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College of DuPage President and Wisconsin Governor's Assault on Teaching

Emeritus English Professor David McGrath

Emeritus English Professor David McGrath

With good reason, people in Illinois will be closely watching Wisconsin’s historical recall election on June 5th, which will determine whether Scott Walker will end up as only the third state governor in U.S. history to be kicked out of office.

Walker’s surprise assault on public workers, especially teachers, was committed as part of the anti-government, anti- union wildfire ignited, in part, by the Tea Party, and which has heated up labor relations nationwide.

Proposed cuts in employees’ salary and benefits, and previously sacrosanct education programs are being likewise threatened here, including at College of DuPage, among the largest single campus community colleges in the nation with 31,000 students.

While watching their Wisconsin neighbors ponder expulsion of a governor who kept quiet about his scheme to outlaw collective bargaining until after he got elected, the faculty association at COD has been waging its own battle for the past 13 months with COD President Robert Breuder, who has also expressly committed to the dismantling of what he dubbed the “ivory tower” at COD by slashing employee benefits and faculty development programs.

I retired as an English teacher from COD, where my daughter and many of my friends remain on the faculty.

And prior to Breuder’s reign, COD enjoyed what many of us considered a golden age. Its credit courses transferred automatically to four year colleges, while its associate degrees vaulted grads to the top of registrars’ lists in all the state’s universities.

Creativity was its hallmark, as professors were encouraged by deans to meet the huge DuPage community’s needs by pioneering online education, leading-edge pedagogical methodology, and modern courses for a rapidly changing world.

The college sponsored, for example, my own research sabbatical at the Ojibwa Community College in Wisconsin, which led to a collaboration on a course in Native American Literature which countless students have since taken to help meet the state’s general education requirements.

And a dozen professors in multiple disciplines were sent to one of the first web education seminars at Berkeley, that we might learn to design the online learning classes in which students from this community and from elsewhere in the country continue to enroll.

Those are just two examples in one teacher’s experience, which were variably replicated for 300 other professors over the two previous decades.

But in 2009, over howls of community protest, Robert Breuder, reviled by his previous faculty who gave him a no confidence vote when he was president of Harper College, was gifted with a contract extension at COD till 2015 in a last minute maneuver by lame duck trustees loyal to him but who had just been voted out of office.

Breuder subsequently launched a campaign to strip benefits and freedoms from the faculty that had supported the ouster of his trustees, while he pursued expensive pet projects like erection of his new Homeland Security Education Center, and a for-profit gourmet French restaurant on the campus.

Meanwhile, faculty accustomed to open dialogue and the right to dissent, have been bullied by Breuder’s heavy handed tactics, such as his publicly scolding one professor who complained about not being able to ask questions at a meeting, and then placing a letter of reprimand in his personnel file.

That his emphasis has been on running the school as a corporate fiefdom at the cost of educational values, collegiality, and teacher morale, is manifested by his list of contract demands, and by the apparent angle of attitude in a quest uncommonly personal.

First, he purposes to reduce teachers’ summer school pay and health care benefits and increase class size—not surprising in an anti-teacher climate.

But additionally he seeks to eliminate sabbaticals and full tuition waivers for faculty who take in-house classes. While this measure won’t save the college significant dollars, it will prevent precious faculty development (continuing education for teachers) that ultimately hurts students, community, everyone.

This follows non contractual punishments by Breuder in the recent past, such as restrictions on teacher travel and participation in scholastic conferences, which have historically led to new courses and the latest academic innovations.

Why Breuder would target teacher and student enrichment opportunities, whose total impact on the budget is negligible, is implied in his response to a reporter asking about the dispute with faculty: “I know what needs to be done,” said Breuder. “I know what will come. This too shall come to pass. I will not back down,” he concluded, his Biblical allusion revealing something more about his mission and self image than the reporter may have bargained for.

Coincidentally, when another reporter had asked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker how he is coping with the impending recall, he, too, waxed divine: “God’s got a plan for us.”

A plan that, come June 5th, many "pray" will turn out the same for both men.

David McGrath, Professor Emeritus of English at College of DuPage, is a freelance columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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