‘No confidence’ in RVC’s Chapdelaine

Tuition raised 11 percent in attempt to balance deficit

n Early retirement, severance offered before layoffs while administrators receive perks

Rock Valley College (RVC) faculty overwhelmingly voted “no confidence” in RVC President Roland Chapdelaine’s ability to continue to lead the financially troubled college.

Jill Raymond, RVC faculty union president and associate biology professor, announced last Friday the faculty voted 95-11 with 24 absent on a motion that charged Chapdelaine with failures concerning financial mismanagement and communication issues. A copy of the motion accompanies this article.

The vote comes on the heels of RVC’s Board of Trustees’ action the same day to offer incentives to employees to retire early and voluntarily quit to avoid forced layoffs. The incentives are a response to RVC’s rising tide of red ink, which totals nearly $7 million in deficits during the past four years. Chapdelaine will have been RVC’s president for six years this October.

During his tenure, Chapdelaine persuaded the board to borrow $61.8 million for massive and questionable construction projects without a voter-approved referendum.

In the mid-1980s, Karl Jacobs, RVC’s president from 1969 to 1997, went to the voters for approval for construction of the college’s technology center and to increase the educational and building fund levies. Jacobs was successful in getting voters to approve the technology center and an increase in the education fund, but not in the building fund.

Jacobs said: “As stewards of the people, if we believe in the democratic principle—no taxation without representation—we are obligated to seek citizen approval for spending their money. It isn’t a question of whether we legally can or cannot issue bonds. It’s our obligation to seek their approval by referendum.”

Jacobs added, “I think the no confidence vote is devastating” for Chapdelaine.

Faculty also criticized Chapdelaine for losing focus on the college’s primary purpose, which is accessible and affordable higher education.

In a related matter, the board raised student tuition 11 percent on Aug. 26 from $45 per credit hour to $50 per credit hour to help offset the deficit spending. The tuition hike affects students registering for the 2004 spring semester, according to Chris Johnson, RVC Board of Trustees chairman.

Anticipated deficits for fiscal year 2004, which began in July, were projected as high as $5 million about one month ago, but have recently been lowered to $1.8 million for this year.

The anticipated $1.8 million deficit is contingent primarily on the wage increase the faculty agrees on for the duration of their new contract. Faculty contract negotiations are currently in mediation. An October strike by faculty members looms if mediation fails.

RVC had a $3.7 million shortfall in revenues last fiscal year and deficits in 2000, 2001 and 2002 that totaled nearly $3 million. The board plans to eliminate the deficit spending by next fiscal year.

During the Aug. 29 meeting, the board went into closed session for about 30 minutes to discuss “personnel matters.” The only individuals allowed in the closed session were Chapdelaine and board members. No representatives from human resources were present.

Administrators’ perks

While layoffs are impending for RVC’s staff and tuition was hiked $75 for a student taking 15 credit hours, the board approved a $6,000 car allowance for three upper-level administrators. The board approved the allowance Aug. 26, along with six $4,000-$6000 annuities for upper-level administrators despite board-ordered pay freezes for all employees one month ago. An annuity is a contract sold by an insurance company that pays a set amount at regular intervals, usually to retired people.

Both the car and annuity money will be paid through the college’s accounts payable division. Administrators receiving the $6,000 car allowance are the following: Suzanne Berger, executive vice president and vice president of Institutional Advancement; Cheryl Krakow, executive vice president and chief academic officer; and Sam Overton, chief financial officer.

Administrators receiving the annuity are the following: Berger, $5,000; Krakow, $6,000; Overton, $5,000; Penny Billman, associate vice president of Strategic Effectiveness and executive assistant to the president, $4,000; Robert Campbell, associate vice president and chief information officer, $4,000; and Shirley Hardy, chief human resources officer, $4,000.

‘No confidence’ vote

Raymond said the purpose of the vote was to convey to the board the concerns of the faculty. Johnson said investigating the faculty’s charges at this time would be “awkward” because the board wants to focus on regaining full-recognition status from the state by October.

RVC had its recognition status downgraded in February after a report by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) severely reprimanded RVC for reporting late and inaccurate financial information. Chapdelaine dismissed the state’s report as a “slap on the wrist” during a February interview with the Rockford Register Star.

Chapdelaine and other RVC administrators have repeatedly refused interviews with The Rock River Times. In January, The Rock River Times launched a series that examined RVC’s leadership. The faculty based some of their charges on findings in the series.

Johnson added that “Until the charges can be examined, the board continues to support ‘Chip’ [Chapdelaine].” Johnson said the board will examine the faculty’s concerns after current contract negotiations are completed with the faculty. Johnson said “The board takes the faculty’s vote seriously.” Chapdelaine is the only employee the board manages.

In March 2002, RVC faculty members voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the Illinois Federation of Teachers union. The union vote was a response to what the faculty perceives as Chapdelaine’s autocratic management style, growing unease with the college’s finances, and the board’s previous laissez-faire approach to managing Chapdelaine.

Full-time faculty

In response to the no confidence vote, Chapdelaine issued a press release that claimed he has always advocated “open communication” and said “…in today’s tough economic climate…” many institutions face “revenue challenges.” Chapdelaine also questioned the charges in both the press release and during an interview with WTVO-TV reporter Bob Ryder.

Specifically, Chapdelaine wrote: “Another allegation based on incorrect information is the number of full-time faculty added since I became RVC President. The fact is there were 118 full-time faculty when I arrived in 1997. That number grew to 137 in the Fall of 2002.”

However, Chapdelaine’s version of faculty numbers doesn’t tell the whole story. ICCB data show there were 139 full-time faculty in 1984 and 1992. The number has varied between 118 and 139 for the last 19 years. Sources said the faculty number varies in response to economic times and student enrollments (see Jan. 29 article, graphs and table).

According to sources, Chapdelaine’s 1997 reference point is a low that was prompted by a large number of faculty and administrator retirements. Chapdelaine was the beneficiary of one of those retirements, which vacated the presidency.

Sources said better indicators of Chapdelaine’s priorities are faculty-to-student ratios and faculty-to-administrator ratios. In 1997, the faculty-to-student ratio was 19.5. The ratio increased slightly to 19.9 in 2002.

However, faculty-to-administrator ratios have dropped, which suggests a greater number of administrators have been hired. In 1997, the faculty-to-administrator ratio was 3.1. The ratio decreased to 2.5 in 2002. Other data show the number of upper-level administrators doubled from seven in 1997 to 14 in 2002, while their average inflation-adjusted pay increased from $91,759 to $99,012.

In late July, Mike Robinson, RVC’s new public relations director, read a prepared statement that said The Rock River Times “distorts information.” When asked who a

t the college said The Rock River Times “distorts information,” Robinson said he couldn’t offer any further information.

‘Fear of retribution’

One of the faculty charges is “Failure to allow open and free discourse among employees without fear of retribution.” During the interview with Ryder, Chapdelaine responded to the charge by saying, “That’s absurd.”

A source who works at the college said: “We get fired if we speak to the media. … People are frightened, people are upset. I’ve seen what happens to people that challenge him [Chapdelaine]–you’re out the door.”

The source said that as recently as last Friday, Chapdelaine told a group of employees, “People spreading rumors will be disciplined.” The source also cited two other meetings earlier this year where a similar message was conveyed by Chapdelaine to employees.

Many employees have echoed the source’s sentiment during the past eight months. Another source said that at a meeting earlier this year, Chapdlaine said, “Leakers and informants will be dealt with.”

Concerning the deficits, Chapdelaine said “…all efforts were made to keep RVC faculty and staff closely apprised of the evolving situation.” The series examining RVC leadership suggests otherwise.

Many faculty and staff said they first discovered the college’s deficit spending through The Rock River Times’ Jan. 29, May 21 and Aug. 6 articles, not through internal RVC communications. The Rockford Register Star followed The Rock River Times’ lead and also reported the deficits Aug. 13.

Political contributions revisited

Another faculty charge was Chapdelaine’s “failure to refrain from providing political contributions to local candidates using college funds (reimbursed later only after investigations revealed them).” The charge was based on a Jan. 22 article, which was the first in the RVC series.

During Friday’s interview with WTVO-TV disputing the faculty’s charge, Chapdelaine said, “There was one time in which I wrote a check in which I did not realize that I could not do that forgot about it and then a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] was requested for all expense reports, and that particular piece came out I’d forgotten about it probably still something I probably shouldn’t have done, but I rectified it, rectified it quickly.”

However, the Channel 17 interview raises questions about Chapdelaine’s explanations concerning the donations. Many sources that listened to the broadcast said they were under the impression that Chapdelaine meant there was only one time Chapdelaine used college funds for a donation to State Rep. Dave Winters’ (R-69) campaign.

However, Chapdelaine made two contributions to Winters’ campaign—$50 in May 2000 and another $50 in September 2001. The interview, combined with the receipts, calls into question what Chapdelaine knew and when he knew it.

For example, Chapdelaine responded to the Jan. 22 article by writing that the reimbursement for the first donation was prompted by a “routine review,” not The Rock River Times’ FOIA request. However, the television interview suggests the FOIA request prompted the discovery of the donation Chapdelaine claimed he forgot to repay.

In the same response, Chapdelaine wrote the following: “In New Jersey, where I come from, it is permissible to make such donations.” Chapdelaine’s claim that such donations are permissible in New Jersey was called “ludicrous” by John Haggerty, communications director for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. Haggerty added that he took “offense” to Chapdelaine “maligning the state of New Jersey” by saying taxpayer money can be used for political donations in his state.

Berger later explained that Chapdelaine didn’t intend to say using public funds for political donations was acceptable in New Jersey and that Chapdelaine never used his former college’s funds for such contributions.

Still unanswered is if Chapdelaine knew such contributions were illegal in New Jersey, as Berger suggests, why did Chapdelaine use RVC’s funds twice to donate to Winters in Illinois?

Walking the line

Ryder also reported “Chapdelaine denies doing anything illegal.” However, Chapdelaine failed to comply with a state statute (110 ILCS 805/3-22.2) that requires the college to report and publish their financial information by ICCB required dates. The statute was violated in fiscal years 2000, 2001 and 2002, which prompted ICCB officials to write their unprecedented February report.

In a March 26 article, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli said Chapdelaine may or may not have broken the law by not using an open-bid process in awarding at least one contract for a construction project at the college. According to Logli, the law regarding the contract in question is not clearly written enough for his office to pursue a criminal case.

By refusing to pursue the case, Logli placed the burden of challenging Chapdelaine’s contract awarding methodology on an individual or group who is willing to file suit in civil court. Logli said his personal opinion was that Chapdelaine should have put the construction contract out for competitive bids rather than just awarding it to Robert Stenstrom, president and chief executive officer of Stenstrom Companies, Ltd.

The possibly illegal construction contract was investigated in detail in two articles in The Rock River Times—on Feb. 12 and March 5. The contract concerned Chapdelaine’s recommendation and RVC’s board approval of construction management services and planned “gifting” schedule for Stenstrom and his employees.

The Northern Illinois Building Contractors Association also questioned Chapdelaine’s contract awarding methodology in a formal letter to Chapdelaine.

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