Friday, February 24, 2017

We're Back in Court Again. The Tribune Sues Us for Not Responding to Their FOIA Request.

The Chicago Tribune is suing Chicago State for the records they requested under the Freedom of Information Act (see the Tribune story of February 6 by Dawn Rhodes). Their complaint paints a vivid picture of a university administration and its lawyers engaging in stonewalling and outright dishonesty.

The Tribune’s FOIA request of October 25, 2016, sought “all contracts . . . awarded since January 1, 2011 for work on the University’s West Side satellite campus . . . Any and all reports submitted to the university from its contractors detailing the work or research completed on the West Side satellite campus [since] January 1, 2011 . . . [and] All purchase and sale agreements, and related amendments to those agreements between the university and the seller of the property . . . selected for the West Side satellite campus.”

On November 1, 2016, the university extended the time for its response by five business days, as permitted by the FOIA statute. Then on November 16, 2016, several days past the deadline for its response, the legal department denied the request in its entirety, citing as one of the exemptions: “[p]roposals and bids for any contract, grant, or agreement, including information which if it were disclosed would frustrate procurement or give an advantage to any person proposing to enter into a contract agreement with the body, until an award or final selection is made (bold mine).”

On December 7, 2016, one of the Tribune’s attorneys, attempting to amicably resolve the matter, sent an e-mail to Robin Hawkins. Noting that Hawkins had failed to respond to two previous attempts at contacting her, the attorney wrote: “if you do not respond to this message and provide a time this week that we can speak directly about your intentions with respect to [the] Tribune’s unfulfilled [and improperly withheld) FOIA requests we will be constrained to seek other relief and will do so without further notice to you.”

This apparently got the attention of the legal department, because on December 8, 2016, Hawkins and Cage called the Tribune’s attorney. Although the Tribune’s attorney “pointed out that certain contracts had been awarded, and payments had been made to certain vendors,” Chicago State refused to produce the records. Finally, “CSU took the position that any (italics original) records that bear on the West Side Campus development project may properly be withheld as pertaining to real estate transactions, and concluded the call.”

That same day, Ms. Rhodes sent a FOIA request for additional information, specifically several purchase orders related to the West Side campus and for any “invoices . . . receipts . . . and additional documentation that details the work completed, in progress or planned in accordance with the aforementioned purchase orders.”

On January 3, 2017, the legal department denied that request, citing the same exemptions to the FOIA law it relied upon for its November 16 denial. On February 22, 2017, the Tribune filed suit in the Circuit Court.

There are a number of problems with this scenario. First, the Tribune already had records provided by Chicago State to the Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB), another public entity, one which found the Tribune’s request for public records wholly appropriate. Second, based on the records provided to the CDB by Chicago State, a number of contracts had already been awarded, these were actually listed in Ms. Rhodes’ original FOIA request. As of the date of the report (January 12, 2015), the project had already spent $340,000 with another $661,000 “encumbered.” Third, Ms. Rhodes asked for a number of specific purchase orders in her original FOIA request.

So, the university stonewalled the Tribune and lied by claiming in its denial that contracts that had actually been awarded were not really finalized and thus were exempt from disclosure. Another brilliant legal strategy that will do nothing but generate more negative news and expose our administration again as the law-flouting and incompetent entity we have come to know. Why do these people in legal still have their jobs?

If you're interested, here's a story on the suit that contains a link to the complaint: https://www.courthousenews.com/chicago-state-university-accused-of-hiding-financial-records/



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cronyism Remains Alive and Well at Chicago State

As the university continues its stall toward oblivion, the new members of the CSU Board have not yet begun the task of reconstructing the school, an endeavor necessitated by the seemingly never-ending grasp of Watson cronies on our administration. Recently, I received current salary data from Human Resources. Combining that with forays into our web site and a peek at the most recent organizational chart, I am able to provide a glimpse at how our administration continues to operate. It ain’t pretty folks.

We are still engaged in crony hiring and promotional practices. In the past, the administration doled out its favors to the “friends of Wayne.” Now we take care of “friends of Angela.” I will focus on several administrative employees and their positions. I wish to emphasize that I don’t fault them for trying to hang on to lucrative positions. I also have no idea what their work performance is like so I will refrain from editorial comments in that area. Frankly, I have no idea what some of them even do. The overarching theme here is the disjuncture between falling enrollment numbers, falling first-year student numbers, our abysmal public image, massive layoffs in key areas, and the continued employment, even promotions of persons who work for, and/or are friends with the Provost.

First, a reminder that our 2016-17 enrollment dropped to 3255 this spring. Contributing to this drop is the miniscule number of new students admitted in Fall 2016 (297), which included the reported 86 first-year students enrolling at Chicago State for this academic year.

Second, I hardly need remind anyone of the succession of bad news stories appearing in local and national media outlets. I also need not remind anyone that since the beginning of this fiscal crisis in mid-2015, our marketing and communications people have been unable to counter the prevailing belief that the university teeters on the brink of imminent closure.

Third, based on information from Human Resources, Chicago State employed 773 full-time employees (administrators, faculty, and staff. Excluding athletic department employees) in late February 2016. One year later, the full-time employees in the same categories stand at 531.

Fourth, while the administration has slashed to the bone staff in offices providing services to prospective and current students, the Provost (actually the real president of CSU) insured that her staff and friends were protected. In this effort, she received assistance from at least two holdover Board members. In Student Affairs and First Year Experience, high-level administrative positions actually increased, due to the creation of two brand new positions. All this against the backdrop of plummeting enrollment.

In the Provost’s Office, one employee works as an “Assistant to the Provost.” Of course, this person has City Colleges experience, being named District Director in the Chancellor’s Office (Wayne Watson) on November 2, 1998, at a salary of $82,817. This person apparently lets anyone within earshot know that she’s friends with Nikki Zollar. On June 14, 2014, Angela Henderson hired her as a contract employee to provide “Crisis Communications Consulting Services on behalf of the University, including matters of reputation management, media and message management, internal communication and litigation.” On November 3, 2014, she landed her current job, at a salary of $85,008. Given the spate of articles degrading our “reputation,” and our continually ham-handed crisis response, what does this person actually do?

Another person who works for the Provost is an “Outreach Director.” I don’t know who she is supposed to be reaching, but there’s a link on our web site to download an “outreach participation” request. It’s dead. I can only assume this position has something to do with enrollment or recruitment. Given our miserable performance in both those areas, what does this person actually do?

We also have two newly-minted high-level administrators. An Associate Dean of Student Affairs, and a Director of Student Activities. Both are apparently part of that laughable “internal mobility” bullshit put out by the administration. The new Associate Dean, reportedly a close friend of the Provost, needed a new gig after the grant funding for her previous administrative position expired. Voila! Resurrect an old Deanlet position and put her in it. She had worked for a number of years for our current Provost at City Colleges, until her termination on January 24, 2011. Soon after Henderson arrived at CSU, Watson hired that person into a nearly $95,000 job.

Finally, the new First Year Director of Student Activities moved from another campus position. She apparently spent most of her time holed up in her office, but she is now one of the 4 upper-level administrators gracing the Student Activities/First Year component of the University. The former Director of Student Activities has become the new “Director” of First Year Experience. The new Student Activities person earns $85,000/year. The positions of Associate Dean of Student Affairs appeared in the fiscal 2015 budget, at a salary of $40,000, while the Director of First Year Experience is a position just created. With our undergraduate and first-year enrollment plunging, how do we justify these two new administrative positions?

While the Provost’s realm fairly bursts with high salaried administrators, the situation in Enrollment Management is somewhat bleak. The new Interim Associate Vice President (a downgrade from the previous position of Vice President of Enrollment Management) splits those duties with her previous job of Director of Institutional Research. The administration eviscerated Admissions, and significantly reduced staff in Financial Aid. Clearly our administrators believe their friends are entitled to retain their positions while the university’s students are left to deal with sharply degraded levels of service (if they can even get into the school that is). I, for one, would like to know just what the justification is for those decisions.





Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Another Tribune Editorial Partly About Our Continual Mismanagement

Here's another Tribune editorial focusing on the ridiculous West side campus, the broken system of university governance in Illinois, and lambasting the administration at Chicago State. One thing notably missing is how politicians have consistently ignored our pleas for help. How they have ignored our requests for legitimate leadership, an end to the cronyism at the school, and decent financial practices. Please remember how Governor Quinn refused to intercede in 2009 when the Board hired Watson. Please remember how Quinn moved to protect Watson's position in 2013 when his job was in jeopardy. Please remember how Quinn appointed friends of Watson to the Board after that close shave in 2013. Please remember how, despite protests from the staff and faculty, the politicians did nothing as the Board continually enabled Watson's vile administration. Please remember how that ethically bankrupt Board rewarded Watson for years of incompetence and vindictiveness with a contract extension, a university office, tenure, and a fancy title. Please remember how those same Board members undermined President Calhoun from virtually his first day on the job, keeping the university in control of that pack of Watson cronies who have so damaged the school. Finally, please remember how we provided information on all those things, not only to the politicians, but to the media. The net result: nothing.

Here are some excerpts from the Tribune's editorial: "But why were CSU leaders spending money on expanding their mismanaged realm?" The answer? "Because no one stopped them, that's why. No one in Springfield — no politicians, no state board of regents with rigorous control — held them accountable for their many years of failure. For the cronyism and corruption that thrived on campus." Finally this: "Gov. Bruce Rauner has named several new CSU board members, including former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, to halt this textbook case of educational malpractice. All of this is part of a leadership shake-up to impose oversight and accountability on a university accustomed to neither." This shouldn't come as a surprise to the Tribune's editorial board, we've been telling them all that for years. As I've said before, despite mountains of evidence proving the mismanagement and malfeasance of Wayne Watson and his cronies, despite numerous appeals to our Board, state and local politicians, oversight bodies, and the news media, no one lifted a finger to reform this school.

The students, staff, and faculty at Chicago State bear no responsibility for the administrative mismanagement of Watson and his predecessors. In fact, those groups have been victimized by an administration that still holds the university in its grip. Just ask the students who have been damaged by academic policies unilaterally imposed by an incompetent and vindictive Provost; the staff and faculty who lost their jobs while friends of senior administrators kept theirs; the staff, who on a daily basis are confronted with the incompetent, arbitrary, and capricious decisions and policies imposed upon them by crony administrators with no idea what they're doing; the students who voted against the Watson regime by leaving the campus in droves.

The staff and faculty at this school are far from perfect. However, no one from either of those groups hired a girlfriend into a lucrative management job, despite proven lies about her academic credentials. No one from either of those groups hired and promoted other employees who submitted falsified applications, cost the university millions of dollars for illegal terminations, generated scandal after scandal, laid off hundreds of employees, oversaw an enrollment drop of nearly 60 percent, failed to raise money for the school, hired friends and politically connected persons with no regard for their competence, and ultimately brought the university to the brink of extinction. While this disaster unfolded, everyone in the state with the power to stop it sat on their hands and did nothing. They knew, they chose inaction.

Now, somewhat belatedly, someone is paying attention. The only way this campus can progress is to root out every vestige of the corrupt Watson administration. Boot him off campus and fire his cronies, do a complete audit of his compliance and financial practices. Any action short of that will soon consign this school to oblivion.

Here's a link to the editorial: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-chicago-state-csu-rauner-vallas-reform-edit-0214-jm-20170213-story.html

Monday, February 13, 2017

When Are We Going to Pony Up, or Through Our Unfathomable Delays, How Much More Money Will We Flush Down the Toilet?

As most of you know, the Circuit Court recently finalized the Crowley judgment. It breaks down like this:

• Compensatory damages: $1,212,552.
• Punitive damages: $2,000,000
• Attorney’s fees (Crowley): $485,289.83
• Interest $573,400.
• Total award: $4,271,241.83

The original verdict on February 18, 2014, cost the university $3,020,000 as follows: $960,000 in Compensatory damages, $60,000 in interest, $2,000,000 in Punitive damages. The university appealed the verdict and award, and on August 28, 2014, the trial judge rejected the appeal and added $318,177.33 in attorney’s fees to the judgement, bringing the total to $3,338,177.33. The final award on January 31, 2017, increased the amount by $933,064.50 by adding $252,552 in “front pay,” another $167,112.50 in attorney’s fees, and an additional $513,400 in interest.

All through this fiasco, the university got itself hammered in court. No one in the judicial system cast a single vote in favor of the university’s position. Instead of realizing the case was unwinnable, the university continued to throw money away on defending the indefensible. Who is responsible?

This damage could have been stopped immediately after the jury verdict if the university had simply paid the judgment, which would have cost it $3.3 million. Given the 14-0 jury verdict and the minimal length of time it took the jury to decide the case, a reasonable person might have concluded the judgment would be difficult to reverse. Nevertheless, Chicago State forged ahead. The two primary decision makers in this fiasco were Wayne Watson and Patrick Cage: two of the principals in the lawsuit, Watson as a defendant and Cage as the person who aided Watson in his “reprehensible” behavior.

Here’s what Judge McCarthy had to say about Patrick Cage in August 2014: he was “impeached by the changing of . . . affadavits submitted in support of [Watson’s] unsuccessful motion filed in front of another judge . . . changed such affidavit within days before this trial commenced.” McCarthy found Cage’s “credibility . . . at issue,” called his testimony “absurd,” and wrote that he failed “to follow the very guidelines/protocol that were in effect at Chicago State University for the termination of an employee.” McCarthy concluded that Cage’s actions contributed to an effort to “crush the Plaintiff,” that the trial revealed evidence that the university’s senior leadership worked to “fabricate evidence of misconduct” against Crowley, and that they took “affirmative steps to destroy the Plaintiff’s current and future work opportunities, reputation and good name.”

The sleazy behavior of our senior administrators should come as no surprise. Who could have stopped it? our upper administration? Hardly, since here at Chicago State, we have a General Counsel who lied under oath and got caught doing it. Shouldn’t such behavior by an attorney result in her/his firing? Not here at Chicago State, after all a President engaging in the same behavior would be unlikely to terminate an employee simply following his sterling example.

Perhaps the Board of Trustees might have been expected to step in to protect the financial interests of the school. However, the only thing they did was approve a June 25, 2015, resolution presented by Cage to “raise the spending limits on certain litigation.” As always, Nikki Zollar, Anthony Young, Spencer Leak, Michael Curtin, and Marshall Hatch failed to protect the school; this time by deciding to throw money away on these absurd appeals and defenses of obviously egregious and illegal behavior. Watson’s interests again trumped the interests of the university as a whole.

Certainly if one reads the “evaluations” of the cases provided by the legal department, it is impossible not to believe the university will be victorious against all opponents. Before the Crowley case went to trial, Cage wrote that “It is the University’s expectation that it will prevail against the claims.” During the appeal process, Cage opined that “the Plaintiff’s probability of success on appeal is low,” and that the “jury verdict awarding punitive damages is more likely than not to be overturned.” I guess Cage forgot to tell the Illinois Appellate Court or the State Supreme Court. Continuing his string of accurate predictions, Cage also indicated that in the Meeks case (settled by the university for $1.3 million), “defendants are more likely than not to prevail.” Really, what does someone have to do around here to lose his job?

Now we come to the present. Even though we may still be liable for additional expenses if they university does not expeditiously pay the judgment, we are still delaying. As of Friday, we had not complied with the court order. I estimate that additional “front pay” and interest on the unpaid balance comes to about $1025 per day. Obviously, there are also likely additional attorney’s fees being accumulated. When do we finally pay the price for the illegal and unethical behavior of our administration? When do we finally stop bleeding money for our administrative misconduct? We have a new Board, do they know anything about this history? Does the current Board Chair, a holdover from the Watson days, feel any sense of urgency to address these issues? Those questions remain unanswered.







Thursday, February 9, 2017

Problem Fixed Apparently, Campus Resumes Operations at 2pm

Apparently the problem was with the main boiler, a gas leak in the main gas feed. The campus is supposed to return to normal operations at 2pm today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Now We Apparently Have No Heat in Our Buildings

School is closed tomorrow because of "declining temperatures in the buildings." We have no heat now? Did we pay the bill? By all means we should open another campus. Will our sorrows never cease?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Some Good News Provided by Our Students and Faculty

We have some good news to report. Of course, it comes from our students and faculty. Below is a memorandum announcing that our team of students won the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge against seven (7) other universities and is advancing to regionals. Last year, our team finished second in the nationwide finals. Congratulations to students Nicolette Sanders, Isiah Samuel, Courtney Jenkins, and Kayla Mensah. Congratulations also to the team coaches, faculty member Olanepikun Laosebikan and graduate student Brandon Morgan, both from the College of Education.

Repeating the Same Behavior, Expecting a Different Result: Chicago State's Administration Again Validates Einstein's Definition of Insanity

Given the latest negative news story about our West Side Campus activities, are we to expect another non-response from the Interim President? Another attempt to blame Chicago State’s woes on some shadowy conspiracy to damage the university’s “brand?” Let’s be clear here. The credibility problems were currently experience are not the fault of Dawn Rhodes or Jodi Cohen of the Tribune. They’re not the fault of anyone among the students, staff, or faculty. Let’s take a look at the administrative response to today’s story.

“Chicago State officials, including the interim president, declined to answer specific questions from the Tribune but issued a statement saying that no final decisions have been made related to the ‘opening, construction, or the purchase of property’ for a West Side campus.

The university also denied the Tribune's open records requests for contracts and other financial documents that typically are subject to public disclosure.

University attorneys contend they are not required to turn over information about ongoing ‘real estate purchase negotiations’ until the transactions have been finalized. They also said they do not have to provide information about the contracts ‘until an award or final selection is made.’

The floundering pursuit comes amid a history of questionable decision-making by Chicago State leadership . . .”

Here’s what the Chicago State Budget Committee (another committee whose members put in a great deal of work with no apparent result since the administration apparently doesn’t much care about their recommendations) thought about the West Side Campus:

"The committee believes that if the operational funds requested for the West Side Campus were not granted by the state, the project is not viable," the committee's 2014 report states. "CSU cannot afford a drain in the budget ... given the resources that we have are already stretched thin."

So once again, our administration resorts to stonewalling in an attempt to run away from questions about possible financial shenanigans. Rest assured that the Tribune will contest the denial of their FOIA request, an effort likely to be rewarded by the Attorney General’s Office. When the information is fully disclosed it will undoubtedly result in another negative story. Instead of exhibiting forthrightness by responding to this story, possibly consigning it to one and done status, the university’s leadership, particularly the General Counsel, refuses to respond to a completely legitimate request for public information. I guess our administrators really haven’t learned anything from the Crowley fiasco, I guess they only know one way to respond to public oversight: with deceit. Why do these people still have jobs here?

If You Keep Doing Stupid Things, Negative Press Assuredly Follows: The Westside Campus Rises Again from the Ashes

Here we go again. Another story in the Tribune that makes our administration look sleazy and corrupt, admittedly not a daunting task. This time it's the never-ending saga of the West Side Campus, something akin to a dream someone might have while sleeping off the effects of an opium binge. Another legacy of the Watson administration whose various cronies still infest this campus. Here's a link to the story (which is apparently on the front page of the print edition):
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-state-west-side-campus-met-20170204-story.html

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

It's Worse Than You Think: A Large Chunk of University Money is Now Frozen Because of Yesterday's Decision

Last night our figurehead president put out an insipid memo saying virtually nothing substantive about the Crowley decision. Here’s the text:

January 31, 2017
Dear University Community,
In the spirit of transparency, the University has been informed that the media plans to report on the final verdict from a 2014 case against Chicago State University. CSU continues to express its commitment to moving forward and rebuilding.
We continue to report that our highest priority is to focus on important matters such as our students, staff, and University operations.
Be assured, the University will continue to be good stewards of University funds and look forward to a productive year.
Sincerely,
Cecil B. Lucy

• First of all, I don’t know to what the word “transparency” refers. It is hardly necessary for the administration to tell us about a news story so readily available. So the first paragraph is essentially meaningless. I’ll talk more about “transparency” later in this post.
• Second, the second paragraph is the same laugh line that appeared in yesterday’s Tribune story.
• Finally, the assertion that “the University will continue to be good stewards of University funds” requires some examination.

The issues of “transparency” and “good stewards[hip]” are intertwined. Here’s what the university’s interim president would have said if he was being completely transparent. Unfortunately a statement like this one undermines his assertion of fiscal responsibility:

Last night the Cook County Circuit Court closed a disgraceful chapter in the history of Chicago State. After months of unnecessary delay in satisfying a judgment the university had no chance of altering, the court hit us with a $4.3 million bill, increased to well over $5 million by the award of plaintiff’s attorney costs.

Since we have to pay this amount immediately or incur additional penalties, we are going to have to find a way to discharge the financial obligations incurred as a result of this decision. This is the kind of administrative misconduct we can no longer tolerate.

As I said in my previous post, the university in 2010 could have terminated Crowley without cause at the cost of around $100,000. Now we are liable for over $5 million (closer to $6 million if the money we spent defending the indefensible is factored in). I fail to see how that makes the administration “good stewards of University funds.”

Frankly, it is far worse than the plain vanilla memorandum suggests. That’s because around $6 million in university funds is apparently now frozen to satisfy the judgment (according to a highly placed administrative source). That’s two months of payroll folks. I guess the courts don’t agree that we are law unto ourselves here at Chicago State.