Are the meetings of the Chicago State Board of Trustees simply theater? Are they nothing more than a stage for Wayne Watson and his clown show? The December meeting offered more of the same fare we have become accustomed to seeing at these farces. Watson and his administrators served up heaping platters of bullshit for the Board members to happily consume. Inadvertently, however, in an exchange with Chicago State administrators over our persistent enrollment problems, Board Chairman Anthony Young offered a compelling reason to rid the institution of this administrative plague.
Although the administration often paints a rosy picture of our enrollment declines—describing them as “right-sizing” or claiming that increased numbers of “applications” or “admissions” will somehow translate into increased numbers of students—they are clearly concerned. Around one hour into the second segment of the December 12 meeting recording, this exchange begins. First, Latrice Eggleston reports to the board on the administration’s urgent efforts to prevent another enrollment drop:
Eggleston: “We’re really pushing to increase our enrollment. Um, we’re pushing to make sure that our enrollment is, we’re currently for the fall semester at fifty, 5211 students, we’re hoping to reach that enrollment in the spring, or higher. Um, so that is the goal for Enrollment Management and we’re pushing to make sure we can reach those, um, numbers in the spring.”
Then at 1:02:35, Anthony Young prefaces a question with a somewhat unflattering assessment of Watson’s performance—if anyone cares about university enrollment that is:
“I guess my question is, I know enrollment has gone down every year since I’ve been on this board and I think every year since this administration has been in place (not true, enrollment increased by 127 in Watson’s first year). Do you have an idea of when enrollment will stop declining?”
Eggleston: “So there are several factors of why enrollment has continued to decrease that are both external and internal to the university, some of the external factors are based on . . .”
Young: “I don’t mean to cut you off now.”
Eggleston: “I’m sorry.”
Young: “we’ve heard the reasons why enrollment declined, I’m not asking you why it’s gone down.”
At 1:03:24, Young asks a fairly important follow-up question:
“. . . Can you see a date when enrollment stops declining? And how far away is that?”
This time, Cheri Sidney responds with vague and meaningless verbiage:
“I would say yes, we do see that day, and I think it’s not just one answer, it’s a dimensional answer.” Because there are processes and efficiencies that we are putting into place now. I there are, we’re enhancing our communication plans, we’re reaching out to students a lot sooner, a lot earlier now, and we’re also doing a collaborative approach to that . . . I strongly believe that our enrollment numbers will start to go up.”
At 1:07:06, Young pointedly asks:
“Do you expect the spring enrollment for this year to be equal to the spring enrollment from last year?”
Sidney responds really in the only way she can, with platitudes and a laundry list of initiatives that may or may not work, after all, she is not clairvoyant:
Sidney: “We are trying, um, we are putting all of our efforts into it. There are factors that we, that we can’t control, but everything that we can control, we are insuring that we have financial resources available as much as much as we can to help our students. So we are using inventive ways to help our students (list of various efforts here) . . . We are looking at everything at our disposal to insure that those numbers are met.”
Finally, at 1:15:41, Wayne Watson rides to the rescue, bloviating in his customary tiresome, repetitive and pedantic way. Honestly, anytime he speaks, it reminds me of what William Gibbs McAdoo said about Warren Harding’s speeches: “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” Here’s the transcript:
“Our enrollment is going to stabilize. Bottom line to the Chariman’s question, our enrollment is going to stabilize. Enrollment is not a science, as much as people would like to think that it is. It is not a science, if it was, you would see someone going, you know. It is the combination of art, it is the reality of life. It is the reality of life. We expect our enrollment to level out right around five thousand. Whether it is five thousand, two hundred, but right around five thousand. Then we hope, the hope with strategic planning, the hope with strategies in place, and goals and metrics and accountability behind it, for our enrollment to grow incrementally, and, then the question is, if you were to ask me, I don’t want to see our enrollment go beyond a certain point, go beyond two thous . . , six thousand, two hundred; seven thousand, I don’t want to see it. We’re not prepared for that. That is a whole different kind of institution. So, in answer to your question sir, you know, we expect for it to be stabilizing, a period of stabilization, then a grow . . . then a period of incremental growth. That stabilization should be taking place this coming semester, meaning this spring semester.”
So there you have it. We “hope” that enrollment can stabilize and Wayne Watson does not want to see it increase very much because “we’re not prepared” for it.
Like everyone else on this campus, I fervently wish that our enrollment decline would stop. I fear for the continued existence of this school if it does not. However, does anyone really believe that this administration is up to the challenge? After all, the major problem with our public image and, I believe, the major problem with our enrollment, is Wayne Watson and his administration. Anthony Young made a concise case for Watson’s firing. I cannot imagine any university president keeping her/his job after presiding over the fifth worst enrollment decline since 2010 among 267 universities nationwide. But here at Chicago State, our Board enables Watson and allows him to continue to damage our school.