Opinion: Administrative fumbles don’t mar College of DuPage education

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The College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

“On the day my father died, he looked as run-down and parched as the tiny Nebraska farm he grew up on during the Depression. Just as the dust storms of his youth had stolen the thin, rich topsoil from their farm, so had the quiet storm of Alzheimer’s swept away his best thoughts from the landscape of memory. … And this drought would not end.”

OPINION

That is the first paragraph from Tom Montgomery’s Fate’s essay “In Absentia,” a tribute to his late father that appeared in the Chicago Tribune Printers Row in 2014. Fate has published five books and scores of essays, burnishing his reputation as an elite Chicago artist, his writing praised by heavy weight literati like Stuart Dybek and Scott Russell Sanders. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and he has been teaching writing at College of DuPage since 1989.

What’s most relevant here is that Fate is still on the faculty. Tens of thousands of local students have access to his instruction and unique talent.

Yes, the same College of DuPage recently put on probation by the Higher Learning Commission, which grants colleges accreditation.

The malefic probationary status was conferred not for any deficiency in COD’s educational program, but because of the negative publicity the college has received regarding the alleged financial mismanagement by the ousted college president, Robert Breuder, and the trustees who enabled him.

Prior to revelations of Breuder’s extravagant expenditures for everything from lavish wine-drenched dinners for him and his cronies at the campus restaurant, to membership fees in his hunting club on the public’s dime, College of DuPage enjoyed its rank as one of the top community colleges in the Midwest, whose graduates are sought after by the four-year colleges and universities in Illinois that formed transfer partnerships with COD.

And the college’s greatest strength has been its select faculty, so much so that it regularly attracted several hundred applicants for a single tenured faculty position.

But now the school is being punished for administrative shenanigans, or, as the commission wrote, for being out of compliance with one of its accreditation criteria, which is “operating with integrity and governance of the College.”

Enrollment, therefore, is at risk for the next two years, since students and parents are nervous about the mandatory notice of probation on COD’s website.

But imagine if Mayo Clinic were put on medical probation if the hospital president were accused of financial fraud. Would that be a reason for any patient not to avail himself of Mayo’s superior doctors and surgeons?

Certainly not.

The probationary status, then, should be perceived as a bureaucratic problem unrelated the school’s mission and product. Earned credit hours remain as good as gold.

Because, yes, Professor Fate is still there, teaching creative writing.

So is Richard Jarman, with a Ph.D. in chemistry from Oxford, who ran a business growing liquid crystals for eight years before bringing his talents to DuPage. Connie Canaday Howard, a ballet dancer, turned actor, turned professional director, turned drama professor at COD. Russ Watson, Professor of Psychology, who for eight years in the 1980s, was news anchor and host of the NBC-TV (WMAQ) “Everyman” program, and producer/host of the WKQX-FM “Open Circuit” radio talk show. Helen Feng, with a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern, who is chair of the Honors Council for the entire state of Illinois.

Retired Lt. Col. Franz Burnier, former Green Beret and Army Ranger, who created and teaches the course, “War in Literature,” in addition to English composition. And Paul Sirvatka, Meteorology, who instituted the first storm-chasing education program in the country for undergraduates, featured in the WGN Television documentary in 1994: “Chasing the Wind.”

While so many of the approximately 200 professors are distinctive and distinguished in their own way, the fear is that fewer students will avail themselves of their creativity, expertise, and experience.

If the president of the Chicago Blackhawks were being investigated for financial fraud, would hockey fans keep going to the games? No question, as long as All-Stars Jonothan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith were still on the ice. The same should hold at COD.

It’s understandable how months of front page news stories detailing President Breuder’s misdeeds, led the commission members to feel they had to say or do something … anything. But they ought to have known better than to do more harm.

David McGrath is Emeritus English professor at College of DuPage and author of The Territory.

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