As we begin a new school year, I will again make an appeal to those faculty who have remained quiescent during the past year. I can only say that the longer you remain quiet, the more dire the university’s situation becomes. I have seen the working enrollment statistics for the upcoming semester and they are alarming. The school seems to be in a downward spiral for which our current administration has no solution. I again call for the firing of Wayne Watson and some of his senior administrators, particularly those administrators who have spent the past two-plus years in Enrollment Management. I will detail the reasons for my continued belief that these changes are the first step in bringing the school back from the edge of the abyss.
On March 14, 2013, Hermene Hartman, one of Watson’s most vocal cheerleaders wrote:
“A small group of faculty members gave Watson a vote of no confidence. He has invaded their workspace with responsibility and accountability . . .” Notably, neither the Hartman article nor any of the effusive praise periodically heaped on Watson by his fawning supporters ever mentions his “responsibility and accountability.” In fact, over the course of his entire upper administrative career, Watson has taken credit for accomplishments while blaming failures on someone else. What follows is an examination of his performance at Chicago State that assigns him both credit for the university’s accomplishments and blame for its failures. Since we now have nearly four full years of data, it seems an appropriate time for this kind of assessment.
In addition, we have a benchmark for presidential performance at Chicago State: Elnora Daniel. Since the Watson administration has consistently used the Daniel administration as a yardstick to measure bad performance, and since a considerable amount of data exists that enables comparisons between the Daniel and Watson administrations, I will use the Daniel administration as both a point of departure and a model of administrative incompetence and ultimate failure.
A note on the methodology: For enrollment data, I have not included the president’s first year since that enrollment should be properly attributed to the previous administration. For example, Elnora Daniel served as president from the 1998-99 school year through 2007-08. Enrollment data for her tenure come from 1999-2000 through 2008-09 figures (fall enrollments only). For Wayne Watson, although he has been here since 2009-10 (beginning ostensibly in October), his enrollment data are from 2010-11 through 2012-13. The 2009-10 enrollment figures are attributable to Interim President Frank Pogue.
Similarly, for audit findings, Daniel is responsible for audits beginning with the 2000 audit report (which covers the fiscal year 1998-99) and ending with the 2009 audit report (for fiscal 2007-08). Wayne Watson is responsible for audits from 2011 through 2013. The 2010 audit findings are attributed to Frank Pogue.
Statewide, Chicago State has been the poorest performing school in terms of enrollment between 1999-2012. While overall enrollment at Illinois’ public institutions has increased by 1.5 percent (from 187,730 in 1999 to 190,594 in 2012), Chicago State’s enrollment has dropped 19.4 percent (from 7580 to 6107). No other school is even close, with Eastern Illinois’ 7.2 percent decline being the second-worst performance. Notably, Northeastern Illinois has seen its enrollment increase by 2 percent during the same time period. Audit findings reveal Chicago State to be in a similarly negative position. While the reports on the Auditor General’s website are not complete, between 2004 and 2012, the public university system generated 733 audit findings. The University of Illinois system (36 percent of the university population) led with 208 (28 percent) audit exceptions, with Chicago State, (3.6 percent of the university population) generating 183 audit findings (25 percent). Eastern Illinois finished third with 74. Historically, since Chicago State is the worst-performing school of all Illinois public universities in terms of enrollment and since it is second in audit findings to a system with 13 times its population, it seems fair to characterize the performance of its administration as poor.
Here are the figures for Elnora Daniel: During her ten-year tenure as Chicago State President, the average enrollment was 7040 per year, with a high of 7580 in 1999 and a low of 6810 in 2007. During her time as president, the school’s enrollment decreased by 10 percent, from 7580 to 6820. Her audit performance amounted to a total of 107 in ten years for an average of 10.7 per year. Her last three years were particularly bad with a total of 49 audit exceptions, or 16.3 per year. Nevertheless, in six of Daniel’s ten years, her administration generated fewer than 10 audit findings. In addition, during Daniel’s tenure (2003), the university received 10-year accreditation from HLC as well as recognition from the NCATE accrediting body. Thus, even the “bad” administration of president Elnora Daniel had its moments.
So, Daniel’s ineptitude set the standard for poor performing administrations at Chicago State. How does Wayne Watson’s administration compare?
One of the things the Watson acolytes do continuously is create myths surrounding the competence of their hero. One of these myths is that Watson “saved” Chicago State’s accreditation. In fact, the 2010 focused visit by the HLC dealt with specific administrative issues centered on administrative oversight of enrollment and communication problems between the administration and university staff. The Watson administration deserves credit for satisfying the concerns of the HLC, although subsequent events have demonstrated that enrollment issues have hardly been solved and effective communication is still a goal (maybe?) not a reality. The Watson administration also deserves credit for its efforts to raise the graduation rates of full-time, first-time Freshman to over 20 percent (although the retention rate dropped from 53 percent to 48 percent). However, this does not suggest that Watson “saved” the university. Since Chicago State received accreditation under a “bad” administration in 2003, it seemed likely that the school would have received accreditation in 2013 with anyone as president. In fact, I would argue that administrative efforts to ensure our continuing accreditation is the least we should expect.
So, if Watson claims the credit for two accomplishments that are primarily the result of the efforts of faculty and staff, he must accept the blame for the administrative failures that have brought the university to our current critical juncture.
The performance of the Watson administration in the areas of enrollment and financial and compliance accountability have been woeful, far worse than the incompetence exhibited by his predecessor. Chicago State’s enrollment has dropped by 17 percent since 2010, by far the worst performance of any Illinois public university. During this same period, overall enrollment in Illinois public universities has decreased 4.4 percent. It looks like another dramatic decrease will occur this fall.
Audit findings during the Watson administration have skyrocketed. In fairness, his administration has reduced them from 41 in 2011 to 29 last year, but the school continues to be just behind the University of Illinois in the number of audit exceptions. The Watson administration is responsible for 104 of Chicago State’s 183 audit findings (56.8 percent) since 2004. Since Watson became president, Chicago State, with less than 3.5 percent of the Illinois public university system’s students has generated 29.3 percent of its audit findings.
Watson’s response to the enrollment problems has been to promote one of the architects of the disaster that has become Enrollment Management to the top academic post in the university, while retaining at least one other demonstrably incompetent senior administrator in a key position in that office. Ignoring the new Provost’s absolute lack of academic production, her inability to meet the standards for full professor (or likely even tenure), Watson rewarded her for years of loyalty, and thumbed his nose at the faculty in the process, by promoting her to her current level of ineptitude. Even in a bureaucratic system, the performance of these two administrators should result in their termination, not in promotion and/or retention.
The party line on the audit findings seems to be tiresome rhetoric citing extenuating circumstances or the tried-and-true “we aren’t responsible.” After four years, neither seem a particularly useful response to the problems.
Some final comments and questions here. In March, Watson was able to hide behind his political benefactors and benefited from the stupidity and cowardice of a Governor who has demonstrated on at least two occasions that the needs of the political and chattering classes outweigh the needs of the students and staff at this university. How long can he be protected by these people? How long before the realization that Watson is running this school into the ground (as he did with the City Colleges) spurs someone to take notice of what is going on here? To act? Finally, do the faculty here care? At what point do people get alarmed? Does the enrollment have to reach 4,000? 3,000?
The numbers I have cited here are all available on the CSU website here: http://www.csu.edu/IER/universityprofile.htm, on the IBHE website, or from the Auditor General’s website.