Friday, February 14, 2014
"Are the problems just about nepotism and cronyism?"
A CSU faculty colleague asked that this be posted with her name removed. So, here it is in its unedited form pointing to some of the multiple harms to our university caused by nepotism, cronyism and incompetence.
A friend not affiliated in any way with CSU, knowing I am faculty there, asked me "Are the problems just about nepotism and cronyism"? Our problems are more than that.
1. Bloated administrative staffs and salaries that got even bigger in the past 4 years. Although CSU is a commuter school and most of our students are transfers from community colleges, we have a "dean of the freshman experience," a "dean of the honors college" (which has only a handful of students), a "student activities director," and our president is seeking to increase the athletics budget. These positions (not to mention their assistant deans, assistants to the assistants etc) eat up a huge portion of our budget. The administration obviously wants us to be a traditional residential university--a Grinnell College in rural Iowa--rather than what we really are. This is a delusion.
2. Now the administration is cutting budgets on the academic side, which is leading to a spiraling downward in enrollments. Students can't get into the courses they need. They simply go somewhere else or drop out altogether. Meanwhile the giant administrative staffs are untouched. The "student activities director" collects her salary (I heard it was about $75K) and only a handful of students attend her events. The marketing director has a staff of eight. If you have walked into some of these offices and gotten the stares from the staff members standing around gossiping --"what do YOU want?"-- you will know what an unhealthy culture has developed in these administrative fiefdoms.
3. If we faculty were to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that part of the problem is poor teaching. We have a few professors who:
- Administer multiple choice and true-false tests that are rigged so students can pass them without really learning anything.
- Never bother to learn their students' names. Treat students with contempt and disrespect.
- Don't bother to stay current in their fields. Use Power Points that are half a decade old or are downloaded from the "instructors materials" from the textbook publisher (I've been guilty of this myself).
4. Worst of all, the administration doesn't seem to give a damn whether teaching is any good or not. Sometimes poor teachers are rewarded with administrative positions where they are supposed to "evaluate" the rest of us. The faculty get evaluated to death, but it is mostly bean counting. And now that there is so much antagonism between faculty and administration, the lousy teachers aren't going to listen to the administration anyway. President Watson was reported to have criticized the faculty before he arrived on campus, but it was about how lazy we are and how we don't teach enough classes. He hasn't been in front of a classroom in years and has never to my knowledge taught a course at CSU, which I find unconscionable.
Many of our problems are similar to those facing higher education as a whole, especially in our sector, which educates first generation college students. These students are being lured away by the for-profit online schools that promise an easy degree without leaving the comfort of your home. An analyst from the state higher education board came to campus last year. He said that by 2020 more than 25% of college enrollment would be in for-profit online schools. He gave a detailed analysis of what brick and mortar schools like us need to do to stay competitive. Who was at the talk? Not one member of the current senior administration (only Sandra Westbrooks whom Dr. Watson forced into retirement). I think the administration prides itself on being "business savvy" and engaging in "strategic planning" but they are not really interested in facts.
I think wonderful things are going on at Chicago State University and I am inspired every day by our faculty and students. Many of the administrators (not in Watson's inner circle) are hard working, committed people. It's the jewel of the South Side. We need to fight to get over this crisis. For that we need a diverse coalition of faculty, students--and alumni--to force changes to be made.