Sunday, February 15, 2015

Wayne Watson, Failure: Why is He Such a Terrible President?

As Wayne Watson desperately hangs on to his position at Chicago State, it seems like the “end game” is becoming clearer. He intends to saddle the university with one of his cronies as successor, an effort the Board of Trustees is likely to endorse. This will insure the ultimate destruction of Chicago State since the most likely crony candidate has done much to contribute to the multiple failures of the Watson regime.

As we begin 2015, Chicago State University is fighting for its existence. No need to go into the disastrous numbers again, although they are a concrete symbol of administrative failure. The potential consequences of that failure should be apparent to anyone who cares about this school. Looking back over the past five-plus years, the kind of problems we are experiencing are understandable. After all, in 2009, the Board of Trustees forced arguably the worst university president in the United States down the throats of Chicago State’s students, staff and faculty.

In 2009, Wayne Watson had worn out his welcome at City Colleges and with Mayor Richard Daley. Although a loyal political hack, Watson’s tenure as City Colleges’ Chancellor had produced alarming enrollment declines and an embarrassing drop in the system’s academic performance. Of course, as a party acolyte, he could not be unceremoniously discarded so Daley cronies like Leon Finney and Richard Tolliver decided to install him at Chicago State as sort of a reward for his years of sycophancy. After all, there are jobs and contracts to dole out at Chicago State.

Not surprisingly, Watson got off to a rocky start at Chicago State, as he became embroiled in a contract controversy which delayed his “official” start date until October 1, 2009. Of course, by that time, he was double-dipping, drawing a pension of around $140,000 while earning another $250,000 from Chicago State. As part of his going-away gifts from the taxpayers of Chicago, Watson also got a nice payout worth around $800,000. Not a bad deal. He increased his yearly earnings by about one third and got a mansion to live in and a car and a driver to boot. I guess failure has its own set of rewards, at least in Illinois.

For the past five years, this failure has blighted the school. Why is he such a bad president? In 2013, K. Johnson Bowles analyzed the role of the university president for the Inside Higher Ed. Here are some excerpts from that article, see how many remind you of our president:

“The institutional leader must exude passion, urgency and confidence (not to be confused with arrogance).” (how would you describe Wayne Watson?)

“A president must know the law and have excellent counsel, must ensure that the institution acts with integrity and honesty . . .” (does any of this apply to Watson’s administration at Chicago State?)

“And by the time a problem is great enough to land in front of a president, the problem is often quite large . . .” (our president doesn’t deal well with “large” problems, enrollment for instance. Instead, he micro-manages the minute details of the university’s day-to-day operations, particularly in faculty areas of influence)

“Yes, it is important for the leader to be emblematic of higher education by being an expert in her field and having a terminal degree.” (Have you stopped laughing about this one yet? Watson an “expert” in his field?)

“A president must be able to relate to, understand, and appreciate all disciplines within the institution.” (Not much to say about this one is there?)

The role of university president “requires a superior type of intelligence. . . the type of intelligence that synthesizes and applies knowledge in a visionary way to create strategies for success and distinction. It is an innovative, deep, steadfast intelligence seen in the likes of a Nobel laureate.” (Another thigh-slapper. Wayne Watson, Nobel laureate? Maybe he can get one of his friends or cronies to bestow that title upon him before his departure)

K. Erskine Bowles, “The President’s Many Roles.” Insider Higher Ed July 1, 2013.

Here’s the link to the article:

Keeping in mind the outline sketched by Bowles, here is an example of Wayne Watson’s “leadership.” It is difficult to imagine any university president dealing with such mundane matters as hiring. Here at Chicago State, however, Watson inserts himself into hiring decisions in remarkable ways. This is one example from 2010-11, sent recently by one of our faculty colleagues. I could cite more but this seems to capture the essence of Watson’s interference: “this person [applied for a faculty position] in our department . . . in 2010-2011 . . . the president wanted to screen every applicant's name and requested her CV. Before the end of the day, the president sent the CV back with a BIG NO written on it. We did not proceed with the hiring process.”

While Watson busies himself with trivial matters, the house burns around him. Despite a mountain of evidence proving the abject failure of his presidency, the Board does nothing. In his most recent contract, the Board’s “performance criteria” remains what it had been in 2009. Here is the relevant portion of the contract:

Of the seven criteria, Watson clearly has failed in four: enrollment, fund-raising, the university’s public image and faculty relations (despite assertions to the contrary from Watson stooges). While audit findings have dropped, they reached stratospheric levels early in the Watson presidency, so the jury is still out on that criterion.

Speaking of juries and thinking about the president’s need to “know the law,” receive “excellent counsel,” and insure that the “institution acts with honesty and integrity,” Maria Moore at City Colleges and James Crowley, Willie Preston and Jokari Miller come to mind. Of course, honesty and integrity are not specific criteria for evaluation. In Wayne Watson’s case, perhaps they should be.

So what will Wayne Watson’s legacy be? According to university public relations people, Watson’s achievements include “renewed accreditation, a reduction in the number of audit findings, an increase in academic standards and better relations with the South Side community.” Heady accomplishments in five years, and only one connected to the purported evaluation criteria. Interesting that the university fails to mention Watson’s singular achievement: his dramatic expansion of both the number of administrators and the salary expenditures for those persons. An article about another university president seems quite applicable to Chicago State: “a whole lot of it (money) goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine . . . consist of inventing justifications for their own existence while harassing faculty . . .”

Kate Thayer and Jodi Cohen, “Chicago State president to retire,” Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2015.

Paul Campos, “The Lessons of the Megalomaniac University President,” Time June 6, 2013.

Frankly, Wayne Watson has never been up to this job. If he is not removed immediately, if he is allowed to anoint his successor, the university will surely fail. In a major Civil War film, one of the characters remarks that “there’s men dying down that road.” In the case of Chicago State University, if we follow the course that Watson has mapped out, there will be a university dying down that road.


  1. But CSU is a "special" institution in the state constellation of universities. It is run like a political ward so these principles do not apply. Boss rule, ward politics are the principles that apply here. In an NPR interview on leadership a few years ago some corporate big wig was asked, "how do you change the culture of an institution?" WIthout missing a beat the big executive said, "You cut off its head." The problem with CSU is that the head, the root of the problem, is not just the president (although that is certainly a start). To effect any meaningful change here and really turn CSU around to rise to its much touted "potential" you would have to cut off the political heads that run this place.and use it as a reward for political cronies. As it is looking, this next presidential search may cut off the Watson head (in a year and a half), but it will just sprout a new one of the same ilk. And so the dance will continue. Maybe Rauner's hatchet men will step in, but that could mean the end of the place entirely.

  2. "Better relations with south-side community?" Every Dean & Dept.chair who refused to go along with Illegal reckless arbitrary demands of inhuman administration is long gone --strong-armed out of their positions,forced into early retirement, and everyone knows it. Maybe James Crawley will be appointed to exterminate Cook.

  3. In the pantheon of cronies who saddled CSU with Wayne Watson you leave out CSU's "godfather." It is still the 1970s playing out down here on the southside with the same people from that era benefitting and being shoe-horned into jobs. Maybe it will be Carol Adams's turn to be CSU prez. instead of the plagirist provost with her phony "exoneration," maybe it will be some other loyal soldier of the southside machine or the Rainbow Push.

    Emil Jones set this place in motion in a particular time and place --ok fine thanks, Chicago's southside needed CSU--but the problem is that the same old way of doing things, 40 years on is broken. Especially broken is that terrible caveat, that deal with the devil, the "known secret," the tacit understanding that of all the state universities in ILL it is ok for this one to be used most outrageously as a political dump and patronage pit for the politicians who brought it into existence and for their friends. It is ok for all other state agencies and governors and accrediting bodies to look the other way as it is pillaged and plundered in every quarter. No ivory tower this. Enough already with the "fix is in" way of running a university. Can we ever move on from this era? The goose with the golden eggs is dying.

    To the left of this screen is a statement written by Haki Madhabuti. It has been kept up there as a reminder of what CSU deserves in presidential leadership. If you haven't read it in a couple of years have a look at it again. I would tell Anthony Young and his clueless Board to read it and strive to implement the principles it lays out, but they seem immune to rational understanding of the workings of a university. CSU will never be more than a mediocrity while the politicians and their cronies are in charge of running it.

  4. Every Dean & Dept.chair map who refused to go along with Illegal reckless arbitrary demands of inhuman administration is long gone --strong-armed out of their positions,forced into early retirement, and everyone knows it.

  5. Watson is a crook and racially biased, based on my experience. Look for my story on him trying to ripoff Kennedy-King students with a Chase card scam to access their financial aid money. Of course, his cronies tried to harass me not to print the story. Of course, since he is unfamiliar with Polish tradition, he didn't know that only would make me more driven to print the story.

    Since then, he and his administration have tried everything to prevent me from graduating from CSU, where he was selected by Richard Daly, who should be held financially responsible for this mess. I have to hire an attorney to sue the university for my transcripts and the four years of delays the phony holds and lack of administration cooperation I've experienced.

    BTW - is his girlfriend, WHO DOESN'T HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE, still carrying a hefty salary as a dean at the school? Chicago media, you should be as embarrassed as "Elementary" Watson should be.