Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Higher Learning Commmission Wakes Up: Who is it Protecting?

If you thought the recent administrative and Board changes would insulate the University against the kind of sleazy political moves we’ve seen over the past several years, think again. This time, however, it looks like the attack on Chicago State comes from an unexpected source: the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), one of our accrediting bodies.

What is the HLC and what are its principles? First, it describes itself as “an independent corporation that was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States.” Here are some excerpts from its “Guiding Values”: “The responsibility for assuring the quality of an institution rests first with the institution itself”; and, “Continuous improvement is the alternative to stagnation”; and “Integrity means doing what the mission calls for and not doing what it does not call for; governance systems that are freely, independently and rigorously focused on the welfare of the institution and its students; scrupulous avoidance of misleading statements or practices”; and, “The well-being of an institution requires that its governing board place that well-being above the interests of its own members and the interests of any other entity”; and, HLC “holds the governing board of an institution accountable for the key aspects of the institution’s operations. [the Board] . . . must . . . hold itself independent of undue influence from individuals, be they donors, elected officials, supporters of athletics, shareholders, or others with personal or political interests.” How did HLC do over the past several years? As the Watson administration ran the institution into the ground while saddling it with a pack of incompetent cronies and other hacks, HLC stood by and did nothing. In fact, it essentially endorsed the corruption and malfeasance going on at Chicago State.
https://www.hlcommission.org/About-HLC/about-hlc.html
https://www.hlcommission.org/Publications/guiding-values.html

Thanks to the previous Board’s stupid decision in February 2016 to declare “financial exigency,” on July 11, 2016, the HLC put Chicago State “on notice” for its financial instability. The July notice included this: “The Board will review the Assurance Review documents at its June 2017 meeting or thereafter to determine whether the institution has demonstrated that it is no longer at risk for non-compliance.” The accrediting criteria cited in the July 2016 report included 5.A. “The institution’s resource base supports its current educational programs and its plans for maintaining and strengthening their quality in the future”; and 5.C. “The institution engages in systematic and integrated planning.” The HLC concerns about 5.A. stemmed from the state’s budget impasse. Its concerns about 5.C. revolved around the University’s failure to sufficiently clarify “roles among its Management Action Committee, the University Advisory Committee and the University Budget Committee to optimize the decision-making process”; its failure to create a long-term plan for “student recruitment and retention”; and “While the HLC evaluation team expressed strong confidence in the leadership of the University’s new President (Thomas Calhoun),” it noted that “there has been high turnover in recent years, and many key staff members are relatively new.”

https://www.hlcommission.org/Student-Resources/public-disclosure-notices.html


HLC’s action triggered an “Assurance Report” by the University in December 2016, a draft “Assurance Review” report by HLC in March 2017, then a “Staff Report” in May, and finally, a July 10, 2017, letter to the University about its status.

Believing the July 10, 2017 communication to be a public document, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) for a copy of the letter. On July 20, I received a denial of my request from Karen Helland. IBHE claimed that “The HLC has conveyed to me that the information is pre-decisional because the HLC Board has made no final decision regarding Chicago State University. Thus, the letter is subject to confidentiality. Pursuant to Section 7(1)(g) of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the letter is considered confidential and was submitted to IBHE, a third party, under an express promise that it will be kept confidential.” Given the information in this letter, I guess the HLC does not want to do its business in the open. Obviously, I plan to appeal this denial to the Public Access Counselor, we’ll see if the claimed exemption (which deals with the confidentiality of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information”) is a valid basis for denial.

Since the University is already “on notice,” a very public status, why is HLC so concerned about the confidentiality of this letter? Our financial position has clearly improved, the abominable Management Action and University Advisory Committees expired with the end of “financial exigency,” and turnover now results from the new administration’s completely appropriate effort to terminate senior administrators who are responsible for the multiple failures of the past seven years. I am told that we remain “on notice” and must submit another report to HLC in early August. Again, why? Here’s my interpretation: Certain members of the HLC apparently desire to insure that the University remains a political patronage pit. In order to do that, it is necessary to retain a number of Watson holdovers and engage in delaying tactics in an attempt to protect them. The new Board and our current administration represent a threat to that status quo and must be neutralized. Although the July 11, 2016 letter from HLC endorsed President Calhoun’s leadership, as we all know, a concerted back-stabbing effort by senior administrators and Board members ultimately resulted in his firing. The new Board is apparently not going to be receptive to that kind of activity. As a result of the new Board’s concern for the well-being of the University, it seems that playing Russian Roulette with our accreditation is the only remaining way to protect the failed Watson holdovers.

The University’s Board of Trustees failed to place the well-being of the University above the well-being of Watson and his cronies for several years. Now that avenue appears closed, and the HLC is apparently stepping into the breach.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Democratic State Comptroller Susana Mendoza Starts to Release MAP Funds.

Here's something sent out today by the Democratic State Comptroller. Things look a little different when you have a budget. By the way, how exactly was this a win for Bruce Rauner?


Monday, July 10, 2017

Here is Our Appropriation for 2017 and 2018

Based on my rough calculations, CSU will receive nearly $60 million in state appropriations, around $23.6 million for fiscal 2017 and another $35 million for fiscal 2018 (plus around $1 million in grants from the state). Also, the legislature appropriated $401 million for the Monetary Award Program.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Illinois Finally Has a Budget!

The House has just overriden Rauner's veto. After two years, Illinois has a budget.

Friday, June 9, 2017

It's Been an Interesting Summer So Far

An update on some of the upper management personnel and CSU Board changes that have occurred since April 7, 2017, when the Board appointed a new president and Chief Administrative Officer:

1. Trustee Nikki Zollar resigned her position on the Board. Given the role she played in undermining President Calhoun while simultaneously advancing the interests of the corrupt Watson administration, its Godfather and his assorted cronies, good riddance.

2. Associate Vice President of Human Resources Renee Mitchell resigned sometime in March or April.

3. Police Chief Patricia Walsh no longer works at Chicago State. I knew her only slightly, she seemed nice enough, but was the hand-picked successor to the execrable Ronnie Watson. Most important, she had no support among her officers who last year unanimously voted "no confidence" in her.

4. General Counsel Patrick Cage no longer works at Chicago State. His performance speaks for itself.

5. Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance and former Interim President Cecil Lucy no longer works at Chicago State. He played an important role in undermining President Calhoun and was determined to maintain the destructive status quo after Dr. Calhoun's termination.

These are positive changes for the university. We must root out all vestiges of the Watson administration in order to begin the healing and rehabilitation which is a precursor to moving the university in a positive direction. I applaud the new university administration for these moves and look forward to more of the same in the near future.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

The West Side Campus Redux: Another Financial Scandal Brought to You by Wayne Watson and Friends

Here's another installment in the continuing West Side Campus fiasco. Some of the highlights: our former General Counsel Patrick Cage is caught lying again (as Sabrina Land says, he "misspoke"); we not only used grant money for expenditures on a feasibility study, an architect, marketing, and a non-refundable deposit on property. Additionally, the administration (read Wayne Watson and his crony Ronnie Watson),spent at least $324,000 of appropriated or income funds on lawyers, site selection, and a "project manager" named Bruce Washington, a politically-connected insider who reportedly received $267,000 for three week's work. Current university officials admitted that "former school officials needlessly and improperly spent institutional funds on the project." Of course, "It does not appear that any of the spending went before the board for review or a public vote."

Obviously, this is all the Tribune's fault for reporting on this. Once again, if we stop doing stupid things, we won't make the paper for this kind of financial malfeasance. More important, in order to prevent these scandals from emerging on a piecemeal basis, we must have a forensic audit done at this University. Another scandal on the balance sheet of Wayne D. Watson and his corrupt administration.

Here's the story:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-state-west-side-campus-spending-20170601-story.html

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Friendly Reminder that May is Almost Gone

We are now past spring graduation. We are also now past Memorial Day. Too many of Watson's holdovers remain at this school; Watson himself was again sighted a few days ago. Why are these people still blighting the campus? There is no support for anyone tainted by complicity in the Watson-era shenanigans; the faculty and staff have clearly signaled their desire for new senior leadership. Every day these people are allowed to remain in place, making decisions and influencing events, is a day wasted. Frankly, we are running out of days to squander. Last week's personnel changes were a nice start. We all know who else needs to go, let's just get it done.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The University With No Money Spends over $3 million on Administrators.

With the University finally filing its 2018 report to the Illinois State Legislature, the scope of last year’s layoffs/terminations becomes clear. Notably, talk of staff reductions of “350” or even “300” must be taken with more than a grain of salt. That number is only achievable if non-permanent employees are included in the total. Here are the actual numbers: Administrators terminated without cause: 46; staff laid off: 84; Unit A faculty laid off: 9. Total number: 139. Additionally, 8 employees classified as “Temporary Administrators” (including 4 Undergraduate Advisors), lost their jobs. The University also laid off a total of 159 Unit B Lecturers (72 full-time, 87 part-time). Adding temporary employees and non-tenured tenure track faculty to the total brings the reductions to 306. However, the University in 2016-17 employed 126 Unit B Lecturers (44 full-time, 82 part-time), so the actual number of persons who did not return for the fall semester comes to 180. One final caveat, several of our laid off staff members have returned as temporary employees, so that 180 figure must be further reduced, perhaps to 170 or so. In any event, a far cry from the number the administration has publicly floated.

Our recently departed (and not missed) Board member Nikki Zollar claimed that the Management Action Committee, particularly Cecil Lucy and Angela Henderson, “saved” the University with their staff reductions. As has been noted on this blog, that claim is not supported by the facts. In fact, the 2016 layoffs/terminations did incalculable damage to the school. The University claimed the state’s budget crisis necessitated the carnage of April/May/June 2016, another assertion not supported by evidence. I’ve detailed much of this in previous posts, but as a refresher, I’ll again provide some data. The people who made the layoff decisions saw the University’s “fat” in two places: the academic side (faculty, departments, colleges, student-serving functions, etc.) and the facilities/plant services side (custodial services, purchasing, central stores, parking, etc.). Of the 306 layoffs, 245 (80.1 percent) came from the University’s academic endeavors, including 168 faculty. Facilities and Plant Services contributed 37 victims (12.1 percent). The final 25 layoffs/terminations came from
Computing/Network Services: 7 (2.3 percent), University Administration (Provost, Legal, Marketing, and Auditor): 7 (2.3 percent), University Services (Human Resources, Police, Accounting/Budget): 6 (2 percent), and Athletics: 4 (1.3 percent).

The proportions change if only full-time permanent employees are part of the calculation. Of those 139 employees, 81 are from the academic side (58.3 percent), 37 from Facilities (26.6 percent), with the remaining 15 percent coming from the other categories. The 7 Upper Administrative terminations accounted for 5 percent of the total.

Of course, the University continually told us that our “financial exigency” necessitated those draconian staff reductions. After all, we were out of money, right? Not exactly. First, on June 30, 2015, Chicago State had cash and cash equivalents of $24 million. On June 30, 2016, of $21.7 million. Just prior to the layoffs/terminations in April 2016, the University received an appropriation from the state of $20.7 million. Just after the faculty layoffs in June, the University received an appropriation of around $13 million. On May 31 and June 15, 2016, the University paid out over $2.2 million in cash to terminated/laid off administrators and staff. The breakdown: Severance for administrators, $1,569,992.50; benefits for administrators, 411,287.83; benefits for staff: $252,455.60. When the University laid off 9 faculty members on June 29, it claimed “financial exigency” to avoid giving them their contractually-mandated terminal contracts, which would have cost Chicago State only $590,000 spread over 18 paychecks in fiscal 2016-17. Eventually, the faculty who lost their jobs received nothing.

Altogether, in the period of “financial exigency,” the University spent at least $3.4 million on new hires, primarily administrators, and on severance cash-outs. In addition to the expenditures listed above, between the beginning of "financial exigency" on February 4, and its end on December 9, 2016, the University hired 10 new employees, 9 of them administrators. Cost for all 10: $876,000. For only the administrators: $796,000. Finally, on October 3, 2016, the University paid former President Thomas Calhoun $300,000 in severance, bringing the total expenditures for administrative hires/severance just during the period of “financial exigency,” to over $3.3 million. Clearly, the University had no money.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Once Again, Proof That the Provost Has No Support From Chicago State's Academic Community: A 116-1 Vote of "No Confidence"

Between May 6 and May 9, 2017, members of the CSU-UPI Chapter of Local 4100 participated in a poll that measured support or non-support for Provost Angela Henderson. As you may recall, here at Chicago State, two prior confidence/no confidence votes on Henderson revealed virtually no support among the Chicago State faculty for the Provost. In February 2014, the Chicago State Faculty Senate voted "no confidence" in Henderson by 25-2 with, I believe, 3 abstentions. In late November 2015, UPI members voted "no confidence" in the Provost by 142-4, with 4 abstentions. In that poll, Chicago State's tenured faculty voted "no confidence" by 86-3 with 3 abstentions. These results were reported to the University President and Board of Trustees.

The most recent poll demonstrated that Henderson's support had declined even further. The final result was 116-1-0 (99.1 percent) "no confidence" in Henderson, including tenured faculty members, who voted "no confidence" by 74-1 (98.7 percent). Thus, in three separate votes (2014, 2015, and 2017), Henderson garnered 7 votes out of 297 cast, a microscopic 2.4 percent of the total. Chicago State's tenured faculty have voted 161-4 with 3 abstentions, (2.4 percent support for Henderson) in the two polls conducted by the union (2015 and 2017). Based on these results, I think it accurate to conclude that Chicago State's Chief Academic Officer has virtually no support from the academic community she purportedly leads.

Frankly, Henderson's well-documented performance failures, insufficient credentials, demonstrated dishonesty, and a management style that has featured a commitment to cronyism have earned her the contempt expressed in these multiple repudiations of her "leadership." The enrollment declines alone should have gotten her dismissed, yet here she sits, continuing to draw her hefty salary, continuing to damage the university. In a viable organization, people at the top are held responsible, are accountable for their performance, and for the organization's success or failure. Chicago State is certainly not a success story, but despite years of failure, Henderson has been protected by a University President and members of a Board whose outrageous and frequently unethical behavior contributed materially to the current crisis. Given the latest demonstration of the faculty's and the academic staff's nearly unanimous opposition to this Provost, we must again ask: is anyone listening? will Angela Henderson be held accountable for her woeful performance and for the damage she has done to the University? We shall see.