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Joliet Junior College President Debra Daniels resigns effective immediately

Administrative vice president Judy Mitchell named as interim

Published: Monday, March 21, 2016 9:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 21, 2016 10:43 p.m. CDT
(Shaw Media file photo)
Debra Daniels, president of Joliet Junior College, welcomes July 29, 2015 a delegation of elected officials, TransCanada representatives and college staff at JJC in Joliet. Daniels resigned Friday.
(Photo provided)
Judy Mitchell

JOLIET – Joliet Junior College President Debra Daniels has resigned, citing personal reasons.

The JJC Board of Trustees received Friday a resignation notice from Daniels, who entered the role March 1, 2012. On Monday, JJC board Chairman Robert Wunderlich released a statement that said Daniels cited personal reasons for her departure.

Daniels stated in an email Monday that she enjoyed the past four years at JJC and thanked the faculty and staff for their dedication to students.

"I have brought the college as far as I can and I want to step aside so I can do other things," she stated. "The board has been tumultuous especially this past year with the resignation of three board members and I hope that this will allow them to come together for the college."

Last year, former board Chairman Jeff May resigned in July for health reasons, while his successor, Tina Markley, and trustee Barb Adams resigned abruptly together in August.

Markley said there was a “backdoor attempt” at public humiliation against her by trustees, whom she did not name, before she and Adams walked out of a board meeting.

Daniels, who was president of San Bernardino Valley College in California before coming to JJC, succeeded Gena Proulx, who died in 2011. 

Wunderlich noted accomplishments under Daniels’ tenure, including the development of an international students program, the 2016-19 strategic plan, a master plan update that sparked the construction of the Romeoville Campus expansion and the JJC Events Center, and the grand opening of a new Tutoring and Learning Center and Veterans Resource Center. 

There is no timetable yet for naming a new president, but Wunderlich said the board will have a workshop March 29 to plan the next steps and whether the search will be done by a firm.

The board has appointed Judy Mitchell, JJC’s vice president of administrative services, to serve as interim president.

A climate survey of the college was recently conducted and the results were reviewed by board trustees at a March 11 meeting. The survey, performed by Rathbun, Cservenyak & Kozol, interviewed about 25 JJC administrators regarding a range of topics, including personnel matters, Wunderlich said.

“The survey had a little bit to do with it, but she has some personal things of her own [as reasons given to resign],” Wunderlich said.

It was the first time JJC conducted a private climate survey to specifically evaluate the college for the ultimate benefit of students, Wunderlich said. Board trustees did not participate and did not know what questions were asked prior to the survey, he said, adding that it was “very professionally done.”

Daniels' tenure was marked by some controversy last year, as board trustees were considering nonrenewal of JJC Police Chief Pete Comanda’s contract in April before eventually renewing it in June.

Comanda has said he believed his contract was considered for nonrenewal because about three years ago he raised concerns to board trustees about Daniels’ leadership, but he has declined to discuss publically what those concerns were.

"That had nothing to do with [the resignation]," Wunderlich said. "It's water under the bridge."

When reached Monday afternoon by phone, Comanda said he is looking forward to working with the interim president and next official president, whoever that may be. He agreed with Wunderlich that the issue is in the past and he hasn’t looked back. 

In 2013, the college’s previous attorneys, Robbins Schwartz, investigated the allegations about Daniels that Comanda sent to the board the same year, according to documents obtained by Shaw Media in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among his allegations were that Daniels subjected him and others to a “hostile work environment” by engaging in conduct that was “bullying, abusive [and] demeaning.”

The college and attorneys' investigation concluded “no evidence to establish that Dr. Daniels engaged in harassment or violated the College’s Workplace Civility Policy," according to a Sept. 16, 2013 memorandum addressed to Comanda.

When asked if her resignation had anything to do with the climate survey or the board’s consideration of nonrenewal of Comanda’s contract and previous investigation into his allegations, Daniels stated via email, “No to both.” 

Robbins Schwartz conducted its investigation before the board approved the firm as regular counsel Oct. 8, 2013.

Wunderlich said trustees recently approved dismissing Robbins Schwartz as the college's attorneys and are seeking new representation.

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