On Thursday, April 16, the Watson administrative circus descended on the Higher Education Appropriations Committee in Springfield. It seems reasonable for any university president appearing before a legislative committee to have a solid command of university facts at her/his disposal. However, our president and his Provost embarrassed themselves with a number of misrepresentations, distortions and outright bullshit. Not that it will make any difference to anyone on the committee, it seems apparent that neither anyone on our Board of Trustees nor in the state legislature is likely to step in to save this university. It appears that the tactic of choice is to simply let Chicago State bleed out, which it will undoubtedly do under this nightmare administration.
Here are some of the choicest bits from the committee hearing. Accompanying Watson to Springfield were Angela Henderson, Larry Pinkleton, Farah Muscadin, tender Tom Wogan, and Arrileen (Ari) Patawaran. Watson apparently is not too good with names. He referred to Farah Muscadin as “Sarah,” and introduced Patawaran as “Ari Petalari.” After arguing for the state to adequately fund Chicago State, he started right off by saying “graduation rate for our first-time, full-time Freshman, and that needs to be . . . we need to be clear that that is a small percentage of our students, it might represent 25, 30 percent of our student base of any class.” Shortly after Watson spouted that piece of nonsense, Representative Batinick asked “Do you have any thoughts on why the cost of doing business for you is high?” If Watson wanted to answer honestly he could have responded that his bloated administration sucks money from the educational mission of the university to line the pockets of a bunch of incompetent cronies. Instead, he blamed the various unions on campus, saying “ninety-one (91) percent of our state appropriation goes towards personnel costs, ninety-one percent. And two-thirds of those individuals are in bargaining agreements, sir, two-thirds of those individuals. At the end of the day you have to, you know, if we have cuts, or at the end of the day when you’re looking at the cost of education, you have to look at the personnel. And two-thirds of our employees are within bargaining agreements.”
Shortly after establishing that the organized employees on campus are the reason for Chicago State’s alleged financial difficulties, Watson treated the committee to a history lesson. Reminiscent of “Peabody’s Improbable History” on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, Watson’s rendering of the history of education went like this: “And Chicago State is a PBI . . . Only difference between a PBI and a HBCU (historically black college) is that HBCUs were established for the express purpose of educating the children of former slaves, OK . . . and it had to be created before 1896 I think it was. Chicago [State] was created in 1867 and even though it had a predominantly African American base, it was not created for the express purpose of educating the children of former slaves.”
Later in the hearing, Representative Pritchard pressed the Chicago State aggregation about raising money in alternative ways—private philanthropy in particular. Angela Henderson sallied forth with this gem: “Yes, I will speak to it from the academic side. Recently, in the last year, we’ve actually provided a lot of training to our deans in each of our colleges and they will have thirty percent of their responsibilities will include outreach and fund-raising and partnerships in the community. So that has not traditionally happened, they will have metrics. And so, they are out there raising funds for students.”
Still later, this interesting exchange occurred:
Pritchard: “And your total student population today?”
Muscadin: “Currently it’s 4818.”
Henderson: “No, that’s undergraduate.”
Muscadin: “No, that’s our current student population. . . Our current student population for spring 2015 is 4818 students.”
Toward the end of the hearing, Representative Burke also asked about Chicago State’s plunging enrollment. As part of her response, Henderson touted the university’s “increase” in Hispanic students which she claimed was “seventeen (17) percent.”
Reviewing the performance of our administrators we discover that the president does not know what percentage of our students are first-time, full-time Freshmen, although he knows that our purported financial crisis results from our organized employees. Watson has no compunction about making ignorant assertions based on an embarrassing ignorance of history. Although Henderson announced to the legislators that our Deans will spend “30 percent” of their time (based on metrics, of course) fund-raising, she was somewhat fuzzy about our actual enrollment figures.
Subjecting some of our administrator’s claims to fact-checking reveals the following: Our full-time Freshmen (if the figures quoted by Henderson can be believed) constitute 5.9 percent of the university’s fall 2014 enrollment figure. Monique Davis corrected Watson’s historical misstatements by reminding him that when she graduated from Chicago State in 1967, “it was not a majority African American college, it was a few African American students that attended the college.” Anyone even semi-knowledgeable about African American history knows that African American populations in almost all northern cities were miniscule until the 1910s. In Illinois, the total African American population of 28,762 in 1870 and the total African American Cook County population of 3848 represented 1.1 percent of both state and county totals. Only an ignorant blowhard would pontificate about that topic in the way Watson instructed the legislators.
As to Henderson's comments about our Hispanic student population, here is the truth: In fall 2011, 471 Hispanic students enrolled at Chicago State. This spring the count stands at 350. I really do not know from what point Henderson measures the "17 percent" increase, but it appears that the current level of Hispanic enrollment is actually only 74.3 percent of the 2011 level. Only at Chicago State would a 25.7 percent decrease be magically transformed into a 17 percent increase.
As far as Watson’s response to the question about Chicago State’s high cost of operations, here are some figures to consider. Based on the most recently available salary numbers, full-time administrative employees at Chicago State cost the university about 36.9 percent of salary expenditures for all full-time employees. Administrators constitute about 30 percent of the school’s full-time workers. In contrast, about 34.3 percent of Chicago State’s salary expenditures go to full-time faculty (units A and B). Total salaries for administrators exceed the total salaries for full-time faculty by about $1.5 million ($21.3 million to $19.8 million). If Watson wants to find money to cut from Chicago State’s budget, he need look no further than his cadre of overpaid, inept, crony administrators. Of course, he neglected to mention this to the committee.
Once again, Watson and his acolytes have publicly embarrassed the university with their lack of knowledge. Could it have been otherwise? Hardly.