Thursday, July 21, 2016

Chicago State's Faculty and Staff Almost Unanimously Support President Calhoun. Does the Board Plan to Listen?

Some of you may remember the "no confidence" vote in Angela Henderson our union took in December. The final tally in that one was 142-4 (with 4 abstentions) expressing no confidence in the Provost. In response, the Chicago State Board did nothing. However, when they Board declared "financial exigency" in February, they saw fit to create a "Management Action Committee" with four persons, including the President, Provost, Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance, and the Associate Vice President of Human Resources. Obviously an attempt to strip the new President of the power to make important personnel (and other) decisions at the University, this ridiculous committee has mucked things up for the past five-plus months. It's hard to imagine one of the Watson cronies on that committee voting for their own termination.

Now in late July, we are still afflicted with "financial exigency" and are still suffering the deleterious effects of management by committee. This Monday at 10am, the Board is meeting downtown, at 150 N. Wacker Dr., Suite 800, to discuss "employment matters." Why the meeting off-campus? What sort of employment matters might they be discussing? I have no evidence to suggest that President Calhoun is one of the "employment matters" the Board plans to discuss. However, as many of you know, I've been doing a survey of our members to gauge the support for President Calhoun among the faculty and staff of UPI 4100. The survey asks two simple questions, do respondents believe President Calhoun has the ability to run this university? do respondents want the Board to give him the authority to do the job of President, in effect, enabling him to do the job they hired him to do? Here are the current results of that survey:

On Question #1, there are 147 "yes" votes, 4 "no" votes, 2 "don't know" votes, and 1 abstention. That's 97.4 percent support for President Calhoun.
On Question #2, there are 148 "yes" votes, 4 "no" votes, 1 "don't know" vote, and 1 abstention. Again, that's a 97.4 vote in support of the President.

Already, 79 percent of Chicago State's tenured faculty have voted. The tally? On question #1, it's 95 "yes," 1 "no," 1 "don't know," and 1 abstention, 99.0 percent in favor of the President. On Question #2, it's 96 "yes," 1 "no," and 1 abstention, again 99.0 percent in favor of the President. So overall, 97.4 percent of Chicago State's unionized faculty and staff have confidence in President Calhoun, while 99 percent of our tenured faculty feel likewise.

Based on the survey results, this morning, I sent this letter to the Board:

July 21, 2016

Mr. Anthony Young, Chairman
Chicago State University Board of Trustees

Dear Mr. Young and Chicago State University Board Members:

Just over one week ago, I again asked that you lift the state of “financial exigency” that has been so damaging to the University. In my letter, I provided several reasons for my request. To date, you have not seen fit to do me the courtesy of responding. I find your silence disappointing, but not surprising. For the past several years, the Board’s view of the Chicago State faculty—
particularly those faculty who have been vocal about their disaffection with the way the University operated—seemed to be that we are 100 percent wrong, 100 percent of the time. It appears that dictum applies to the current situation at the University, a never-ending state of “financial exigency” and ineffective executive governance purportedly by a committee of four.

Dissent and disagreement are common themes in the academy. They can be productive if avenues exist to define and discuss issues of importance to various constituencies. Watching the Board’s operation for the past few years, I have noted that administrative voices have been prominently featured, while staff, student, and faculty voices are either marginalized or ignored. Somehow, any deviation from administrative orthodoxy has been viewed as an existential threat to the University. Here, I could cite personal experience. Instead, I will simply say that arguments that I desire to destroy or “take over” the University are beyond irrational. I have strong objections to the way this University has been governed, and I possess the evidence to support my assertions. However, all I want is for the University to be run like a university, not like a third-rate political ward. The state’s taxpayers, our students and staff deserve nothing less.

At this point, I am the elected representative of faculty and staff organized in UPI Local 4100. In this capacity, I advocate for the interests of better than 170 employees, or nearly one-third of Chicago State’s current workforce. In the spirit of moving this university along, I am advising the Board of the faculty and staff consensus on several current issues affecting the University. My intent here is to be clear and unambiguous.

• “Financial Exigency” must be lifted as soon as possible. I have already requested this, there is no necessity to revisit this topic at this time. The main concern among our members is the university’s use of “Financial Exigency” as a pretext to deny contractual rights that accrue to our laid-off faculty members.
• The “Management Action Committee” must be eliminated immediately. Basic management principles require that authority and responsibility be equal, that proper authority must be delegated to meet managerial responsibilities. In January, the Board hired President Calhoun and almost immediately stripped him of the authority to make decisions by funneling all important matters through the Management Action Committee. The President must at once be given authority commensurate with his responsibilities. The consensus among our members is that the Management Action Committee has been a disaster. Dr. Calhoun has had virtually no opportunity to perform his Presidential duties and our members are concerned that the Board may attempt to judge his performance against a standard he has had no chance to achieve. Without matching authority and responsibility, there can be no accountability.
• The members of UPI Local 4100 overwhelmingly support President Calhoun. You may recall in December, I advised you of a “no confidence” resolution against the current University Provost, Angela Henderson. The Board did not respond to that almost unanimous (142-4 with 4 abstentions) expression of no confidence in the Provost to perform her duties. In dramatic contrast, a recent referendum on President Calhoun resulted in virtually unanimous support (139-3 or 97.9 percent) for his ability to do the job as Chicago State President as well as a similarly strong show of support for the Board giving him the authority to do his job (140-3 or 97.9 percent).
• For tenured faculty, in contrast to the almost unanimous opposition to the Provost, support for the President is near unanimous. In December, 69 percent of the tenured faculty cast ballots, with 96.6 percent (86-3) expressing no confidence in the Provost. The referendum on President Calhoun has drawn votes from 74.2 percent of the tenured faculty. Tenured faculty support President Calhoun by a margin of 89-1, or 98.9 percent; support for elimination of the Management Action Committee and for the Board giving President Calhoun proper authority to do his job stands at 90-1, or 98.9 percent. Clearly, this referendum demonstrates the falsity of the “handful of disgruntled faculty” argument. Tenured faculty across every segment and every demographic of the university fully support the President.

I realize that this situation has exposed all of us to unprecedented challenges. Unfortunately, I do not see either the University or the Board utilizing all its assets in meaningful ways. The faculty and staff at this University are a tremendous untapped resource, and I urge you to include us as substantive participants in discussions about ways to save this school. I can assure you there will be spirited disagreements, but those should not deter us from doing the hard work ahead. The faculty and staff of Chicago State believe wholeheartedly that the Board made exactly the right choice in President Thomas J. Calhoun. He deserves our support. He deserves your support. Most important, for the good of our school and its students, he deserves the opportunity to do the job the Board hired him to do.

Yours truly,

Robert E. Bionaz, Ph.D.
President Chicago State University Chapter
University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100

In the lamentable recent history of this institution, the Board has consistently failed to take seriously faculty concerns, preferring to chalk any dissent up to a "few disgruntled faculty members," The recent survey demonstrates the widespread and nearly unanimous support for the President. The Board had better take this expression of support seriously.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Screw the School, Save Your Cronies!: Our Administration Does Layoffs

The recent personnel massacres that occurred at Chicago State reveal the poorly-guarded secret of the university’s existence. Rather than operating as an educational institution serving the needs of students, the school functions instead as a haven for a high-priced and inept administrative cohort that has driven the university to its knees while continuing to be well compensated for breathtaking failure. A close look at the recent layoff results should demonstrate.

This information comes from Human Resources and is not 100 percent reliable. Nonetheless, it is the best data I have to analyze the recent pattern of staff reductions. Between February 29, 2016, and July 1-6, 2016, the university reduced its total positions from 909 to 550 (39.5 percent) and its payroll from $50.66 million to 36.65 million, a 27.7 percent reduction. Of course, the disparity between the number of employees who lost their jobs and the payroll reduction results from a large number of poorly-paid employees getting the boot, while their well-paid colleagues held on to their positions.

On February 29, 2016, faculty constituted 37 percent of Chicago State’s employee complement, followed by staff at 33 percent, and administrators at 30 percent. In July, the numbers look quite different: administrators accounted for 37 percent of all CSU employees, faculty 34 percent, and staff 29 percent. The staff reductions between February and July were: Faculty lost 180 positions, staff 93, administrators 86. The university reduced faculty positions by 53.4 percent, administrative positions by 34.8 percent, and staff positions by 31.4 percent. The bulk of the faculty reduction came from the 159 lecturers laid off by the university.

Given the above statistics, it seems like everyone took a hit. However, details of what university operations the layoffs damaged paint a very different picture of how the university meted out the punishment. For this analysis, I divided the university’s positions into several component parts: positions strictly or overwhelmingly administrative; positions providing services to students; positions providing services to the university; the academic library; positions in the offices of the College Deans; finally, positions in the academic departments.

The staff and faculty layoffs eviscerated the academic departments. Excluding Department Chairs, the university reduced academic department positions from 396 in February to 180 in July, a 54.5 percent drop. Positions in the Deans’ offices fell from 26 to 17, a 34.6 percent drop. Positions in departments providing services to the university declined from 138 to 95, a 31.2 percent reduction. Positions in the academic library plummeted from 24 to 10, a decrease of 58.3 percent. Positions in departments providing services to students dwindled from 43 to 33, a 23.3 percent decline.

In stark contrast to these staff reductions, the university reduced administrative positions only from 68 to 59, or 13.2 percent. The Provost’s Office and Human Resources provide excellent examples of how our administrators, through the ridiculous MAC set up by the Board, safeguarded the administrative positions of their colleagues, while sacrificing hundreds of employees who actually performed the day-to-day work of keeping the university operational.

In February 2016, the Provost’s Office included nine (9) employees: the Provost, two Associate Provosts, an Interim Assistant Provost, an Assistant to the Provost, an Executive Secretary, an Associate, an Academic Contract Specialist and a Program Life Skills Specialist. Salaries totaled just over $828,000 and ranged from $225,000 for the Provost to $33,000 for the Program Life Skills Specialist.

In July 2016, the same office included eight (8) employees: the sacrificial victim? Of course, the poor employee making $33,000. Remaining were the Provost, two Associate Provosts, one Interim Assistant Provost, an Assistant to the Provost, an Executive Secretary, an Associate, and an Academic Contract Specialist. Because of personnel changes in addition to the layoff of one employee, the aggregate salary for all employees in the office actually increased to $868,000. The poor Provost.

Human Resources actually retained all sixteen (16) of its employees, at a total cost of $775,000. Given the performance of Human Resources for the past several months, one might wonder why they need a full complement of employees.

Based on the pattern of layoffs, it seems apparent that the university made a concerted effort to target areas that served students and staff in order to retain as many high-salaried administrators as possible. As the people in Academic Affairs continue to make one bad decision after another, as the financial component of the university ceases to function, as the holdover administrators continue to do what is likely mortal damage to the school, the Board goes merrily on pretending that everything is working well and that the university will somehow be extricated from its predicament. As we careen down the road to our destruction, it seem increasingly obvious that only an act of God will save this school. Perhaps that was the plan all along.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

This Fiasco is all about the Board: Thank you Anthony Young, Nikki Zollar, and Marshall Hatch

Yesterday’s post by my distinguished colleague opens the door for a discussion about the how and why of “financial exigency.” What follows is my interpretation based on both tangible evidence and information and belief. Before getting into the particulars, I must emphasize that this fiasco rests squarely on the shoulders of the Board of Trustees, particularly Anthony Young, Nikki Zollar, and Marshall Hatch. I will endeavor to make this clear.

Dr. Beverly’s post provides a useful chronology of events that led up to yesterday’s announcement of Notification by the Higher Learning Commission. As has been the case for the past six-plus years, whenever the University’s internal actions are seriously scrutinized by outside agencies (courts, oversight and regulatory bodies, even sometimes politicians) the results are disastrous, even catastrophic (see Jim Crowley) for the university, its public image, and frequently its coffers. Frankly, our administration has been a clown show at best for a long time. At worst, it has operated as a corrupt political entity with a ludicrous Godfather-style patriarch leading a pack of inept Capos and other assorted wanna-bes. Sleazy it was, competent it was not. Yesterday’s somewhat predictable HLC action demonstrates that body’s lack of amusement with Chicago State’s shenanigans. Frankly, it’s long overdue.

So why was the University willing to risk the consequences of what was essentially a sham declaration of “financial exigency”? A brief history helps answer that question. Based on his post-president behavior, Wayne Watson was not ready to leave Chicago State when his contract expired, or when he was supplanted as President by Thomas J. Calhoun. If you recall, the Board, ignoring Watson’s monumental failures in virtually every category of leadership at CSU, awarded him unwarranted perquisites like an office on campus, his own parking spot (a nod to his narcissism), the title of “President Emeritus” (rather than the more appropriate “President Horribilis”), and unearned and inappropriate tenure in Doctoral Studies (in the College of Education).

So Watson was able to remain on campus. Because of the likelihood that various administrative and financial improprieties might still be discovered if anyone took a careful look at his administration, keeping his cronies in place became an important consideration. Along with the fact that virtually no one in his upper administration would be able to get a similar job without Watson’s patronage, his cronies needed to remain in place to protect Watson, insure continued tenure in their august positions, and safeguard their lavish salaries.

Beginning with Thomas Calhoun’s arrival on January 4, 2016, a number of Watson holdovers reportedly began beating a path to the doors of several Board members to complain about the new President. The Board members most prominently mentioned were Young and Zollar, who apparently began to express their doubts about Thomas Calhoun’s job performance. Mind here, these meetings and expressions of disaffection took place scant days after the new President took office. Reportedly, Marshall Hatch soon joined the anti-Calhoun forces. So early on in the new President’s tenure, palace intrigues apparently split the Board as the anti-Calhoun forces engaged in a smear campaign against the new CSU leader.

When February rolled around and with the state appropriation for CSU not yet forthcoming, President Calhoun asked the Board to declare financial exigency with the caveat that “If the university receives, or is notified that we should anticipate receipt of additional funds from the State of Illinois prior to your special meeting, I will withdraw this recommendation.” The next day the Board declared “financial exigency” and created the ridiculous “Management Action Committee” along with an equally ridiculous “Board Financial Exigency Committee.” This unwieldy structure included the President of the University, the Provost, the Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance, and the Vice President of Human Resources, all except Calhoun holdovers from the Watson administration. The Board’s ad hoc Committee included the three anti-Calhoun voices on the Board: Young, Zollar and Hatch.

So, exactly one month into his presidency, Calhoun found his hands tied by a Board resolution creating an executive committee. Instead of having final authority at the University, the new President found himself one vote in four on a committee constituted of individuals not qualified to wield executive authority at the university level. The results have been predictable: botched layoffs and recalls in April and May, the elimination of key persons in important University units, a seemingly perpetual state of financial exigency that has placed the university’s future in jeopardy, and an end run around existing contract language in order to deprive employees of contractually-mandated notification and post-layoff terminal employment.

The administration’s hypocrisy reached its apex with the recent non-recall of several faculty members coupled with the University’s insistence that notification did not apply because of the school’s “extreme and immediate university-wide financial exigency.” While treating the separation notification of terminated administrators (per Board Regulations) as sacrosanct (to the tune of $2 million), the Board and University administrators worked assiduously to negate the contractual rights of faculty members. I think chickenshit only begins to describe this disgraceful and ham-handed skirting of the contract.

Both Dr. Beverly and I have been rebuffed in our initial attempts to convince the Board to end financial exigency. Earlier this week, we made a second attempt. At this point, there has been no response. We will see how far this Board will go in an attempt to continue this untenable condition. Will we bluff our way into losing our accreditation? Given yesterday’s comments by Dr. Calhoun, will anyone continue to argue that the university is in financial crisis? We will see. This farce has played long enough, it must end immediately.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Another Sanction

So the Tribune is reporting that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has sanctioned the university about its compliance with Criterion 5 of the HLC accreditation criteria. Your humble narrator is not always the sharpest knife in the drawer so it is easy to understand my confusion about this entire situation. As I understand this situation to this point 1) Governor Rauner announced his plan for major cuts of more than 30% for higher education in February 2015, 2) the university did not create a plan of any sort after that announcement to address significant reductions of state appropriated resources, 3) the legislature passed a budget in 2015 which the Governor vetoed thus setting off the budget impasse, 4) public universities went without an appropriation for 10 months, 5) the CSU Board of Trustees declared financial exigency in February 2016, stripping executive authority from the newly hired president, 6) the Board created Management Action Committee stumbled through the execution of the exigency in the worst possible way with public failures around employee layoff notifications, key return, property control etc., 7) the Higher Learning Commission made an onsite visit as a result of the exigency declaration and 8) the HLC responded with the sanction discussed in the aforementioned article. 

If I have articulated this correctly several questions emerge. First, why are the people who didn't create a plan in the first place allowed to continue in their six figure positions? Second, why given the statement by the President noted in the article, has the Board not acted to terminate the exigency, a condition which continues to hurt the university? Third, why has the legislature not exercised oversight and demanded answers to questions from the university about why CSU was the only public university to declare exigency? Fourth, why hasn't the Governor demonstrated leadership and demanded accountability from the university for its continued absence of planning? 

I believe, loyal readers, that many of you have the same questions and more about this situation. I will offer further information in a future post about the exigency?

For now, it is, indeed, unfortunate that the university's accreditation is actually at risk because its administration was incapable or uninterested in planning for a foreseeable situation. As this is Illinois and accountability is only a buzz word, it isn't surprising that those responsible for the mess the university is in are still in place thanks to the Board and this asinine financial exigency continues.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Financial Exigency? Bullshit! $2 Million Payout to Terminated Administrators

In early June, Anthony Young steadfastly refused to take the university out of the state of "financial exigency" declared by the Board on February 4, 2016. It has been my position that the declaration, and the ridiculous Management Action Committee making personnel decisions, is more about saving the jobs of former Watson cronies than the university's financial condition.

As you know, nine faculty lost their jobs recently. These faculty join hundreds of other former Chicago State employees who were ushered out the door without any compensation. The total salaries of these faculty come to $590,000. The university contends that financial exigency enables it to avoid adhering to the CSU/UPI Contract, that those faculty are not entitled to compensation that accompanies contractual notification requirements. However, while the university refuses to pay anything to faculty it laid off "with a sense of profound regret," it made no attempt to avoid Board regulations requiring administrators terminated without cause to receive what is essentially severance pay based on years of service. Altogether, 49 administrators received payouts that included leave accruals, Board-mandated compensation, or both. The total cost of these payouts: $1,981,280.33, or an average payout of just over $40,000 per person. The total included $1,569,992.50 in post-employment compensation, and the university paid the total amount in the May 30 and June 15 payroll cycles. Not surprisingly, Cheri Sidney, Wayne Watson's girlfriend, received the highest payout, $114,425.14. I guess it pays to lie on your resume/application.

I am certainly not suggesting that a severance payout is preferable to a full-time job, but at least the university provided most of these persons with some kind of safety net for their transition into unemployment. Of course, for staff and lecturers laid off earlier, nothing in their contracts entitled them to anything after their employment ended. As we have seen, based on the recent experience of our laid off faculty, the university administration obviously believes that "financial exigency" entitles it to do anything it pleases. Frankly, I have a somewhat different view.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Crappy Day to End a Miserable Two Months

With the administration’s announcement of unit A faculty layoffs yesterday, the bloodletting in the wake of the state’s budget crisis has apparently concluded, at least for this academic year. Scores of valuable university employees—staff, faculty, and even some unfortunate or poorly connected administrators—have lost their jobs in a predictable denouement to years of cronyism, incompetence, malfeasance, and stunning administrative mismanagement. Although the situation in Illinois is dire, misery on this scale simply did not have to happen. The anguish and uncertainty felt by the victims of this travesty could have, and should have been avoided. More on this in subsequent posts.

For this time, the appropriate response seems to be sadness. Sadness for everyone affected by this disgrace. I cannot imagine how our colleagues and friends must feel. Sadness for the university as it descends further into academic irrelevance, as it vitiates programs in Arts and Sciences and Education, as it dismantles admissions, advising, purchasing, financial aid, teacher certification, and other programs vital to the operation of any purported educational institution.

At a time like this, it is difficult to think of anything remotely appropriate to say. To all our blameless friends and colleagues swept away by this foul tidal wave: your presence enriched us and your dedication inspired our students. What remains is impoverished by your absence. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tenured Faculty fired--administrators' jobs are still safe...

News tonight is that nine tenured faculty members from departments in Music, History, Political Science, Philosophy and elsewhere were fired due to low enrollment in those programs.

Have no fear, however, no one in the upper-level administrative offices has been cut (yeah, yeah, Cheri Sydney got tossed out in April, but she left with a nice severance package, boo-hoo). The logic is that we can't keep large departments because of low enrollment, but we can keep the same number of administrators secure in their offices in the Cook Building. We can't even expect that they will take pay cuts or furloughs, no sacrifice for those ciphers. 

So thank you again Anthony Young and the Wayne Watson supporters on his yes-boss-Board of Trustees. Great job. You failed to hold Watson and his protege Angela Henderson accountable all those years for the catastrophe of enrollment management (Henderson's gig at CSU when Wayne brought her in) and now after cutting the low-hanging fruit among the staff and administration, faculty have to pay the price. Shame on all of you.

After hearing of the faculty who were cut today, I can only hang my head in sadness for the loss of these colleagues who shared the struggle to make CSU a university of academic integrity and scholarly rigor. I will never forget them and I will always wish they had had the chance to pursue their careers at a university that was run like a university, not a politician's ward founded and maintained through political patronage. I'm sorry for them and the students who will never know them.


Monday, June 27, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way from the Board Meeting

So a funny thing happened on the way to the Board meeting Thursday. In response to my esteemed colleague Corday’s question about the intention of the Board, I can report that two interesting things happened. One I will report here and the other I will convey in a subsequent post.
After about four hours of executive session, the Board reconvened to inform the remaining attendees that they had no action to take in open session. That’s right loyal readers, no termination of the financial exigency, no notification of any large donations, no comment on the termination of academic programs. Nothing but a move to public and employee comment. One commenter, Ray Violetto, spoke very directly about the no-confidence vote that was held by the employees of the University Police Department.
Two local news outlets covered this:

By way of context, let’s recap how the police department got to its current condition. In late 2014 the former chief announced his retirement. He was then allowed to sit on the search committee for the new chief. In my humble estimation that is at best unprofessional and at worst unethical. That he had a previous professional relationship with the successful candidate is even more disturbing. Watson, in fact, is said to have announced the selection of Ms Walsh prior to the search committee being formed. That is an indicator that the search was flawed and the appointment fixed. It is Chicago after all so I am not surprised.
Some officers I spoke to were hopeful that Watson’s replacement would do something to repair the damage done by Watson & Watson (dba Dewey, Cheatem & Howe), namely the shooting by the police chief of a university guest and her dog, the theft of a police car assigned to the chief that was later used in a drive by shooting, and his reportedly frequent absence due to golfing commitments.
That hope was quickly dashed as it became apparent that the new chief was but a subordinate to the former chief who continued to give direction to the department after his departure. The inept reorganization of the police department which has led to complaints filed with the Civil Service Merit Board, was effected on her watch. This reorganization was apparently done with no objection by the chief. The groundless demotion of civil service employees by the Management Action Committee, none of whom have law enforcement experience or expertise, has damaged more than just the morale of the entire department, it has endangered the safety of the university community. And for the status quo apologists, the laughable excuse of “financial exigency” is no longer viable. The requirements of policing do not diminish because a third of the university’s work force was let go or because three buildings were shuttered for the summer. The university community, which for an urban university includes the surrounding community, must be patrolled. Any absence of executive leadership will have a damaging effect on the day to day operations.
The most troubling aspect of revealing police department business is the revealing of police department business. Law enforcement agencies are prohibited by law from striking, even though they tend to be unionized and any overt political activity is also prohibited. Police departments work diligently not to be involved in the politics of the communities that they police. The CSU Police Department is no different. So for the long serving members of this department to take an action like this and get 100% participation should be the indicator of how dysfunctional the university is and how needed a purge of the Watson residue, including his Board cronies,  is. This action, probably more than a “few disgruntled faculty”, indicates what a failure Watson and his cronies have been.
At institutions that function effectively, the Chief would tender her resignation for the good of the department and thus the good of the university. Even if her reported failures were untrue, the perception of 100% of her subordinates is that she has failed and should now do the right thing, which clearly isn’t the CSU or Chicago thing.
I can attest to the frustration of working in a situation where executive leadership is absent. It is disheartening to come to work knowing that no leadership will be shown and the organization will continue to spiral into chaos and further dysfunction.
Cadaverous may have been a charitable characterization by Corday in the previous post. However, the community is waiting for action from the board. I, for one, am not holding my breath.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why Small Colleges Fail--you won't be surprised by the answer, oh yeah, CSU board meets tomorrow...

Is it worth mentioning that there is a Board of Trustees meeting tomorrow? Does anyone really care anymore what the shills of Rauner, that cadaverous lot that pompously "oversees" the university, does tomorrow? This is the board that was politically constituted by ex-Governor Quinn to keep CSU in the hands of Wayne Watson and his lackeys. They dodged every attempt at shared governance, they got the accrediting bodies to look the other way on the quasi-legal actions of the administration, they were in cahoots with the local and state pols, they breached the ethical standards for boards of trustees issued by the association of governing boards. They never sat as impartial overseers of the university. Do we care any more what they do to finish us off?

Really, besides firing us all (already done that) and declaring more buildings closed and a truncated fall semester, what's the point? Do we need to endure the disgusting demeanor of them yukking it up on the dais with Nikki Zollar's bff Angela Henderson and her minions patting themselves on the back with their everything-is-rosey-pollyanna "reports?" What else are they going to do --declare financial exigency? Already done that. The most extreme step a university could take they took in February. And what do they do at their appalling Trustees meetings in March and May? They do not address it publicly. They express little sympathy or concern for those poorly paid workers who got the boot in April or the adjuncts who were told to clear out their offices in May. They sit stoically through the 10 or so public comments they allow while the real life people whose lives have been upended tell their stories and admonish them, to no avail. What will they do at the board meeting tomorrow? Let the highly paid Watson administrators remain with their full salaries not even demanding of them to take furlough days? Already doing that. And by the way, if it is true that administrators have been told to give up vacation days, that is not the same thing as a furlough and it is hardly a sacrifice.

"A thousand gnat bites is worse than a blow to the head," so wrote Victor Klemperer in his chronicle of the politics in Germany in the 1930s as the fascist vise closed around the population, especially the Jewish population. Liberties eclipsed one by one, not all at once, until the state was made into the image of fascist dictatorship. CSU is dying a death by strangulation, a thousand gnat bites, not the blow to the head. Rauner worked this out quite cleverly, our Board is playing it out as planned. Believe if you want that this difficult time will work out for the best for CSU, that the deadwood will be cut and we will go on to greatness eventually, "the diamond in the rough," "the gem of the southside" will prevail for another 150 years. Before you subscribe to this view, however take a look at what has happened to Chicago City Colleges:

I think that as the City Colleges go, so go the old board of governors' schools: consolidation of programs, closing of programs, universities realigned or sold off, fewer full-time faculty.

The crisis at CSU and other public universities extends beyond the state of ILL. There is a  national crisis that is seeing the demise of the commitment to the public good through public education and the opportunities it once offered. Wisconsin, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Kansas and other states are disinvesting in public education. And yet, have a look at another article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, "The Real Reason Small Colleges Fail." The focus is on private schools, but the patterns reported fit our little school in ways that you cannot ignore.

Spoiler alert:  the real reason small schools fail? Their Board of Trustees.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

To Advise or Not To Advise

So as not to leave the impression that faculty are not diligently attempting to preserve the integrity of the university, your humble narrator offers the following for your consideration.
The university provost had an idea last year to prevent faculty from doing student advising. The thought behind that idea was never clearly articulated to the faculty in any coherent fashion so I am left to conclude it was because faculty advising was too expensive for the university. That is odd given the number of faculty who came perilously close to not making load for the year. I also imagine the underlying reason is a fit of pique on the part of the provost for being challenged by the intrepid UPI Chapter President who dutifully reminded her that there is a formula for compensation and contractual language around advising and the university's students would be best served by having faculty do advising and administration adhere to the contract. For the nearly 25 years I have been at the university, faculty have done student advising. Faculty know their programs, they know the nuances of the curriculum and most importantly they know their students. Lo and behold the most unqualified provost in university memory decides that she knows better. Suffice it to say, advising for our students has been worse than disastrous. One of the now terminated professional advisors told me that he was advising in disciplines he knew nothing about. He knew he was mis-advising students and yet no one could do anything about it because the provost had decided that she knew better and would brook no dissent much less any substantive discussion on the matter.
The Faculty Senate, on behalf of the faculty, closely monitored the advising situation and finally responded after informal communications went unheeded. Below is the text of the request put forth officially by the university’s faculty. Beneath it is the response from the provost’s office. You might notice the prompt response of 32 minutes but there has been no response since then. 

Given the centrality of advising to student success, I would imagine this would be an issue of critical importance. Sadly, it is not.
The professional advisors have all been dismissed, the advising center has been moved once again and the responsibility has fallen on an office that has never done advising beyond it’s freshman student advising responsibilities. Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. How can a university that refuses to correct the narrative of its own demise be expected to recruit, enroll, retain, advise and graduate students if simple processes like advising can’t be managed appropriately? I would posit that some significant portion of students not returning would list as the reason the quality and nature of academic advising. The university has lost students as a direct result of the ill conceived decision made by the provost. And the Board rewards that incompetence with.......
It begs the question of why the chief academic officer, the person responsible for protecting the academic integrity of the university finds it so difficult to heed the reasonable requests of faculty, all of whom are more knowledgeable about the academy than she is. Is it the appreciable gap in knowledge that so frightens her and inevitably leads to requests for off line meetings and sharing? Yet for all of her well documented failings, enrollment declines, plagiarism, record number of employee grievances, absence of planning for the financial exigency, multiple missteps in the execution of the financial exigency process, the advising debacle, the ill fated attempt to shut down the Faculty Senate just to name a few, I cannot lay responsibility for her failure solely at her feet. Granted, she is responsible for her actions AND the former failed president and the current Board of Trustees must bear the bulk of the responsibility for putting a totally unprepared and inadequate administrator into a position of responsibility that anyone with five minutes in the academy would know was a recipe for failure. So with failure upon failure what possible justification exists for her continuing to damage the university? 
I can only conclude there is some relationship between the provost and one or more trustees that precludes them from terminating her employment. The nature of that relationship should probably be explored by agencies with subpoena powers who can determine the full nature and scope of a relationship that has been so damaging to the university. It’s almost as if the Board has a mission to make the university so ineffective, the only alternative is to shut it down.
The advising debacle is but one in a long string of Board supported failures. Should the university survive the next six months, it is my fervent wish that the replacement Board members do more than those currently in place. Maybe they’ll even have the university run like a university not some 1950s Chicago Ward organization. You know a place where the university president actually is the university president and doesn't need the permission of his incompetent subordinates to do his job. A place where the active undermining of the president by subordinates would lead to termination. A place where the little things get done, like admissions and student advising. 
Oh but these are only summer musings of your humble narrator. What might the Board do next week at a totally unnecessary meeting? Terminate the exigency per chance???
I think not. It will be business as usual or should I say failure as usual.