Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Never-Ending Saga of Enrollment Declines: Will Anyone Ever Take Responsibility?

"Accepting failure takes strength of character, honesty and humility. It provides a building block for future achievements. When we deny culpability, we rob ourselves of the chance to learn from our mistakes. We condemn ourselves to a lifetime pattern of avoidance and deception. Like Marley's ghost, dragging his chains of missed humanitarian opportunities behind him, we crawl forward pulling our chains of pathetic excuses behind us--never fully maturing, never fully reaching our true potential. This stale baggage is far more character eroding than any of our individual failures could ever be."

From the website of a faculty member at Ryerson University in Toronto:

Chicago State's enrollment ten days into the fall semester stood at 4756, 62 fewer than spring 2015 and 455 fewer than last fall. Because the university is going to offer a handful of courses in a special session, the final fall enrollment (reported on September 24) may climb above last spring's anemic total of 4818. While that would break the streak of nine consecutive semesters of enrollment declines here at Chicago State, it is no cause for celebration. Since spring 2005, the average enrollment decline from fall to spring has been 357 students. Thus, just an average enrollment drop next spring will bring the school's enrollment tumbling down to fewer than 4500 students.

The current figure represents a drop of 2606 students from fall 2010, or a percentage decrease of 35.4 percent. Think of that. In just five years, this school has lost better than one-third of its student population. All these dismal figures scream colossal failure. However, here at Chicago State, the persons most responsible for this failure are allowed to continue in their positions (sinecures?) as the university continues to swirl around the drain. We've detailed the reasons on this blog but no one in the state seems to give a damn about this school or its future. I've puzzled over this for a number of years and have yet to understand the hands-off attitude toward this school. A number of questions come to mind:

Would the head of a corporation with nine consecutive years of losses and a 35 percent decrease in revenues keep her/his job?
Would the head of a sports team with nine consecutive years of losing seasons keep her/his job?
Would a score of 64.6 be a "C" grade in an most academic contexts?
Would a student at Chicago State who completed 64.6 percent of her/his courses be making satisfactory academic progress?

I think we all know the answers to those rhetorical questions. Here's another one: why do we tolerate this kind of failure here at the top of the Chicago State administration? Even more important, what does this legacy of failure mean as we move (hopefully) into a new era?

Just yesterday, I spoke with one of our mid-level administrators about what kinds of challenges we faced in attempting to repair the damage done by five-plus years of this regime. One of the person's observations had to do with the necessity of changing the "work culture." How do you do that when the model is failure? How do you do that when accountability for failure is selectively apportioned? How do you do that when those most responsible for failure devise strategies and create scapegoats to blame for their own ineptitude? How do you do that when the people who work at Chicago State see failure consistently rewarded? That mountain will be a difficult one to climb.

I do have a modest proposal as to where to start. Since the person at the top is ultimately responsible for the things that occur on her/his watch, I think it is time for a number of our senior administrators to acknowledge that even though they may have tried, they've failed; miserably and completely. That is no disgrace but it is clearly time for someone else to step in and attempt to salvage what can be saved here at Chicago State. It is time for some of these people to move on, it is time for some serious house-cleaning at this school. Or as Leo Durocher used to say: it is time to "back up the truck."

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