College of DuPage officials ran up big tabs at the school's fine-dining restaurant at taxpayer expense, according to a published report.
The Chicago Tribune reports college President Robert Breuder and other senior managers hosted meals on nearly 500 occasions since 2011, when the 130-seat Waterleaf restaurant opened. The college picked up the bills. One meal cost nearly $200 per person.
Breuder has defended the restaurant, which was his idea, as a marketing tool. The newspaper's report says Breuder expensed about 250 Waterleaf bills during the past three years. For one "agenda planning" meeting with senior staff, Breuder's group ate lobster, scallops, rabbit and filet mignon.
Waterleaf has lost nearly $2 million since it opened, according to financial records the Tribune obtained through a public records request. State law says the restaurant should be self-sustaining.
Trustees at the Glen Ellyn community college awarded Breuder a hefty severance package in January in exchange for him leaving three years before his contract ends. College of DuPage is the state's largest community college.
The Associated Press requested comment about the newspaper's report from College of DuPage spokesman Joseph Moore. Emails and phone messages to Moore were not immediately returned.
The Tribune analyzed financial records, finding that $1 in every $16 collected by the restaurant came from the publicly-funded college through expense accounts.
Breuder spoke about Waterleaf, according to the minutes of a 2012 board meeting: "Hundreds of people who come in and experience Waterleaf have spoken superlatives about the campus, the environment," Breuder said. "This facility is first of all a learning environment."
Students run the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Former College of DuPage board chairman David Carlin said Breuder picked up the checks at several Waterleaf business meals he attended. In January 2013, Carlin and Breuder's tab included $111 worth of alcohol, including an $80 bottle of wine. Carlin told the Tribune he thought employees couldn't expense alcohol, so he didn't realize the college paid for it.
"So much could have been done in a way that wouldn't have been frowned upon," Carlin told the newspaper. "But it's hard to defend some of the tabs."