Category Archives: Leadership

CODFA Leadership Blog
Announcements and commentary from the CODFA President and Vice President.

CODFA President Toler Comments to the BOT | Oct 24, 2019

Last night we welcomed program advisory committees from throughout COD to our campus for meetings and an appreciation reception. This event is a great example of how our staff, faculty and students can come together for impressive results. Barb Groves worked with culinary and hospitality faculty and students, as well as horticulture faculty, staff and students, to create an event that really did make everyone attending feel appreciated.

Charles Schwab once said, “The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.”

I think we often have a tendency to do one or the other – offer appreciation or offer encouragement, but we don’t think about how the two should really work together. Especially when it comes to student success. We do a lot to encourage students – inside and outside our classrooms. We may need to think more strategically about how to really appreciate them.

Faculty look forward to having these kinds of discussions around student success and how “one size fits all” measures are exactly what has fueled our current achievement on that front – which, by the way, is in line with most of our peer institutions. But if we are serious about moving the needle, we need to think creatively about our students. We need to think about appreciating them as individuals. We need to appreciate how they make us better teachers every day, better advisors every day, better Deans every day, a better President every day, a better institution every day.

We also need to make sure that we appreciate and encourage all constituent groups – whether they teach, counsel, protect, fix, organize – whether they do that for 10 hours/week or 60 hours/week. Developing the best in our people will help us develop the best our students.

Finally, I think we can all agree that it’s nice to get back to a more normal rhythm around here. I look at what is happening around us and I am especially grateful that we were able to reach a compromise that will support innovative teaching, first class curriculum, continuous improvement and, ultimately, student success. I’ve talked in the past about how learning is hard. One of the things that makes learning hard is the listening – not just hearing, but listening. Thank you, all of you, for listening when we really needed you to.

President Toler’s Comments to the Board of Trustees | Sept 19, 2019

Let me be clear that I am not negotiating with you. I don’t have that authority – we have empowered a team to do that. However, I do have the authority to speak on behalf of full-time faculty, ask questions on behalf of full-time faculty and make you aware of circumstances where this board’s priorities are not being effectively communicated to us or our students.

Our negotiation team does ask these questions. At the bargaining table, they ask about implementation plans. They ask about problems that your proposals seek to solve. They ask about impact on students. These questions are left largely unanswered – hence my decision to reach out to you all – the people ultimately responsible for those proposals and a fair contract.

At our Tuesday mediation session, confusion grew even deeper when your team suddenly proposed a new, apparently very high, priority that has never been discussed before in over seven months of negotiations. And so 6 hours later, no agreement on that issue. And no TA’s on anything else.

We started this week looking forward to mediation after a successful first session, but by Tuesday night have grown increasingly concerned that you don’t share our same sense of urgency around getting this done.

These negotiations are built on a pretty shaky foundation. A foundation that lacks both trust and confidence. The types of changes that you are describing in your proposals are the kinds of things that a healthy college would have discussed prior to negotiating. It’s confusing to us that people with little to no teaching experience, and even very limited interactions with our students, are deciding what faculty need to do in order to be more effective at their jobs.

This could’ve started by asking us about what is happening in our classrooms. This could’ve started by working together to figure out how to better ask our students about what they need.

Before all this, if the Provost had asked, if any board member had asked, plenty of us would have been happy to have you visit and see what we do. These classroom evaluations that you are proposing – should be just as much about the administrator learning as the faculty member learning.

In fact, while you are keyed in on having deans perform in-classroom evaluations, in your most recent academic Dean position posting, your minimum qualification is “at least one year of teaching and/or training experience at a community college level or higher.” That’s one year of working directly with students in a classroom. So, this BOT, who presumably has little to no teaching experience wants to hire deans who also have little to no teaching experience to evaluate the level of engagement and organization in the classroom of full-time faculty who have been teaching for 10, 15, even 20 years. Some of them with Master’s degrees in teaching. My suggestion is that the deans should visit our classrooms – and perhaps they should be evaluated based on how many of us invite them into our classroom and on what they learn while they are there.

There is an overarching level of disrespect that comes with these proposals when taken as a whole. Honestly, it feels like what I caution my students against when they are working on a group project – the divide and conquer approach. They all do their part and then meet five minutes before class to put it all into a single PowerPoint. This feels like a collection of disparate proposals – all asking for things – without the writers ever coming together and thinking – well, we’re only offering them .4% increase on their base salaries, we know that means about a third of them will get just that .4%, so maybe we don’t need to lift all 52 duties from this other school’s faculty guidebook.

I understand and respect fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. I am a District 502 taxpayer. Fiduciarily speaking, we all appear to be an expense line on a beautifully presented, award-winning, balanced budget.

But we, along with our adjunct colleagues, along with managerial and classified staff, the groundskeepers, the FOP, the engineers, and even administrators, are also the future of COD. And that future is supposed to be focused on students and student needs. And if our students need Frida Kahlo – and I think they do. If our students need a new STEM Center – and I think they do. And if our students need Navigators – I think some of them do. Then they certainly need great faculty.

President Toler’s Comments to the Board of Trustees: Aug 20, 2019

Our students have returned, and in their world, everything is as normal as can be when a lot of them are in the throes of figuring things out – parking, navigating from one class to the next, timing lines at Starbucks. Faculty – both full-time and adjunct – are excelling at the jobs we’ve been hired to do. As the kids say today, this is “our jam.” (Kids may not really use those terms any more – I’m about three years behind on my tv and movie watching so I know I’m not that hip.)

I do know that being at these meetings is not really our idea of a good time.
Already, things have happened that are not likely to be forgotten. A prospective full-time faculty member had a job offer rescinded. Phone calls were made to new hires to give them the “opportunity” to rescind the full time positions that they had worked so hard to earn. I don’t know what prompted that kind of drama. There are rumors out there that you were planning to lock us out. I hope that’s not true. I’m not sure it matters any more.

What do we need to do to get this done? Is it about Promotion?

I researched promotion schemes at the 30 Pathways schools in the first AACC Guided Pathways class. I was able to get a pretty good look at 26 of them – of those 26, 20 had promotion schemes very similar or even identical to our current structure.

Is it about evaluation?

I went back and read our HLC site visit report form April 2017.

Higher Learning Commission – Core Component 3.C
Institution has the faculty and staff needed for effective, high-quality programs and student services.

We met this criteria at the April 2017 site visit. I’m not sure what the indicator is that we are sub-standard on this front.

Two components of this that I think are of special concern to this board are 3 and 4:

3. Instructors are evaluated regularly in accordance with established institutional policies and procedures.

4. The institution has processes and resources for assuring that instructors are current in their disciplines and adept in their teaching roles; it supports their professional development.

Our contract defines the policy and procedure, so I think that #4 gets at the crux of it. Does our evaluation process assure that instructors are current in their disciplines and adept in their teaching roles?

Right now, full-time tenured faculty are evaluated based on teaching, advising, curriculum development, institutional committee work and other relevant activities. Student evaluations are conducted every three years – and sometimes more often than that. So far, HLC has deemed this process as meeting their standard. What is our indication that this doesn’t meet HLC standard? Why hasn’t administration shared this concern with us sooner?

Our proposal is a way for all of us to move forward.

There are things we wanted that we won’t get in that proposal, including financial increases on Summer, Insurance, Professional Development.

Current faculty salaries pool is 2.7% lower than it was in 2016. Our proposal to increase the base salary by 3% means that the pool increase each year would be 4.85%, 4.6% and 4.45% each year. Keep in mind that does not include promotions or retirements.

Cost of the entire proposal is less than 1% of the fund balance and is only about $800,000/year more than what you have proposed.

Our negotiation team has worked hours developing proposals and debating the rationale behind these proposals. Again, this is “our jam.” If you want to geek out about HLC criteria or monetary value of proposals – we’re your people. Ask us questions.

This whole process was not set up by any of us in this room. It was a previous board and previous leadership that decided against interest-based bargaining. It was previous leadership that thought discussions around this table would poison relationships between academic affairs administration and faculty.

I think we’ve proven otherwise.

VP McGrath’s Comments to the Board of Trustees : Aug 15, 2019

Good evening. My name is Jackie McGrath. I’ve worked as an English professor at the College of DuPage for 15 years and I am honored to serve as the vice president of our Association. Tonight we call on the board to find a pathway for settling the contract. We request the board of trustees commit to doing what’s best for our students, which is coming to a fair agreement as soon as possible. As ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham pointed out during his address on Wednesday, there are more changes on the horizon for higher education in Illinois and we need to focus our collective efforts on the work to come. Settling the CODFA contract will make it possible for everyone to work together on issues that we all care about a lot, including student success and improved transfer opportunities. Let’s get this done.

Tonight I am grateful for my colleagues and community members for gathering with the COD Faculty in support of a fair contract because teaching matters. COD is beloved, and we all have strong relationships across the district—because of the roles we play at the College, and because we are a part of this community, and because teaching matters. We also have strong relationships withIN the College. Why? Because teaching matters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: at COD, administrators come and go. Board members come and go. Even students pass through for a short time. But faculty and staff—full- and part-time—are here through thick and thin. And full- and part-time faculty are the frontline educators who persist in the work of teaching our students, no matter what is happening, year in and year out, and we know teaching matters. Our students matter. Our community matters.

And full- and part-time faculty have been through a lot together over the years. COD has put us through the wringer. We have shared memories and shared experiences and shared expertise. And full- and part-time faculty have many common interests and values. We all care about student success. And we all believe that teaching matters. Advising matters. Students matter. Union values matter. Our COD community matters.

The decision by COD to advertise over one hundred part-time 12-week positions shortly before the start of the 16-week semester certainly created another common cause for the full- and part-time faculty at COD, and it did not have to be this way. It’s one thing to make a plan, and it’s another thing to implement it. We are very grateful for the courage and support of our part-time colleagues in the face of such pressure. We are calling for a fair contract, and we think this board can find a way to get there. We are all here tonight to ask the board to show that it truly puts our students first.

President Toler’s Comments to the Board of Trustees : Aug 15, 2019

My name is Shannon Toler and I have worked at College of DuPage for 26 years, 18 of those as a full-time faculty member. I am here tonight proudly representing over 300 members of the COD Faculty Association. These are colleagues who have dedicated their careers to preparing District 502 students for a productive future. We are a top-performing transfer institution with cutting-edge programs created by faculty who understand workforce needs.

After two weeks of debate and deliberation about mediation, we are happy that COD has finally agreed to our request to enter mediation. We hope this is an indication of their willingness to take the next step towards a fair contract.

CODFA has also offered a comprehensive package for settlement that addresses the priorities articulated by your bargaining team and also results in fair compensation for our faculty. Most importantly, we believe our offer puts our students and their needs first.

Tonight, I’d also like to ask that you stop preparing for a strike by posting our jobs. And instead start focusing on reaching a fair agreement now.

I want to thank our union brothers and sisters in the COD Adjunct Association for the brave decision they have made not to take our jobs and the lucrative incentives offered by COD in the event of a strike. Thank you for standing with us in solidarity. Please understand the last thing CODFA wants is to go on strike. We want to be in our classrooms with our students. We want a fair contract now. Thank you.

President Toler’s Comments to the Board of Trustees | July 18, 2019

At the end of June, COD lost a valued colleague, Stephen Schroeder, Professor of Speech Communication. We look forward to celebrating his memory in August, but I would like to say a couple things about him right now because he really did represent what is the best in all of us at COD, not just faculty, but all of us.

Steve taught Speech and he was also a passionate faculty adviser to Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He served on countless committees – including years as a Division Curriculum Committee Chair. All that aside, in a nutshell, he was just someone who made all of us feel like we belonged.

Steve could bring enthusiasm when energy was waning. He could inspire confidence when esteem was not so high. He brought diplomacy, when conflict was around him. But most of all, he brought care and attention and smiles to students. I would often see Steve taking his students to the atrium for some kind of activity. It always reminded me of both the fun and the energy that can and should be found in the work that we do with our students and with each other. We will make sure that this energy and that this sense of belonging lives on.

Faculty are already looking forward to Fall. Some have new programs being launched. Others have new classes. Some have been experimenting with technology or unpacking equipment that they can’t wait to try with their students. Some have been reflecting on the last year and strategizing about how to improve for next year.

Faculty are also anxious to demonstrate to the HLC reviewers the progress we are making on our commitment to good assessment practices.

But we also don’t forget that the reason we have even faced this increased scrutiny from the HLC is largely because of the board and the administration – maybe not all of this board and maybe not all of this administration, but a board and an administration all the same. See, from our perspective, this is an important reminder that the people and personalities may change, but the systems that govern us – specifically, the contract that governs us – endure.

That’s why this work that we are doing right now – and I think you know the work I’m referring to – is another layer in the foundation for the future of COD. We need a thoughtful, strategic foundation that withstands that change but also helps us to move forward and thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.

So we’re coming back excited for a new year, but we’re also coming back ready to stand up for ourselves and our colleagues and our programs and our students.

Because we know that when it’s all said and done…. Teaching Matters.

VP McGrath’s Comments to the Board of Trustees | July 18, 2019

Good evening. Tonight we recognize our colleagues whose retirements are listed in the packet: Franz Burnier and Tom Montgomery Fate. It is hard to imagine the COD English department without them. In particular, Tom Fate is a talented and gracious colleague whose departure will leave a cavernous gap within our ranks He’s taught many of us more than he knows about writing and being a generous and inspiring resource to new and veteran artists. We wish them well.

We also mourn the passing of our esteemed colleague, Speech Professor Steve Schroeder. His skill, intelligence, diplomacy, and personality shaped the College of DuPage in so many ways, and it is impossible to catalogue how important his work has been at our school for our students, faculty, and staff. We will miss him tremendously.

In the heat of the summer, as we look towards the start of school in August, faculty do have a sense that the clock is running out. But our sense of solidarity and our commitment to COD is strong, and we look forward to the horizon with a sense of purpose and unity. See you in August at Inservice.

President Toler’s Comments to the Board of Trustees | June 20, 2019

Even when the weather isn’t telling us that it’s summer, our parking lot does…Summer is a neat time around here.  

We have lots of students who are new to COD.  Some are here to get ahead…some are here to catch up.  No matter what their motivation, I am proud that we have so many full-time colleagues who are here to help them achieve those goals.  I’ve heard our new President talk about the importance of enhancing our image with parents and high school students in our district. One of the ways we achieve this is with high quality experiences for these summer students.  They go home and tell their parents, their friends and maybe even colleagues about COD.

It’s also when we start to welcome students who will join us in the Fall.  We have 29 full-time faculty working as part of the new student advising team to help get these students started on the right path.  In these first three weeks of June, new student advising has served over 550 students. And this is the “slow” summer month.

I’d like to congratulate John Kness for his nomination to serve as Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  In the time that John has been here, I have valued his advice and considered him great resource.  And that says a lot when you consider that I was often approaching him as just a faculty member. Honestly, I think I’m glad I didn’t know his full bio before last week because I probably would’ve felt silly calling him with my questions.  I think it says a lot about COD that we can attract this kind of talent, even if for a short time.

Finally, on behalf of the faculty, I would also like to offer congratulations to Dr. Caputo and thank him for his willingness to serve as our President.  We look forward to working with him as we navigate both challenges and opportunities in the years ahead. Ultimately, as faculty, we stand ready to serve an institution that truly values, supports and celebrates our work with students.  

VP McGrath’s Comments to the Board of Trustees | June 20, 2019

Good evening. Tonight the Board contemplates a proposed budget that we hope is aligned with the fundamentally instructional mission of the College of DuPage. And it is on the heels of an improved state allocation as well. According to the Chicago Tribune, the recently approved state budget provides that “Community colleges will receive a 12.3 percent increase from the 2018-19 school year, up $33.2 million for a total budget of $303 million.” So in addition to our recently increased student tuition, and this improved state funding, it will be telling to watch how and if COD’s reserve fund balance continues to increase as well.

Over time, it is clear that the COD Board and Administration have been very fiscally responsible and conservative in building up a large reserve fund. And for a lot of school boards, no fund balance is too large, especially as they look to an uncertain future and recall unpleasant memories of the recent state budget impasses. But as the saying goes, we fund our priorities. And when we look at the decisions that have been made over time by COD Boards, especially regarding capital projects at this school that have ultimately made for unpleasant headlines, we are left wondering: when you look at the trends (in our audits more so than in our annual budgets), do expenditures at COD reflect the instructional mission of the College of DuPage? Have instructional expenditures increased, decreased, or remained static over the past ten years? When COD receives higher than projected revenue (say, beyond the conservative estimate of a 1% increase in the tax levy), is that planned into instructional expenses, or is it swept into the fund balance?

Ultimately, you are contemplating next year’s budget, but we urge you to reflect on the trends represented in the past ten years of expenditures at this College, and consider the question: is instruction a priority at COD and is that priority reflected in this proposed budget?

President Toler’s Comments to the Board of Trustees | May 16, 2019

Good evening. It appears that tonight we have concluded the public part of our Presidential Search Process. You have three excellent candidates to consider and I hope that you are reviewing not just the numerical ratings, but also narrative comments the college community has provided. Please respect that our administrators, staff and faculty have a unique understanding of our leadership needs. You, as the BOT, are the guardians of our resources. This President needs to be the leader of its people.

I hope that there are plans for the Board to think about how this entire process has reflected on COD and that you will be discussing how to improve it in the future. We had two highly qualified candidates, sitting presidents from other institutions, who were not treated like candidates for a top-level administrative position while they were here. We conduct faculty and staff searches that are more transparent, more rigorous and more welcoming and I encourage you to learn more about how we do that.

Your credibility with us, the internal college community, hinges on some of those same things you know your voters and taxpayers demand. We expect to see transparency. We expect to see rigor. We expect to feel respect.

For almost a decade, this internal college community – especially faculty and staff – have kept this institution on track despite dysfunctional board dynamics, changes in leadership, bad reorganizations, and initiative fatigue. This college strives to be a “center for excellence in teaching, learning and cultural expression” – and we can say that with a straight face because this internal college community has never lost sight of that.

And that is why there is a sea of red out there. Faculty are asking you to respect and acknowledge the work that we do to keep things humming along. Project Hire Ed is not really a thing without faculty. Pathways is also not a thing without faculty.

Finally, last month I talked about the responsibility we had to our students. This month, I think that the day before commencement, is a perfect day to express gratitude to those students. When I talk about the fact that our internal college community has stayed on mission and persevered, the real inspiration behind that is our students. Their perseverance, their inquiry, even their occasional indifference – energizes us. They are they are the yin to our yang. They are why we know Teaching Matters.