As you’ll recall, several months ago, dozens of Chicago State University faculty members and students protested what we perceived to be a rigged presidential selection process: Following the Board of Trustees’ national search, which cost Illinois taxpayers $75,000, the final candidate was the politically connected chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, Dr. Wayne Watson—a candidate rumored to have been tapped for the job prior to the launch of the search.
Faculty members appealed to Governor Patrick Quinn to restore fairness and integrity to the process. We demanded a new search. He did absolutely nothing. That’s in stark contrast to his instantaneous response to the board of trustees’ crisis at the University of Illinois, which is not located in a middle-class African American residential area, unlike Chicago State.
When members of the board of trustees at UIUC were accused of manipulating student admissions, the governor interceded with flourish, cameras rolling. When members of the Blagojevich-appointed board of trustees at CSU were accused of manipulating the selection of the most important position on campus, the governor cowered backstage.
Even after the faculty’s concerns about Dr. Watson’s qualifications to lead this institution bore fruit, Governor Quinn has said and done nothing. As state lawmakers work to pull the state from the quicksand of an unprecedented budget crisis, Quinn has allowed the appointment of the man responsible for inexplicable cost overruns of 118% at new Kennedy-King College campus. Ironically, Dr. Watson counts this as one of the highlights of his career as the City Colleges’ chancellor. The project was budgeted at $93 million. To date, the cost is $202 million, and is expected to rise when all the bills are tallied. The additional $109+ million can’t be explained because records are missing. How convenient!
Patrick Quinn blazed into the governor’s chair promising reform. He has replaced entire boards at other state agencies. Incidentally, while much is being made about the ascension process of UIUC’s current board of trustees’ chair, no one has mentioned that Rev. Leon Finney maneuvered his way into the chairmanship of the CSU board after only two years on the board, without holding any other position. As vice chair, Rev. Richard L. Tolliver was next in line. Quinn has remained mum, allowing Blagojevich’s CSU trustees to put a plague on our house.
Rev. Finney, who is frequently mean-spirited, condescending and disrespectful to the University’s presidents and high ranking administrators at public Board of Trustees’ meetings, raised the faculty’s ire again when he ordered the admission of students with low ACT scores. And he wanted the tuition to remain the lowest in the state.
Again, Quinn said nothing about the devaluation of a state university with some of the finest minds in higher education. CSU faculty members hail from prestigious universities throughout the country and the world. We have produced some of the state’s most successful business, political and educational leaders—and more African American physicists than any university in the country. Yet, our expertise has less value than our colleagues at other state universities.
Incoming president Wayne Watson reportedly told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that CSU faculty members must learn to teach. To that end, he allegedly plans to provide us with additional methods courses. Has Dr. Watson has observed even one CSU class? Why is he so committed to spending taxpayer dollars to improve our teaching skills? Who’ll get that contract?
The faculty has protested. Governor Quinn has turned a deaf ear.
Quinn’s disrespect for the Chicago State faculty generously gave Rev. Finney, the man many say orchestrated Watson’s selection, carte blanche to treat the university, which belongs to the state’s taxpayers, like a carnival prize he’d won at the State Fair:
According to an Open Letter to the Board of Trustees written by then-Interim President Dr. Frank Pogue, Rev. Finney usurped Pogue’s authority to run the day-to-day operations of the University—authority granted to the CSU president in the board of trustees’ by-laws;
In a public board of trustees meeting, Dr. Pogue revealed that Rev. Finney also allegedly halted Pogue’s search for a vice president to run the University’s financial affairs, despite numerous past irregularities found by state auditors and the possibility for more without a senior financial administrator’s oversight;
Several administrators say Finney visited offices and instructed them how to do their jobs—jobs for which he has no expertise, educational background or previous experience;
In May, Finney sent a memo to the entire staff, prohibiting the hiring or reassignment of any personnel without the Board of Trustees’ approval. Among the effects of this order, the search for a new campus police chief was halted; and
When the interim president’s contract ended on June 30, Finney took the reins until Dr. Watson’s contract period officially begins on August 1. Both have been spending lots of time on campus in recent weeks.
Still, Quinn and the other Chicago State trustees have said nothing. As a result, what many staff members characterize as Rev. Finney’s reign of terror continues, and every taxpayer in deficit-plagued Illinois will pay the tab. He is now in the process of firing senior administrators and other staff—without cause, according to their termination letters—just because: just because they were appointed by Interim President Dr. Frank Pogue and just because he’s now in charge. Illinois taxpayers’ bill for this stunt will total hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why?
According to Chicago State University Board of Trustees’ Regulations, employees terminated without cause must be given notice three to 12 months in advance. It is University practice to send these employees home, instead of allowing them to continue working until their termination date. The rationale is that it minimizes the possibility that the employees will harm University property or personnel, in response to being fired for nothing—or in some of the recent cases, fired for doing a great job. It makes sense, under the circumstances. So off these employees go, remaining on the CSU payroll until their termination date finally arrives, three to 12 months later.
For CSU Provost Dr. Sandra Westbrooks, appointed by Rev. Finney and the board of trustees as the University’s most senior administrative officer until Dr. Watson officially arrives, this has been a tumultuous July: Allegedly at Rev. Finney’s or Dr. Watson’s behest, she has terminated at least five of her colleagues on the President’s Executive Council (PEC) and several other administrators.
On Wednesday, July 1, Dr. Westbrooks sent a grateful e-mail to one PEC member, wishing that she “could clone” her. The next day, she sheepishly entered that administrator’s office, pie-eyed and near tears, explaining that she had been ordered to fire the administrator—without cause, of course. And so, right or wrong, painful or not, the Provost did it, even while observing that after spending a month terminating her colleagues in preparation for Wayne Watson’s arrival, she’d probably be terminated herself.
Currently, none of terminated administrators has been replaced. None of their work is being done, and the University and the state are receiving no return on the administrators’ salaries. To add insult to injury, when they are replaced after Watson arrives officially, taxpayers will pay two individuals for doing one job until the terminated employees’ notice period expires. That’s consistent with the appalling lack of fiscal discipline that Watson exhibited at the City Colleges.
In the meantime, Governor Quinn and the other Blagojevich trustees are whistling in the wind. In a quest for great leadership and fiscal responsibility, the University’s faculty senate has implored Quinn to replace this board—a few of whom have expired terms—and he has done nothing. We asked him to fill the vacancies on the board, and he has ignored us. Why? Perhaps the good Rev. Finney has provided some clues.
No slave to subtlety, Finney has made only two new appointments during the past two weeks, most notably the reassignment of the attorney who formerly reviewed and approved large purchasing contracts. He will now do that again as the Associate General Counsel and Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Operations.
The faculty has expressed concerns that the selection of Watson signaled the beginning of Chicago State’s use as a patronage tunnel for jobs and contracts. Clearly, room is being made for bodies. Monthly or quarterly FOIA requests for purchasing office records will reveal to whom the University is awarding contracts. Maybe with vigilant taxpayer oversight, no records will go missing.
Despite its top-notch faculty and staff and beautiful sprawling campus, Chicago State has been challenged with declining enrollment. Among the contributing factors is the board of trustees’ failure to approve a marketing budget for a number of years. There’s no advertising in online, print or broadcast media. The Office of Enrollment Services struggles to afford brochures and other marketing material while competitors advertise heavily to our prospective students. This is an anomaly among other state universities.
Few, beyond the range of a bullhorn, are aware of the treasures at Chicago State: Few people know that our students are engaged in significant alternative energy research with solar cells and fuel cells. Few know that our nursing students have a higher pass rate on the national certification exam than their counterparts in the state or the nation.
There’s been a lot of negative publicity about our graduation rate, which only counts those who enrolled as first-time, full-time freshmen. But with a student body of 6,800, more than 1,000 were conferred bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Chicago State’s spring commencement. They will be wage earners and taxpayers, and they’ll be outraged by the callous disregard with which this governor has treated their alma mater and their tax dollars.
August first has not yet arrived. Wayne Watson is not yet officially the president of Chicago State University. Governor Quinn has time to appoint a reform-minded board of trustees. It’s also not too late to investigate the legitimacy of Watson’s selection and order an legitimate, cost-effective, ethical search for a leader who can move the University forward, rather than turn it into a funnel for patronage jobs and contracts.
Quinn holds full responsibility for what is happening at Chicago State and has a vested interest in addressing it, because it glaringly reflects the credibility of his dedication to fiscal responsibility and educational excellence. Neither the University nor Illinois taxpayers can afford Watson’s reckless spending sprees. If Quinn continues to endorse cost overruns as the status quo, we certainly can’t afford him.