fundraising foundation have spent nearly $352,000 at the restaurant in the past three years.
The board also is expected to announce the formation of a transition team and a committee to search for a longer-term interim president.
Hansen, the faculty union president, said he is looking forward to a change in leadership.
"It will be a move in the right direction," Hansen said. "I am looking forward to working with the new trustees. They seem eager to listen to people and all constituencies. They have contacted me about working together and listening to us, so I think that is a major breath of fresh air."
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