Monday, February 8, 2016

The Rauner Foundation: Why an Excessive Focus on Lobbying Rauner to End the Budget Stalemate is a Waste of Time

The budget impasse created by Bruce Rauner is a predictable outcome of his anti-union and anti public education history. At the last Board of Trustees meeting, my colleague Dr. Beverly commented that he thought appeals to Rauner to end the budget deadlock were a waste of time and energy (or words to that effect). I have to agree. After all, we know that Rauner does not like unions and we know that he has no regard for our public institutions of higher education.

I believe Dr. Beverly’s comment stems from his understanding that Rauner is not a politician, that no appeal for reasonable compromise will sway him on the budget issue. I agree. He hates unions and he does not give a damn for public higher education. These sentiments are not politically expedient positions, they are part of his core belief system. Although this seems patently obvious, Rauner is an ideologue, unfortunately for the people of Illinois, one wealthy enough to get him elected to the state’s highest executive position.

To this point, I have said nothing we do not already know. However, the analysis of his intransigence and its motivations comes from observation and interpretation. There is a more tangible way to understand the depth of his convictions—he puts his money where his mouth is.

Rauner and his wife administer a charitable organization, The Rauner Family Foundation. An examination of the charity's tax returns going back to 2007 enables us to get a firms sense of the personal commitment he has to his current attacks on faculty unions and public higher education. As you would expect from persons with the fabulous wealth of the Rauners, the foundation is flush with money. As of late 2014, its assets totaled $51 million. Since 2007, its contributions to various charitable causes total $18.4 million.

The Rauner Foundation’s contributions to “education” charities since 2007 total $11.3 million, or 61 percent the charity’s total contributions. Of that total, $7.59 million went to private/charter K-12 schools, elite projects designed to “transform” K-12 education, private universities, and virulently anti-union organizations. In contrast, the Rauner Foundation contributed $1.3 million to public K-12 systems, public universities, and the Chicago Public Library.

In the last two years, the Rauner Foundation’s contributions have skewed even more toward the public/charter schools and private higher education. The charity has disbursed just under $9.5 million in total contributions, with $4.8 million (51 percent) going to education. The Foundation contributed $4.1 million to the private/charter K-12 schools, private universities, “transformational” efforts, and anti-union organizations. Conversely, during the same time period, the Foundation contributed $230,000 to a public university and the Chicago Public Library.

Looking at the Rauner Foundation’s contributions in greater detail sharpens the picture of its pro-privatization, anti-union focus. Five organizations have received over $750,000 since 2007. The largest single recipient of the Foundation’s largesse is the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. The Rauner Foundation has given the Noble Network $1.55 million since 2007, with $850,000 in the past two years. In fact, the $800,000 contribution by the Foundation to the Noble Network in 2012 is the largest single contribution by the charity since 2007. Next on the list is Teach For America, an organization devoted to taking graduates from the country’s most elite institutions and placing them in “low performing” urban schools. The Rauner Foundation has contributed $1.15 million to Teach For America. A public school organization, the Chicago Public Schools Fund For Children is next, receiving $872,000 from the Rauner Foundation. Notably, the Foundation has contributed nothing to this organization in the past two years. Dartmouth College follows closely with $850,000 in contributions from the Rauner Foundation. The last of the top five, The Academy of Communications and Technology in Chicago, received $770,560 from the Rauners.

Seven additional organizations have received between $400,000 and $750,000 from the Foundation. Heading the list is the Chicago Public Education Fund, $682,000; followed by The Stand For Children Leadership Center and the Academy For Urban School Leadership at $600,000 apiece. Next come the Chicago International Charter School at $575,000, and Yale University with $500,000. Rounding out the group are National Louis University and Education Reform Now at $450,000. These 12 groups account for just over $9 million of the Rauner Foundation’s $11.3 million education contributions.

An examination of some of these groups reveals what the Rauner Foundation gets for its money. The Noble Network includes 18 charter schools in Chicago. Teach For America’s purpose includes taking the “best and brightest” students from top universities and placing them in urban public schools, primarily in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. This organization spends millions on marketing and has drawn intense criticism for its failure—many from its alums. Articles in the Washington Post and Slate detail some of the critiques. A former Teach For America participant said: “TFA members do not work in service of public education . . . They work in service of a corporate reform agenda that rids communities of veteran teachers, privatizes public schools, and forces a corporatized, data-driven culture upon unique low-income communities with unique dynamics and unique challenges.”

The criticisms also describe the program’s performance and retention problems, its questionable teacher placements, and adverse effects on existing faculty: “its teachers are largely unprepared and fare no better than regular educators. It has a high drop-out rate . . . TFA sends its volunteer teachers to school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, places now facing teacher layoffs and hiring freezes. Some school districts have even rescinded contracts with TFA, citing teachers’ lack of preparation and low retention rates.”

Criticism of the Chicago Public Education Fund, linked to the recent scandal involving the SUPES Academy and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, characterized the Fund as part of the elite agenda to “transform” public education by applying corporate principles. “Remember all the talk during the April 7 mayoral runoff of the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent? It would be difficult to assemble a board that screams 1 percent louder than CPEF’s—from the schools its members attended to jobs held to marriages made.” And, “That CPEF’s board is much heavier with finance titans than educators shouldn’t surprise anyone. CPEF is designed to mimic a private equity or a venture capital firm in the way it raises money.” The Chicago Public Education Fund’s links to Bruce Rauner and Teach For America also came under scrutiny: “CPEF’s current board chairman, Brian Simmons, a managing partner at Shorehill Capital, told me when I interviewed him about his friendship with Bruce Rauner.” Simmons went on to talk about “CPEF’s role in raising money to bring Teach for America to Chicago. (CPEF’s President and CEO, Heather Anichini, is a TFA alum.)”

The Stand For Children Leadership Center is an anti-union group that claims “inexperienced teachers are just as good if not better than experienced teachers.” Its anti-union stance and focus on standardized testing aims “to put an end not only to teachers’ unions but to the teaching profession. They want teachers to be evaluated by test scores.” Major funding for the group came from the Walton and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations.

The Rauner Foundation has not contributed anything to the Academy of Community and Technology Charter High School since 2012. Perhaps charter school’s performance has something to do with their withdrawal of support, as one web site that rates schools by their test scores graded it as an “F” performing school, writing: “The overall school rating shows that Academy of Communications & Technology Charter High School performed on average much worse than most other schools across the state on ISAT and PSAE state exams” in Math, Reading, and Science. However, the Rauner Foundation continues to support the Charter International Charter School despite its “D” grade on the same web site. Perhaps their days are numbered.

Finally, the Rauner Foundation supports Education Reform Now, run by 4 hedge fund managers and a charter school devotee. An investigative piece on the group from 2013 discovered its connections to various conservative causes: “Education Reform Now, whose PAC, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), shelled out $1 million to attack the Chicago Teachers Union.” Further, “DFER worked with the Koch brothers and ALEC to push Proposition 32, which if passed, would have blocked labor unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes.”

So there is Bruce Rauner’s “vision” for Illinois education reflected in his Foundation’s contributions to groups that villify unions, worship at the altar of standardized testing, and embrace the corporate dream of a privatized system in which only the deserving receive a real education. While I think we should express our displeasure to Rauner, I believe that we must pressure the vulnerable members of the Republican party to break the deadlock that exists in Springfield. It is my view that the only way this stalemate will end is through legal action (injunctions and court orders to fund higher education and social services), or when enough Republicans join with Democrats to create a real veto-proof majority. The damage being done to the state is enormous and someone needs to start governing.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Another Thing We Now Know

So as previously reported here, the Board of Trustees declared financial exigency on Thursday. On the list of the worst things that can happen to a university, I rank financial exigency declarations at number 2 just behind, permanently closing the institution. It can be regarded as an indication of significant failure on the part of university’s president and governing body. The assumption is that the chief executive and the body with fiduciary responsibility for the institution were incapable of or derelict in performing their duties. The current situation presents a bit of twist. The current president has been operating in his capacity for 37 days and could hardly be held responsible for creating the conditions of the exigency. However, his predecessor is clearly culpable in his numerous documented failings, most glaringly his inability to raise substantial sums of money or create new or maintain current revenue streams. The full cost of the past presidency is to be computed at a later time. Suffice it to say, loyal readers of this humble blog will be familiar with the story of the university since March 2009. The Board minus two members is fully responsible as they had the opportunity in February 2013 to change the trajectory of the university. Instead of putting the institution first, they doubled down on failure and three years later CSU finds itself with the most capable president it has had in decades who now has his hands tied by external forces beyond his control exacerbated by internal forces who were obviously complicit in reaching this point.

I will speak to one of the external forces. Long time readers might recall a lengthy post from January 23rd, where I posited that it would be logistically impossible to close the university by March 1st or May 15th for that matter without it costing more than the appropriation voted on by the Illinois legislature that was vetoed by the Governor. That appropriation included a 6% budget cut which the university likely could have weathered without necessity of a financial exigency declaration. In that post I indicated that I didn’t know, but was concerned about the accreditation implications of this budget impasse. The question underlying the concern was answered definitively by the letter from the Higher Learning Commission posted below.

First a reminder about CSU and accreditation. Chicago State University is a fully accredited institution having received a ten year accreditation after the HLC visit in November 2012. CSU was NEVER at risk of losing its accreditation contrary to incorrect statements made by the former president reported in the press. With that said the HLC’s letter is very troubling as it affects all Illinois public institutions. This communication is not just about Chicago State. Though the University of Illinois has more of a cushion it can’t survive indefinitely without state appropriations. The HLC is very clear about the consequences of this continued deprivation of state funds. It has requested that all public universities submit a plan “that if they believe they will have to suspend operations or close in the next several months” what will they do to insure their students’ educational continuity.

The three options presented by HLC are reasonable.

"HLC’s analysis of that plan about the college or university’s viability in the weeks ahead could result in 1) a review of the college or university’s compliance with HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation, 2) a sanction – in which the college or university would have two years or fewer to demonstrate corrective action, or 3) withdrawal of accreditation."

I believe the President will submit a plan that results in Door #1 being opened. Doors #2 & 3 would only further damage the institution’s reputation at a time when it is poised to emerge from the wreckage of the past administration. The best thing at this point is for the President to be given the widest possible latitude with no interference from the Board that helped put the university in this situation in the first place. Ostensibly, the Board would always act in the best interest of the university. I believe its best interest now is to let the President do his job and salvage whatever is recoverable from the mess created by his predecessor.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Our Graduation Statistics Redux: The Antidote for Rauner's Lies

Are you as tired as I am of intellectually lazy, ignorant, and mendacious Neanderthals (like the Governor of Illinois and his aide) bloviating about a “graduation rate” that fails to include 93 percent of our students? Here is some data we can use to mitigate that bullshit. All this information comes from the IBHE data base.

For our school, the most important piece of information on that site is that Chicago State in every single year between fiscal 1996 and 2014 (every year available on the IBHE site) graduated more Black students than any other four-year institution, public and private NFP (not-for-profit), in the state of Illinois. Think about that. The smallest school in the Illinois system, the school that our critics claim never graduates anyone awards more degrees to Black students than the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or UIC. More degrees to Black students than DePaul, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, Northern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Northeastern Illinois, Southern Illinois-Carbondale and –Edwardsville, UI Springfield, Illinois State, and Governors State.

Here is what the money we “throw down the toilet” produces:

• Every single year since 1996, Chicago State led all other four-year institutions in Illinois in awarding degrees to Black students. That includes the 12 public universities in Illinois plus DePaul, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago
• In 2014, Chicago State University’s enrollment represented 2.8 percent of the enrollment in all Illinois public universities
• Between fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2014 , Chicago State awarded 20,318 degrees (Baccalaureate and advanced)
• During the same time period, Black students at Chicago State earned 15,987 degrees, by far the most of any four-year institution in Illinois
• The degrees awarded to Black students represent 19.5 percent of the total degrees earned by Black students between 1996-2014
• In second place for degrees awarded to Black students is Southern Illinois-Carbondale, with 12,210. Third is Urbana-Champaign with 9320

I would be delighted to discuss this with Rauner and his aide or anyone else who wishes to make the claim that Chicago State graduates no one. I challenge our critics to incorporate this information into their critiques of this university. I suppose they believe that the 20,318 graduates of this school simply did not deserve an education.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Board of Trustees declared CSU financially exigent today

Very sad day at the Board meeting. See the link to the story in the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago State University declares financial crisis due to state budget mess
Jodi S. CohenContact Reporter
Chicago Tribune

Chicago State University declared a financial crisis Thursday, laying the groundwork for a plan that could include major cuts at the South Side public institution.

By claiming financial exigency, the university also is sending a message to Springfield, where a budget impasse since July has meant colleges have gone without state funding for seven months. Chicago State officials had previously said there would not be enough money to pay employees come March, but new President Thomas Calhoun Jr. on Thursday declined to lay out a "doomsday" scenario.

With a notably quiet and somber crowd watching, trustees unanimously approved a motion to declare the school in "a universitywide state of financial exigency," the term used in academia to declare a financial emergency.

Under that definition, a university generally has an easier time bypassing contracts to lay off employees, including tenured professors. The American Association of University Professors defines financial exigency as an "imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole," and one that "cannot be alleviated by less drastic means" than firing faculty.

The board also named a committee of administrators who will "decide all employment actions, including layoffs, reductions in compensation, terminations and significant position modifications."

Officials are looking at other ways to cut expenses, such as closing a building or consolidating classroom spaces to save on utility costs.

The university, with about 4,500 students, plans to find a way to finish the semester. Many faculty and students wore "CSU" pins and wore green — the school color — to show their support of the school.

"We will, as the president said, come through this semester together," said Trustee Nikki Zollar. "We will stand as one body, we will have graduates, we will be CSU as we always have been. We will stand strong and we do love each of you."

About 30 percent of the university's funding — approximately $36 million a year — comes from the state.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Board of Trustees Meeting Tomorrow-- what will they do? what will you do?

At the Faculty Senate/UPI meeting yesterday representatives from our UPI chapter leadership urged ALL UPI members to show up at the Board of Trustees meeting tomorrow. Show that Board that you are concerned about what they are doing to get Chicago State University through the close-down crisis.

This is a special session of the Board to deal with the university's financial crisis. They begin at 8.30 am but there is no telling whether they will go into executive session and if they do, when they will come out of it. If there is anything to vote on they must do it publicly. After that there will be some public comment. As the UPI stressed, it is important to show up. It is important to impress on them that you care about what they do. Even if you can only come for an hour or so. Do it. Faculty who are teaching tomorrow have been encouraged to bring their classes--make this a teaching moment for them.

We in higher education are part of a state-wide crisis. CSU is not alone, but we have one month to make ourselves visible at protests, phone calling, letter writing, rallies, etc. etc.  Governor Rauner is intent on bringing education to its knees. He wants to bring down unions as well. Our board of trustees are one of the links we have with the state authorities. They are appointed by the governor. They need to see you.

Show up tomorrow.
Wear a UPI green t-shirt if you can.

As others have said, if you don't have time now  to join in these actions, you will have plenty of time after March 1st.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Cost of Rauner's Folly: How Much Will the SURS System Pay in Retirement Refunds?

In our earlier discussions about the problems closure of this or other universities would cause, the refund of pensions and retirement contributions has been absent. In an attempt to roughly calculate the amount of money the SURS system would have to pay out I looked at five universities: ours, Eastern Illinois, Governors State, Northeastern Illinois, and Western Illinois. These are the five smallest schools in the Illinois state system, have the fewest employee complements, and pay the lowest salaries.

For persons who do not know how our retirement system works, a brief description might be useful. We pay 8 percent of our total compensation into the Illinois State Universities Retirement System (SURS). The state contributes nothing. As we go from year-to-year, the only funds in our retirement accounts are our contributions and their accrued interest. To be eligible for a retirement pension, a SURS member must: have reached the age of 62 with 5 years of service; reached the age of 60 with 8 years of service; or worked for 30 years. In the event a member leaves her/his employment prior to retirement eligibility, the entire contributions plus a majority of the accrued interest must be refunded to the former employee in a lump-sum payment. After all, it's our money.

Obviously, the vast majority of employees in these five institutions are not eligible to retire. Therefore, I devised a rough formula to calculate the projected retirement payout in the event that these schools cease operations. My estimate is that SURS would pay at least $300 million in cash payouts for persons leaving the system as a result of school closings. For Chicago State alone, I estimate the cost to SURS to be around $30 million (I think both these figures are conservative). Certainly, some CSU members would be able to retire, albeit before a time of their choosing, but the price tag for these retirement refunds would be enormous. According to the financial audit, SURS pays around $110 million per year system-wide for refunds. Add the larger schools to the mix, and the price tag increases to over $1 billion.

The cost of retirement refunds would have to be added to the unknown costs mentioned in previous posts. Altogether, tuition refunds, financial aid paybacks and ancillary costs associated with the school’s closing would likely approach $50 million. It seems cheaper to simply fund us, no?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Are We a Correctional or an Educational Institution?: A Discussion of Our Horrific Advising Practices

Assuming that the university will continue to operate for the remainder of the school year and into the future, we will have a number of practices left over from the past administration to clean up or eliminate entirely if we are to recover from the precipitous enrollment declines of the past six years.

In my estimation, our recently mandated advising procedures stand right at the top of that list. They are not only a failure, they are a complete disaster. Frankly, as poorly conceived as these practices are, it is a wonder any students continue their studies at Chicago State University. I have already discussed this issue in earlier posts, but I spoke recently with someone (a former CSU employee) who has first-hand and very recent knowledge of what goes on in the Advising Center. Here is the story:

With recent staff departures, the number of advisors working in the Advising Center has been reduced to 6 persons. According to administrative fiat, these persons are supposed to do all the undergraduate academic advising at Chicago State (with the exception of First Year Students). One year earlier, the workload now handled by these 6 people was spread among 40 faculty and staff (excluding administrators) doing undergraduate advising in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Health Sciences. Needless to say, the phenomenal reduction in staff has created a number of operational problems (as a caveat, many faculty continue to do advising in spite of the administrative fiats).

Students endure long wait times, up to 5 hours in some cases. Often, advisors are called upon to advise students in programs with which they are unfamiliar. The former employee described the university catalog as the only real source of information available to the poor persons charged with advising our students. When someone becomes an advisor, the training period is negligible, s/he is basically thrown into the water to see if they can swim. The advisors are unable to give students hard copies of their programs or other information because the equipment is broken down. Often students are advised out in open areas, a clear violation of FERPA. The advisors often work long shifts, far in excess of their assigned 7.5 hours and are not compensated with overtime pay. The advising staff is demoralized with predictable results like high absenteeism, putting further strain on other employees.

The consequences for our enrollment should be apparent. How many students have experienced this fiasco and decided to look elsewhere? How many students have been discouraged by the process and just dropped out for a semester? Why on earth are we putting students through this? When the advising staff bring their concerns about the process and its effect on our students up to administrators they are told that “we’re not going back to the old system.” This rigid administrative belief that somehow by force of will these 6 persons can turn this debacle into a functioning system represents a textbook definition of insanity.

Many years ago, when I began my law enforcement career, I worked the 4-12 shift in the intake area of the Alameda County Jail. During the shift, buses arrived constantly from the various Municipal and Superior Courts in the county. Those buses contained both prisoners returning from their court appearances and newly remanded prisoners who had to be processed or “booked,” a procedure that involved placing them into a large holding area, then calling them individually into an area where we typed up a booking sheet, took a photograph, and rolled three fingerprint cards. It was not unusual for 1 or 2 Deputies to process up to 75 new remands in an 8-hour shift. It was not atypical for people remanded to wait for several hours to be processed. Because of the pace of the work, it was highly unusual for me to be able to sleep until around 4am.

Why am I talking about this? Because when I go up to the Advising Center during peak business hours, I am viscerally reminded of the old booking office. Substitute a huge holding cell for the chairs on the fourth floor, long waits to be “processed,” and a separate processing area for the fourth floor offices used by our advising staff and voila! You have the Alameda County Jail of 1971 instead of Chicago State University. Substitute harried and overworked Deputies trying to wade through dozens of tired, hungry people who simply wanted to get a bunk and something to eat for the advising staff trying to provide service to dozens of tired, hungry people waiting to sign up for classes, and again I am reminded of a four-decades old custodial experience.

I am appalled by the way we exploit our advising staff and mistreat our students. Let’s stop treating our advisors and students as if they were staff and prisoners at the local county jail or state prison. Let’s act like we’re running a state university instead of the Stateville Correctional Center or San Quentin State Prison. I realize that these comparisons should not be overdrawn, but I urge everyone to visit the Advising Center and see for themselves the conditions under which our staff and students must function. For the sake of the school, our colleagues, and especially our students, why don’t we scrap this system and come up with something sensible, and dare I say, humane?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What's Our Real Graduation Rate?

As we all know, we get constantly beaten over the head with our poor "graduation rate." As we also all know, that rate is data collected only on students enrolling as full-time Freshmen in their first semester of university attendance. In this post, I will take a look at that group of students, our transfer students, and I'll compare our performance with another urban, public university serving a diverse student body of full- and part-time students: Metropolitan State University in Denver. The cohorts will be from 2005-06 through 2008-09.

First, during that four-year period, our full time Freshmen averaged 7.4 percent of our total undergraduate population. That means that 92.6 percent of our students will never be measured by this standard. In comparison, Metropolitan State reported a percentage of 8.6 percent of full time Freshmen. The graduation rates look like this:

For Chicago State: 20.4 percent of the full time Freshmen graduated within six years.
For Metropolitan State: 24.1 percent of their full time Freshmen graduated within six years.

For Chicago State: 43.9 percent of our transfer students (full- and part-time) graduated within six years.
For Metropolitan State: 39.7 percent of their transfer students (full- and part-time) graduated within six years.

For Chicago State: 33.0 percent of our Freshmen and transfer students graduated within six years.
For Metropolitan State: 32.9 percent of their Freshmen and transfer students graduated within six years.

This morning, there's another story on our former president's ethical problems in the Chicago Tribune. As usual, there a couple of knuckleheads making typical ignorant comments, including one person with the stupid comment about our graduation rate, as if it's all our students. Perhaps people might respond. All the figures I cited come from our 2015 fact book and from Metropolitan State's web site, link here:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Notes from Today's Meeting With President Calhoun

In an eloquent and sober presentation today before an estimated 400 faculty and staff (standing room) in the Breakey Theater, Dr. Calhoun provided his assessment of the current financial state of our university and discussed possible responses to the financial crisis. This is a brief synopsis of his remarks.

First, he told everyone that the university would not be out of money on March 1, although he could not give an exact date when that might occur. Thus, we will not be going out of business at the beginning of that month. Second, he called on everyone in the Chicago State community to participate in efforts to draw public attention to our situation. Third, he assured everyone that we would complete the current semester, award degrees and function as a university. Fourth, in keeping with his commitment to honor our obligations to our students and staff, Dr. Calhoun said he would "protect the instructional side of the university," and insure the safety and security of the campus. Those endeavors would receive priority.

Dr. Calhoun outlined several possible responses to the crisis, none particularly appealing: they mainly included staff reductions, reduced pay, volunteerism, and reduced or no pay for some work duties that had heretofore been compensated. Needless to say, given the uncertainty surrounding the continuing budget impasse, he was unable to offer an exact course of action in response. Dr. Calhoun also made clear his belief that the state had a responsibility to fund the university and insure that our students continued to receive a quality education. He assured everyone that Chicago State had a bright future and that he was anxious to reveal his vision for the university's renaissance.

As I am not completely sure of the accuracy of my notes, anyone with corrective information, please let me know. Although our situation is dire, I think it fair to say that the attendees left the meeting with at least cautious optimism, an improvement over the despair recent events have brought to the campus. Kudos to Dr. Calhoun for his candor.