"If you understand the power structure, you understand the outcome."
This was something I learned last year from a sociologist in the midst of the contentiousness that was our search for a university president. This sham process made many of us heartsick as academics, ignored as we were by that rump of four Trustees, and then angry as we saw how political machinations were allowed to kick in and manipulate a situation that only the politicians of the state could stop. They, as we know, took a pass on that and focussed on the University of Illinois.
From the time I arrived here fourteen years ago, I have been told two things: that >"Chicago State has lots of potential" and then paradoxically, "what can you expect, it's just Chicago State, it will always be this way... Not being from Chicago, or Illinois for that matter, I had no real clue what that latter statement meant, let alone why people acquiesced to it so easily.
I was thinking about the power structure at CSU in light of a very good discussion about shared governance on campus this week sponsored by the Faculty Senate. This was probably one of the most informative meetings we've had. Kudos to Devi Potluri for bringing to campus Professor K. Anderson from the American Association of University Presidents and Dr. E. Lowe, Special Advisor to the President of Northwestern University. Dr. Watson, and others, from the faculty, civil service, and students, also made comments.
I think it is time to recognize the pink elephant in the room that we pussyfoot around all the time: political patronage. Any chance for there to be some kind of change in culture on campus (not, as Dr Watson thinks it is by making the likes of Haki Madhubutu teach four courses), or any chance of achieving real university governance (shared or not) has to confront that thing that many of us know about CSU, but few speak out loud. At a university, in a university system that is dominated by politicians, how do we negotiate and govern and keep in place all our constituencies? Who really governs CSU?
James Warren, in the New York Times, this year said it in black and white: "Chicago State is a patronage dumping ground..." ("Making Touch Choices for Higher Education", New York Times, March 7, 2010).
Mary Mitchell said it out loud this week in her Sun Times article, 'Chicago way' at play in turmoil at CSU
Publisher backing president got $19,000 contract from him
She writes of Hermene Hartman's "contract" with Chicago State as hypocritical in light of her defense of Watson's actions toward Madhubuti.
"Having hit Watson up for a $19,000 no-bid contract, Hartman still had the nerve to tell readers that "it's hard to protest Watson's demand for a full-time workload at Chicago State."
The price of dissent
..."Will Chicago State University become a battleground between the black empowerment movement and Chicago-style patronage politics?" Lucas asked.
Today, conscience has been trumped by connections. Today, it is all about what's in it for me, not what's in it for us.
In this kind of showdown, Chicago-style patronage politics wins every time.
The poor economy certainly gives Watson a cover.
But as long as contracts are being doled out like patronage -- and no one says a word about it -- I suspect more people of Madhubuti's ilk will be quietly ousted.
Contrary to Hartman's dismissal, this is not a "pity party."
This is a call to action.
Unless the power structure at CSU changes, unless we at least acknowledge the political patronage, how can we really think any of our outcomes, any of our initiatives, any of that great potential that we all see every day, will do anything but lead us back to extreme mediocrity characterized by that statement, "what do you expect, it's just Chicago State"?