Guest Column: Kick RVC leaders out of office

Guest Column: Kick RVC leaders out of office

By By Jeff Havens

On June 18, 2002, another back-door referendum was proposed by current Rock Valley College President Roland Chapdelaine, and it was passed by the RVC Board of Trustees, to the tune of $27 million. The money is part of RVC’s ongoing plans and construction to make way for its “Arts and Instruction Center” (AIC). This brings the total long-term debt of the college to about $61 million with interest. The college’s legal debt limit is $135 million.

None of this $61 million of borrowed money will go to actually building the AIC. The financing for that will come from the state, donations, and probably more borrowed money. Chapdelaine’s and the board’s rationale for these actions is, “we can, so is every other community college, and we’re behind the times.” Unfortunately, the board has yet to figure out how this massive debt will be paied. Are higher tuition and taxes next? Chapdelaine’s financial types have assured us that the college is in no financial trouble, but that is not the point. The point is that the taxpayers within the RVC taxing district cosigned on another huge loan, whether they liked it or not, and had almost no voice in how the money was to be spent. The taxpayers, the students paying tuition, and the members of this community have, once again, been denied the opportunity to vote on what direction the college should be headed. It appears that Chapdelaine and the board are consciously taking advantage of an apparent loophole in the law that allows for borrowing of such colossal amounts of money without truly consulting the community their decisions affect. Is this being financially responsible and respectful to the community? Their answer is a resounding, “Yes!” I would like to state my case as to why the answer is, “No.”

When Chapdelaine began his tenure less than five years ago, he was quoted as saying that he saw more retail businesses in the downtown area where development was needed. The types of retail businesses he described were ones that offered more low-paying, dead-end jobs—the type that proliferate on Perryille Road and State Street. What Chapdelaine apparently did not understand was the need for better-paying jobs in this community and the plight of the community members on the west and south ends of Rockford and beyond. More importantly, what he did not see was the opportunity for a downtown Rock Valley College campus or the opportunity for the college to collaborate with the numerous downtown performing and visual arts venues, or the need for more classrooms and emphasis on academics. Chapdelaine will argue that part of this $27 million will go toward a “downtown presence.” However, it came only after letters and guest columns were written by myself, late last year and earlier this year, urging him to build a downtown campus. More still, plans for future construction at RVC do not include leading the way in renewable energy, despite Chapdelaine’s continual calls to lead in his mission statement. Instead, what we have received is an emphasis on RVC being a playground rather than academics and jobs.

Chapdelaine offers us only extremely weak, anecdotal evidence that the community supports the direction he has chosen for the college. At a forum at RVC, in April, 2002, Chapdelaine stated that when he arrived here, he found out what the needs and priorities of the community were by handing out questionnaires at the end of some presentations he made to select groups. This is hardly a valid or reliable process to discover the needs of the community, let alone determine the direction of the college. Furthermore, at the same forum, Chapdelaine stated that he was an “intuitive thinker,” which he explained as meaning that even if he was presented with data, he would do what he felt, regardless of what the data told him.

The only realistic and fair way to garner community support for such massive construction and borrowing would have been a publicity campaign followed by a referendum, prior to construction. However, such a process never occurred. Yet, Chapdelaine continues to indicate that the college cannot succeed without the community’s support. In early June of 2002, Chapdelaine stated, “We can only accomplish this with the support of the community.” If this is true, why wasn’t there a referendum to validate support for his grand expenditures, whether it was legally required or not?

In a July, 2002 newspaper article, Chapdelaine said, “I don’t see ourselves as a community college anymore. I see ourselves as the community’s college.” Such a statement prompts the question, “If RVC wasn’t the community’s college before, what was it?” In fact, the evidence indicates that exactly the opposite is the case. Prior to Chapdelaine’s arrival in 1997, whenever there was major construction planned at RVC, the voters had the opportunity to assess the college’s sales pitch about the idea and were given the chance to decide to finance the issue up or down. Contrary to Chapdelaine’s outrageous statement, the evidence suggests that RVC used to belong to the community, whereas it now appears to have been hijacked by a select few individuals who have decided that this is the direction the college must take.

Valid and fair evidence that the community supports the direction of the college is non-existent, because there was no referendum, because of the demonstrated arrogance of Chapdelaine and the Board of Trustees. What will Chapdelaine’s tenure cost us? At the time I wrote my previous column a few weeks ago, the long-term debt was about $34 million with interest. Now, it’s nearly doubled and counting. We were up to our knees; now we are up to our waist.

What were the alternatives? What other opportunities were missed? We may never know, and we certainly won’t get the chance to debate them, now that construction has already begun, because Chapdelaine and his supporters refused to give us that opportunity. They felt that putting some tiny ads in the classified section of a few newspapers was sufficient public notice for such an important and expensive issue. The current “image campaign” that the college has embarked upon in the print, radio, and television media is damage control for the rising tide of criticism in which Chapdelaine finds himself immersed. How much more wisely could have that “image campaign” money been spent?

Chapdelaine and his supporters’ best response to addressing the issue of why there was no referendum is to either ignore it or justify it by saying, “We didn’t have to.” However, Chapdelaine may soon be coming to us with a referendum to ask that we approve an increase in the operations and maintenance budget for the college because the massive construction projects have brought with them increased operational and maintenance costs, to which we should rightfully ask, “You build all this stuff for a colossal amount of money, don’t let us in on the initial decision-making process, and now you want us to pay more to run the place?” This very point was voiced at the Board of Trustees meeting by the lone dissenting vote for more funding, by member Doug Kelley. It is a point worthy of more discussion.

The fact that these issues about the construction at RVC, and how it was financed, are occurring after construction has begun, rather than before, not including the internal turmoil Chapdelaine’s tenure has wrought, is yet more evidence of Chapdelaine’s poor judgment and leadership. This debate should have, and could have, occurred prior to construction had Chapdelaine solicited more public input into the direction he planned for the college.

We need a leader who makes decisions based on sound evidence, not an “intuitive thinker” who makes decisions based upon how he feels. Chapdelaine is a poor leader who should resign to stop further implosion of the college. We were denied the opportunity to be presented a case in a public forum, denied the opportunity to weigh the alternatives, and denied the opportunity to vote on the issues. How many times must we be denied before the college fully implodes? Chapdelaine’s and the board’s actions are elitist, arrogant, and wrong. They are enough to warrant all of them, who voted for this back-door fiasco, including Chapdelaine, to be kicked out of office.

Editor’s Note: Although Jeff Havens is the laboratory Manager in the Physical Science Division at Rock Valley College, obviously Mr. Havens is not speaking for RVC, just himself. However, RVC President Chapdelaine is worried about misperception, so please consider this as a disclaimer.

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