Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In the news again?

So how many more hits can the university withstand? To wit, an editorial in the paper of record, a story on the NPR affiliate in Chicago, and a story on the local ABC affiliate all mentioning the university’s connection to an emerging scandal with the former director of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). A local television station ran a story on October 17th  that was curious in this regard. The written version of the story, some eleven paragraphs long, mentions the former DCFS Director, his close friend and subject of the Executive Inspector General’s investigation and Chicago State University. There are clearly other  agencies involved so I find it very curious that a mention of Chicago State University would be so randomly added at the end of the story. Given that it is alleged that $18 million was misspent what amount was misspent through the university? If it were $180,000, then why would a 1% participation in the alleged fraud warrant a mention in the article? It seems as if the mention of the university isn’t directed at the university but at some agent of the institution. The ABC 7 story states “There are several officials at Chicago State University also implicated in the scandal.” So is the university being portrayed accurately or is it an employee at the university and if so how high ranking an employee. As it turns out the amount of money involved is at least $1million, possibly more. During the Board of Trustees meeting in December 2008, the Board voted unanimously to accept a federal and state funded grant given to the university from the City of Chicago. Little would the Trustees know that their actions would drag the university squarely into the middle of another political scandal. As it turns out, the current CEO hired a new Interim Vice President for Grants and Research Administration, what was previously known as the Office of Sponsored Programs. The newly hired administrator had neither experience at universities or experience in Sponsored Programs, possibly setting her up for what was to come later. When a “Chicago Department of Family & Support Services Head Start Support Services Contracts Non-Federal Share (In-Kind) Cost Report” was due, the Interim Vice President admitted that she signed a document without having the documentation required by the “Agency Certification for Non-Federal Share Expenses.” This essentially defrauded the state and placed the university in a precarious position relative to perceptions of the institution’s ability to perform appropriate oversight for taxpayer provided grants.  The Office of the Executive Inspector General recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Dr Harris for her failure to conduct appropriate oversight. The university responded in a letter dated August 1st, 2011 that Dr Harris “will receive a one day suspension.”
So it appears that it isn’t “several officials.” Rather it is one official placed in a position without requisite experience or knowledge by a president who though responsible for the university, has declined to publicly admit culpability in this matter. Of course one would hope that when the criminal and civil cases are launched all who are responsible will be held to account whether they wish to admit to it or not.
And on another note, is it really surprising that CSU is portrayed negatively and sometimes incorrectly when a member of its governing body lacks the sensibility to quietly resign from the Board of Trustees so as not to be a distraction or cause collateral damage resulting from an ongoing  federal investigation. Details of this story can be found here. Fortunately Governor Quinn recognized that and appointed three new Board of Trustees members on October 24th. Details of the new appointees can be found here.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Failing to lead

So it was quite a shock when I discovered that the university isn’t subject to just one audit per year. The State Universities Civil Service System (SUCSS) conducts a Biennial Institutional compliance Audit, the final report of which was issued August 16th, 2011. Imagine your humble narrator’s surprise to find that the university received 9 material findings. Taken in a vacuum, that number of findings is virtually meaningless, so I decided to inquire further, looking at the institution’s last SUCSS audit report, other state universities and other agencies under the audit supervision of the SUCSS. My non-scientific findings did lead me to some disturbing conclusions. 
First, the university is very consistent in its audit findings under the current administration. The most recent audit report from the State of Illinois Auditor General’s office showed a three fold increase in the number of audit findings (13 to 41) from FY 2009 to FY 2010. The SUCSS audit report shows a similar three fold increase in its audit findings, climbing from 3 in 2009 to 9 in 2011. Among the findings were, paying employees outside of the approved salary ranges, improperly maintaining the register and referring candidates and failing to follow regulatory guidelines in layoff transactions. These findings are all violations of the State Universities Civil Service Act.
Second, in the most recent audits of the state universities, only UIC received as many audit findings as CSU. This is surprising given that UIC has a budget of $1.95 billion, a total enrollment of 27,000 students, and nearly 11,000 Administrative, Professional and Support staff. The cost per budget dollar, per employee or per student is significantly less at UIC than at CSU. Illinois State University racked up 8 material findings, up 2 from its previous report. Western Illinois University and the University of Illinois Springfield tallied two material findings each while Eastern Illinois University only recorded one material finding.
Finally, I examined the audit reports for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the State University Retirement System and the State University Civil Service System. In each of their most recent reports, these three agencies received no material findings.
As these audit reports are conducted by different agencies I wondered how the university’s performance might be characterized based on these findings.  Is CSU three times worse off under the new regime than it was even under the previous interim president? If so, is the recent praise by members of the Board of Trustees for the performance of the president warranted? If, as is indicated in the presidential contract on page2 that there is an expectation of reducing audit findings as a measure of performance, a reasonable person could conclude that the president has failed in that regard. Of course, I would imagine hearing that it was the fault of the subordinates or the fault of the previous administration. Taking the latter argument first, how responsibility could be placed on a previous administration who on their watch had 13 and 3 audit findings turn into 41 and 9 findings on the current watch is quite an intellectual stretch. And taking the former assertion next, I would respond with the question of who placed those subordinates in positions of responsibility in the first place? 
Thus the buck stops with the university president. I still haven’t heard any admission of responsibility for the audit findings of either audit report. It isn’t reports that indicate failure. The lack of acknowledgment of responsibility is the leadership failure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not so random thoughts

So a few bits and bobs have tumbled around in my head during the past few days and I thought I'd share them with you loyal readers.
* I have been thinking about the memo sent out from the administration about the university’s termination policy. It was an interesting memo. Because it didn’t apply to faculty I viewed it as a disinterested third party. The portion of the memo that struck me was that some behaviors were so egregious that immediate termination was warranted. Since this was a termination policy memo, I assumed that meant ending the employment at the university permanently. The problem I had with the language of that section of the policy was that it completely disregarded the constitutional protections of the 5th and 14th Amendments of equal protection and due process. Because an administrator says an employee has done something warranting termination doesn’t make it so. Whatever egregious behavior is accused still must be proven in some sort of process.  Every state employee below a certain level has rights. The policy should have been corrected to provide for suspension pending a termination procedure but to leave the impression that an administrator or supervisor would be able to be judge, jury and executioner is inappropriate and legally incorrect.
* I was amazed by the number of university employees that are paid $90,000 per year or more. Thirty of those are faculty, while the other sixty are administrators. Save for the academic administrators, which the regime is working vigorously to reduce the numbers of, what exactly does a $150,000 Vice President for Enrollment Management do? I am curious what warrants a level of pay slightly below the chief academic officer of the university..
* The Board of Trustees finally had enough members show up to form a quorum to approve the FY 2012 budget. After a cancelled meeting on October 10th where only three trustees were in attendance for a Special Board meeting the Board met on October 13th. The lack of attendance for a meeting to conduct university business begs the question why the Governor hasn’t replaced the three board members whose terms have expired, who incidentally were three of the four who didn’t show up for the meeting. The Governor seems to have made good choices for the recent appointments as three of the four most recent appointees were in attendance.
* I invite the regime to put to rest the spreading rumors that the next chief academic officer of the university is to be the current Vice President for Enrollment Management. If the rumor is true it would be unfortunate to appoint a Provost with no terminal degree, no publication record, no experience as a university tenure track faculty member, and no experience as a university dean. It is likely to raise red flags with accrediting bodies, the IBHE, and other agencies. A simple acknowledgment that this appointment is only a rumor would put this issue to rest.
* It appears the City College Re-employment Program is in full swing. Is a recently retired employee from Kennedy-King on her way to CSU for a little of the Illinois double dip?
* It is good to see that as the university “right sizes”, the official residence is getting a new driveway. I would assume this would be necessary for all of the potential donors seeking to share their corporate largesse with the university. This sort of infrastructure investment is better used at the official residence rather than in repairing the campus parking lots. Technically, I would suspect that the money for this is in a different account than the money to repair parking lots. Or maybe it is simply a matter of priority setting.
* Given the top down, ill conceived restructuring that has been occurring under the regime, I suggest that faculty in each college form a College Structure Committee to address how academic units should be organized. In response to the question of whether faculty can do that, I consulted the Collective Bargaining Agreement and found no prohibition on the faculty in participating in shared governance. So faculty, take the lead from the Graduate Council committee that is reorganizing the Graduate School. The business of the academic life should be the first priority of the professoriate. Consequently, being more proactive could lead to a more productive work environment. Leaving it to the professional juco administrators is likely to lead to reduced productivity.
* And on a final note, it’s that time of year. Yep, it’s Ethics Training time again. Thankfully, faculty can make their annual digital sojourn to remind them to be ethical for another 12 months. Given all of the opportunities the faculty has to be unethical and steal from the public treasury, an annual reminder to resist giving in to the lesser angles of our nature is probably a good thing.  Don’t forget to do your Ethics Training.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

College Reorganizing Rationales

So I find myself disappointed, either for not understanding some greater administrative wisdom at play or at some of my colleagues for their unquestioning acquiescence to continued missteps by the regime.  During a College of Arts & Sciences meeting, the interim dean relayed the corporate double speak from the regime about increased efficiencies, improved communications and reduced unit size as being the rationales for reorganizing the College into what clearly resembles a junior college. I was dubious as this was explained because some fundamental questions had not been answered.
First, what problem was the solution of re-organizing into a juco solving? If the answers were size, efficiency and communications, where was the data to support those conclusions? The organization chart of the College could have been reconfigured with only minor adjustments providing an Assistant or Associate Dean for each of the three areas, Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences. Each of those Assistant or Associate Deans could be faculty appointed part time to oversee those areas and free up the Dean to not have to supervise chairs from more than 15 departments.  Having part time administrators drawn from the faculty ranks who serve and then return to faculty raises the probability of the faculty not being captured by the mindset of administrative aggrandizement. A three year appointment should suffice in spreading the joy of administrative duties to those who would want to serve.
If size were a justification for reorganization what were the standards that were exceeded that warranted the disruption this reorganization created? Much larger universities than this one have not found a need to reorganize because of size. The University of Illinois at Chicago for example, have 22 departments and programs with 350 tenure track faculty who teach 9,300 undergraduate and 1,200 graduate students. As the largest college at that university, it appears that they haven’t been directed by their chancellor to disrupt the educational mission based on some unsubstantiated corporate speak. Since no data was presented and the rationales only in a cursory fashion I can only imagine it was spun from mid-air like many of the changes foisted upon the university by this regime. Ill-conceived and poorly thought out, this idea lacks any rigorous examination and unfortunately would not stand up to any intellectual scrutiny. Thus I am left with the belief this reorganizing has some other, unspoken more insidious agenda behind it.
Second, why is faculty being included in the discussion of how to manage an academic unit when the plan has already been implemented without them? This perfunctory inclusion is insulting and continues to demonstrate the contempt the regime holds toward faculty, regime apologists notwithstanding. Was the first reorganization based only upon the termination dates of chair contracts? An examination of chair contracts from the College of Arts & Sciences reveals a very interesting thing. The planning for this reorganization has been underway at the highest level since May 2010, as evidenced by appointment letters with language like “...During the coming year, we may revisit the organizational structure of various units, which may involve your unit.” So if the regime was planning reorganizing the academic units, why were faculty not substantively involved for 17 months? With the first, still unannounced/unacknowledged reorganization still causing confusion with students and faculty, I ask why is the regime reluctant to send out a written memo of its decision to ignore faculty (and the faculty contract) and reorganize the university’s largest college roughly a year before the university’s accreditation visit.
It is intellectually lazy to make statements like increasing efficiencies or improving communications without operationalizing what those corporate speak terms mean to highly skilled academicians. What efficiencies emerge when department chairs have more work to do and less help to do it? What efficiencies are realized when departmental offices are dispersed and students find it difficult to locate the appropriate office. What improved communications are generated when disciplinary compatibility are considered less important than operating the City College Re-employment Program.
If the interim Dean is to be taken at his word, then the plan for reorganizing will be left to the faculty. I doubt that since it is past behavior that is the best predictor of future conduct. In that case, the re-organization is already done. It just hasn’t been imposed on the faculty and students yet.

Friday, October 7, 2011

So, Who's Who at CSU? (And who will be the new Provost?)

A notice I saw recently in an office at CSU made reference to the "Conga Line of Retirements" that is taking place this year --many are administrators, faculty, staff, who are hoping to avoid the 8% loss of retirement benefits (or whatever it is that Gov. Quinn is planning) that will take effect in June 2012. Notable losses to expect: the Dean of the Honor's College, Dr. Milo, in December of this year, and our Provost, Dr Westbrooks, in June 2012. The Conga Line began more than a year ago--remember the firings of a lot of staff? Some folks have been harried out (remember Dr. Madhabuti?) or fired (remember Deans McCrank and Lindsey?), others have just said enough of the madness that is CSU and decided to quit/retire while the going is good (too many to list). Someone recently suggested I might like to follow suit--hmmmm...

At any rate the exodus of so many has made for a grand reshuffling of personnel including collapsing and reconfiguring offices, departments, colleges, the whole shootin' match. Wow, one year before our accreditation visit and we are just a hotbed of activity all over campus. But, as one colleague reminds me, "don't mistake activity for productivity." And as another would say, "the Admin just wants to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic." My more earnest colleagues chide such cynicism--yet they cannot seem to point to a grand scheme or master plan that would explain not just the need but the haste and urgency in which all this is being undertaken. But all things will be revealed in time, I suppose--what with the freedom of information act and all.

At any rate, you could be optimistic and say that it is always nice to see some new faces, get some new blood, fresh perspectives. Maybe. Has anyone wondered, however, who are all the new Cook Admin vice presidents, associate vps, interim associates, assistants that are popping up as soon as some new retirement or firing takes place?

If you look through an old copy of CSU's 2006-2008 Undergrad Student Catalogue you will find a directory in the back that lists Administrators, Associate and Assistant Deans, Chairpersons, Academic Programs Directors, and Faculty. It's quite a detailed listing. Each person is listed by name, title or rank, department to which they are associated, the date of their hiring, the titles and places of their final earned degrees. One thing about our former Prez Elnora Daniel was that she was a stickler for having people in academic administration at Chicago State University actually have earned Ph.D.s or at minimum an M.A. of some sort to hold office. Do you remember her emphasis on this? Faculty still have to have the terminal degree in their field to get tenure or promotion now, this is contractural. So what about the new administrators?

Well, it's not Elnora Daniel's campus anymore. The online catalogue which was supposed to be easier to maintain and keep up with changes is woefully out of date (all those mandated thesis requirements last year and program changes must have created quite a backlog of work). I understand the job has recently fallen into the lap of an individual newly reshuffled from another department so good luck to them with all that. BUT, if you check the online catalogue in comparison to the old printed catalogue the out of date listing of administrators does not include their academic credentials (or any credentials for that matter). Why is that? If it is an oversight then I hope the new website manager will rectify this and let us see who and where the new blood at CSU is coming from. Please tell me that Dr Watson is appointing people to these $90,000+ a year jobs under his prerogative who have more than a bachelor's degree.

And interim or not who will be next in line to the provost's job? This is the chief academic officer at a "doctoral-granting" university, one assumes this will be a properly credentialed person ("Ph.D. in hand" as the job ads in academe usually state). Since we know that Dr Westbrooks is leaving, when is the call going out to establish a university-wide provost search committee--hopefully not in April so that it has to run over the summer when the 9-month contractees (i.e. faculty) are not around? In 2003 we got dinged by the HLC accreditation report for shenanigans on that provost search and we will get dinged this accreditation for the shenanigans regarding the prez search of 2009. How many dings can we sustain?

Does anyone see the iceberg on the horizon?