College Foundations

April 13, 2015; Daily Herald (Chicago, IL)

 

It’s NPQ’s position that it is best, wherever possible, not to do business with board members. If, for some reason, it is just the undeniably best possible option to do so, great care must be taken to document how you made that determination. Bidding the job well is probably a good procedural step, especially when and where required.

But at the College of DuPage Foundation, six of its currently 20-member board have done work under contract with the foundation. (It would have been eight, but two of those in question, both attorneys, have recently resigned the board.)

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“The contracts that have been given to individuals who later may have become foundation board members—or who were then foundation board members—have all been competitive,” said college trustee Dianne McGuire, talking to members of the press at a meeting called for the media. But trustee Kathy Hamilton comments, “Some $200 million in no-bid contracts for insiders is quite enough to know that the relationship will require new thinking.”

One of the contracts in question was for more than $630,000 and was not bid out. The contract went to Herricane Graphics, of which board member Carla Burkhart is president, to design signs for COD. In the contracts, Burkhart is repeatedly and inaccurately referred to as an architect. (For her part, Burkhart has said she never claimed to be an architect. COD officials say they used boilerplate contracts, and one of them included an addendum indicating Burkhart’s work wasn’t architectural in nature.)

Susan Lang Berry, the president of the foundation, made a plea to the media that could not have been less relevant under the circumstances:

“We have so many wonderful people who are volunteering their time to the foundation…As different questions have been asked and different things have been published, we have felt that the primary focus has been taken off the good works that they do and the good work of the foundation.”

Right—which is why you have to avoid even the perception of conflicts of interest.

This particular set of problems has followed a number of others at the College itself. First, President Robert Breuder, who had already received a pair of no-confidence votes from faculty, lost a $20 million state grant, already appropriated in 2009, after he sent a politically flatfooted email to the board that explicitly suggested that the school create an immediate reason it needed the money, which was then publicized by a watchdog group, For the Good of Illinois. To be fair, the long history of the money’s lack of use as described by Inside Higher Ed must have been deeply annoying to the community college, but, well, you can be the judge…

From: Breuder, Dr. Robert
To: ~Board of Trustees
Subject: Board Item
Date: Friday, May 09, 2014 10:09:49 AM

Attachments: 10.A.2) Construction of a Teaching and Learning Center.pdf
FW_ Quote for Gov. Quinn Press Release (163 KB).msg

I am in a bit of a quandary.

We have been working with the Governor’s Office (seemingly forever) to secure our $20 million. Initially the money was to be used for our Homeland Security initiative. When we accomplished our Homeland agenda without state funding, we changed the focus to building demolition. With that initiative soon to be history we need an alternative. I needed to identify a project that would help release our state funding. My idea: a Teaching and Learning Center.

Several Board members want to weigh in on the need for such a facility. I have no problem with that; however, not being able to say how we would use the state’s money (perhaps no real need) could lessen our chances to break the money loose at this time (the political moon is rising).

A building that focuses on teaching and learning is politically attractive;