RVC’s Chapdelaine has flunked out

The Board of Trustees of Rock Valley College must dismiss Dr. Roland Chapdelaine from the college as soon as possible—he has failed as president.

As indicated by the total 204 to 28 “no confidence” votes of RVC faculty and staff, Chapdelaine cannot pass the grade for the continued good reputation, operations and education at RVC. Mostly unknown and shockingly, the faculty vote had been on the table for almost two and a half years.

In an indicative compounding of the faculty vote, mid-level administrators and staff members who also believe Chapdelaine must go were to meet with some RVC trustees two Friday nights ago to add their voices to that of the faculty through informal dialogue.

However, someone told Chapdelaine of the meeting; and before it could occur, word of Chapdelaine’s awareness of the meeting raced around the campus. Those who were going to attend declined because they feared reprisal, particularly in light of the administration’s plan for possible layoffs and for board-ordered early retirement and voluntary severance offers.

One faculty member remarked: “That’s no layoff plan, that's a purge. He's going to pick off people who are vocally opposed to his administration one by one.”

Courageously disregarding the campus “fear factor” or culture of intimidation allegedly germinated by Chapdelaine, the staff, or non-faculty employees, held their own confidence vote. Despite the earlier informal meeting that failed because of the “fear factor,” they stood up and were counted formally, as did the brave faculty, for the good of the college and the awareness of the community.

Here we have staff and educators leading by example as they should for society; whereas, too often in our modern world, individuals’ convictions slither away when asked for a public stance.

The faculty at RVC have made their comments on the employee/administration relationship forthrightly clear to us two times.

The first time, they voted to unionize. That one of the most conservative faculties would form a union to deal with Chapdelaine shouts large tomes of warning signals to the community about how learning is being affected at the college. When the faculty’s focus goes from education to self-preservation, learning suffers.

The second instance of faculty comment on Chapdelaine was characterized by past President Karl Jacobs as “devastating.” The faculty voted “no confidence” in Chapdelaine, by a massive margin of better than nine to one. The faculty’s no confidence motion’s three principal charges and 13 detailed charges all began with the same word—“Failure.”

The faculty said their motion was forced because Chapdelaine was not providing stability, not communicating fully and accurately, and not protecting “the integrity and fiscal solvency of the college.” Chapdelaine has put RVC in danger.

Chapdelaine is responsible for the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) putting RVC on its watch list. This is only the second time the ICCB has done that. The first time was when the state-run community college in East Saint Louis had all its administrators dismissed by state officials. RVC’s accreditation and the value of all its students’ classes are at stake.

The faculty alleges they were repeatedly told by the Vice President and Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Don Williams that the ICCB reports were on time and accurate, and that RVC was in fine financial condition with no deficit.

When just the opposite proved to be true—and the faculty learned that truth, largely through the efforts of this paper—the faculty abandoned their in-house efforts and made public their vote of “no confidence” in Chapdelaine.

By filing late and reportedly inaccurate reports to the ICCB, RVC brought on a detailed examination by that body, and matters were made worse since Chapdelaine had failed to have a CFO for the college for two years! Such behavior is not benign neglect. Such disregard for accuracy with the taxpayers’ and students’ monies and for the reputation of RVC is willful and irresponsible neglect. As one faculty member pointed out, “This stain will never be removed from RVC.”

Unbelievably, Chapdelaine characterized the ICCB action as a “slap on the wrist.”

Asked if Chapdelaine’s characterization was accurate, the President and CEO of the ICCB, Joe Cipfl, said: “Well, I’m sure that a variety of descriptors could be used. Whatever the descriptors are used, the situation must be resolved. It was certainly serious enough to get our attention, and the situation must be remedied.”

If the situation is not remedied, Cipfl said: “Eventually, recognition of the college [RVC] by the Illinois Community College Board could be lost. We’re not there yet. We are certainly hoping that the resolution and solution are achieved.”

Still, Chapdelaine has not backed off his “slap on the wrist” characterization of the ICCB’s action.

Chapdelaine has constantly engaged in such deceptive spin control. Just as he and his administration have stonewalled this newspaper because we can hear and respect the cries for help at the college over the roar of the bulldozers. We present the hard questions and hard facts he fails to face.

The empire falls in

Chapdelaine has engaged in reckless and grandiose empire building, again to the detriment of the environment, taxpayers, faculty and most importantly—to the detriment of the education of RVC’s students.

By his grand design, many natural areas of the college have been close to clear cut. Former wild walking paths were ravaged by bulldozers and blacktopped paths. Many trees and wildlife areas at the front corner of the campus at Spring Creek and Mulford have been swept away, and the pond was dredged.

At the north end of the campus, the athletic field was constructed, and the resulting construction runoff during a rainstorm flooded the neighbors’ basements and lawns. A lawsuits has been filed that will cost the college even more money.

Specifically, Rockford’s former Police Chief William Fitzpatrick has sued the college for flood damage to his home, and Fitzpatrick was amazed at the disregard he was treated with when he initially voiced his complaints. He and his neighbors got a first-hand dose of what those at the college already knew—the Chapdelaine administration was arrogant and dismissive to anyone who dared to question the rising waters of compounding mistakes.

As the interest continues to compound out of the taxpayers’ pockets on $61.8 million worth of bonds issued without voter approval, the debts and edifices continue to rise on campus.

Starlight Theater gleams with its star-shaped design and state-of-the-art features. It cost somewhere between $9-$18 million, but nobody appears to know how much it cost for sure. Meantime, New American Theater is in the red. What could NAT do with the blank check of raiding the public purse? Will Chapdelaine try to romance NAT from the River District like he tried to romance the Rockford Art Museum?

RVC’s red ink dollars for your bleeding tax wallets and susceptible hearts’ information went to:

n The Support Services Building cost approximately $5.8 million.

n The in-process remodeling of the Student Center will cost approximately $4.6 million.

n The new athletic fields cost approximately $2 million.

n The proposed arts center will cost approximately $32 million. Odd thing is, only $9.3 million of that came in from the state last year. The majority of the remaining $21.7 million was supposedly in the limbo of the state budget—but at press time, we determined Senate Bill 1239 was signed into law by Gov. Rod Blagojevich with no cash for the RVC arts center. The very capable RVC Foundation should have technically had to fund-raise about $8 million of the $21.7 million, but now…

If the arts center is to be completed, the foundation will have to perform much more than its usual share of asking-for-private-money miracles, or more non-voter approved bonds will have to be issued; or, as Chapdelaine has foregone, the voters will have to approve a referendum.

n To add insult to
excessive usuary, the presidents cabinet has renewed $6,000 in car allowances and $28,000 in annuities—even though they had frozen all other employees’ wages a month ago.

Could it be that these perks (on top of wage freezes) are extremely unseemly in the glare of nearly $7 million in deficit spending over the past four years? That’s on top of and in spite of the $61.8 million in bond debt. Despite all the bond borrowing, bricks and mortar, and increased local and state aid, Chapdelaine is still spinning in the red. That’s the marvelous result of his “vision.”

The students’ bottom line

Students are seeing red, too. Their tuition is going up. If they are carrying 15 hours, their tuition will be raised $75 to prop up Chapdelaine’s empire. As a wise man pointed out: raising of tuition, in these trying political times, in this poor economy, with the loss of jobs all around us, should spark outrage.

The whole idea of a community college is to provide classes on a portable basis so students can attain a quality education at a low cost. Has the quality of education improved under Chapdelaine?

“No,” say administrators and faculty, who are faced with cutting costs and now have a higher student-to-teacher ratio. People don’t study or work well when they are worrying about their future.

And by the way, Chapdelaine has doubled the number of upper-level administrators since he arrived. That must have really helped the students to learn how to deal with double-sided red tape. What makes this particularly sticky lies in Chapdelaine’s reorganizing of the administrative structure four times in the past five years. The man obviously can’t make up his mind.

Spin the truth

The man also can’t decide if campaign contributions with public money are legal or not.

He had a memory challenge as to the circumstances of the repayment of two $50 contributions to State Rep. Dave Winters (R-69) from the RVC checkbook. Actually, he only reimbursed RVC once he knew this paper was looking into those contributions. First, he said the repayment was a result of “routine review”, and he had just forgotten about the repayment. Then he suggested to other media, which he will talk to (unlike us), that the repayment was a result of a Freedom of Information request—ours, by the way.

He was also challenged by the concept of the legality of such contributions at his last post in New Jersey. He said they were legal there, dismissing the impropriety. When the spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice was “offended” by that spin, and said Chapdelaine was “maligning the state of New Jersey,” RVC’s president felt that “slap on the wrist,” and withdrew the statement through more spin on the college’s internal discussion board, Ednet.

Chapdelaine’s continual attempts at spin-control and lack of forthrightness and accuracy depict his failure in office. The campaign contribution checks draw a dismal snapshot of his larger accounting and “vision” failures. His dreams of empire are collapsing, but not according to him.

Despite his posturing, his failure to follow the curriculum of a proper college president is more than apparent. Admittedly, every job is a learning process. However, after almost six years, Chapdelaine has not learned that education and the students should be the primary focus of his oversight and fund-raising, not construction financed through rising debt, which endangers the college.

Construction bids,

mistakes and mysteries

The manner in which construction bids for the new empire have been awarded under Chapdelaine’s direction is also unseemly and less than open.

Stenstrom construction company attained a $5.6 million contract, complete with an unconfirmed $1 million of in-kind services, and the sale of Stenstrom’s aircraft. Those services and the sale of the aircraft have never been publicly delineated. The former Samuelson Road Center was also named the Stenstrom Center as part of the agreement.

Design changes in the various construction projects dictated by Chapdelaine have cost taxpayers even more money.

Chapdelaine purported the new blacktopped bike path (formerly the natural walking path) was mostly paid for by developer Sunil Puri. Actually, it was paid for by more non-taxpayer approved bonds.

The contract for the architect for Starlight Theater went to Jeanie Gang, whose real office is in Chicago. However, she used a Belvidere address to meet board requirements, skirting RVC’s own hiring policy that any firm hired to do work at the college be from their taxing district. A letter of protest was sent to Chapdelaine from Scott Long, the president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, but again nothing came of it.

There’s the mystery. Why don’t people stand up to Chapdelaine? The faculty and staff finally has. Builders have failed to publicly protest Chapdelaine’s mistakes in the bidding processes. Why do so many people fail to challenge Chapdelaine publicly? The answer to this mystery lies in two parts.

The first part is the lack of courage inherent in those who go along to get along. They know something is wrong, but they may have to do business with the college or companies like Stenstrom or Rockford Blacktop. Rather than offend these movers and shakers with criticism and possibly endanger future business, they sit down and won’t stand up.

The silence of those-in-the-know clangs like a jail door slamming for the rest of us, and ultimately for themselves because the truth is suppressed. What happens when the truth needs to be told about wrongdoings done to them? Because they lead by the example of going along to get along, no one will stand up for them.

The Board of Trustees have remained in their seats motionless for too long. The board must act and dismiss Chapdelaine, not just let him resign.

A clear message needs to come from the board, as a clear message has come from the staff and faculty.

Former RVC President Karl Jacobs left RVC a fine, stable, respected, and non-controversial institution. Chapdelaine took over, and he has brought that sterling institution to its knees.

History is repeating itself. From 1979 to 1987, Norman Stewart was the president of Rockford College. He went on a building spree, too, but he leased his buildings—in London, England. His lease of Regents College from the Crown of England decimated Rockford College’s endowment. The college’s extensive art collection was also sold off. Rockford College also sold off its frontage property on East State Street to survive. Only under the presidencies of Dr. Bill Shields and Dr. Paul Pribbenow has the college begun to recover financially.

The real and potential parallels between Stewart and Chapdelaine are frightening. Both of their leadership styles cowed the respective faculties until someone stood up for what was right. At the time, as a faculty member, renowned scholar and head of the English Department, Dr. Peter Stanlis stood up to Stewart for the Rockford College staff and faculty. Largely as a result of Stanlis’ efforts, a board that was a rubberstamp for Stewart forced Stewart’s resignation.

Jeff Havens stood up to Chapdelaine for the RVC staff and faculty. Havens challenged Chapdelaine’s and RVC’s Board of Trustees leadership and fiscal responsibility and was fired from his position as Physical Science Laboratory manager. Havens’ challenges were printed in both the Rockford Register Star and this paper.

Havens could have left town. He didn’t. Instead, he began working for this paper as a reporter. We figured we owed him a job.

Havens could have pursued the grievance process at the college. He didn’t. He dropped all his grievances, so the college administrators would talk to him rather than being able to say he had a personnel matter pending. They still didn’t talk to him, but Havens didn’t stop trying to tell the truth. He has done a fine job of pursuing the truth, and everyone at The Rock River Times is proud of his diligence, objectivity and commitment under very difficult circumstances.

His discovery of Chapdelaine’s

simultaneous charges for travel to both his previous employers at Cumberland County College and RVC is nothing short of amazing and bears extensive investigation by the trustees of RVC. Chapdelaine does not have good financial sense.

Sensibly, the RVC Board of Trustees should follow the valiant examples of Dr. Peter Stanlis and Jeff Havens and act. If the trustees haven’t understood the message from the rest of their own staff and faculty, what can they understand? How can they remain in their seated positions?

Dismiss Chapdelaine. The ICCB is aware of the no confidence votes. The ICCB’s President and CEO Cipfl said he knew about the RVC no confidence votes on Chapdelaine because “I read them in The Rock River Times.”

Cipfl said he could not comment on Chapdelaine’s possible dismissal because “That’s a decision that must be made at the local level by the trustees.”

Good decisions are based on knowledge. The trustees know of Chapdelaine’s distortion of RVC’s academic and financial well-being. The trustees know by all the huge no confidence votes that Chapdelaine is not effective and not functioning as RVC’s president. He’s on damage control and not able to fully focus on the monumental mess he has created. Rockford College is on the road to recovery because of new leadership. RVC needs new leadership now, or years may stretch into decades of recovery. RVC faculty, staff and students deserve better.

Dr. Roland Chapdelaine has said he is a risk-taker. Education at RVC and the community has paid and will pay more for his ill-taken risks. The board of trustees supposedly represents the community.

If RVC and the community are to keep our “trust” in the board, the board should dismiss Chapdelaine immediately, before the results of his risks get any worse. He has failed.

Act now. Make the system work, again.

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