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Q&A: College of DuPage President Breuder reflects on last 5 years

GLEN ELLYN – College of DuPage President Robert Breuder celebrated his fifth anniversary with the school earlier this month.

The past five years have seen many changes to the Glen Ellyn campus evolving around facility work and academics.

Breuder has spent more than 40 years in higher education. His contract with College of DuPage expires in 2016.

The college president recently discussed his first five years at COD with Glen Ellyn Suburban Life reporter Mary Beth Versaci.

Versaci: What brought you to COD?

Breuder: I was at Harper for almost 11 years. In the fall of 2008, I had indicated I was going to retire that January. I rolled over in bed one morning and it was snowing out, and I said, “OK, when I’m retired in January, what would I do today?” And I really couldn’t answer the question. So I said, “My God, did I make the wrong decision?” ... Within a week, a phone call came in from COD indicating that they were in the process of a search.

Versaci: What were some of the goals you set for yourself from the beginning?

Breuder: I knew a great deal about COD from the standpoint of its size, but I hadn’t heard a lot of its leadership role in community colleges and exactly how innovative and creative it was and should be for an institute its size. I would eventually describe the institution as a huge aircraft carrier that somehow was in dry dock. ... We were dealing with some issues back then that needed to get resolved quickly. There was a lot of dissonance with the then-board. ... We didn’t have any long-range plan at the time. ... I saw that as my initial responsibility to clean up these issues. In the first couple of months, we established something like 53 institutional priorities.

Versaci: What have been some of the greatest accomplishments during your time as president?

Breuder: In these last five years, we have added more than 50 programs of study to reflect the market. ... I think we didn’t have good curb appeal; we weren’t really well-kempt. ... We then transformed with the help of the taxpayer in capital referenda, and today you now have a physical plant with no building that’s older than 2009. ... We’re one of only three community colleges in the state in the last five years to grow in FTE (full-time enrollment). ... The 3+1 degree programs were big for us. ... For me, all that was really is a way to demonstrate that we have the ability to teach upper-division work.

Versaci: What have been the biggest challenges of the last five years?

Breuder: ... We didn’t always have a positive culture in-house. There was sometimes, I think, an inordinant amount of unkindness expressed between groups of people and there’s no place for that, whether it’s in a family of four or in a family of 4,000. ... We’ve had to reposition many of our labor contracts to reflect where the economy is today and where we think it will be going, to deal with the state and to deal with the culture so that we all understand we need to work responsibly with each other. ... If you’re less dynamic, you generally have less to contend with.

Versaci: What are your plans for the remaining years of your contract?

Breuder: As I challenge my colleagues internally, there is no status quo. There is no taking this ship and putting it in dry dock. It needs to be charting new ground, new opportunity. Our real challenge internally is what’s going to be expected of us – not tomorrow – several years from now. ... You’ve got to pursue things that are meaningful, that bring about substantive improvement, and that’s the real challenge.

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