Monday, October 26, 2015

A Fine Mess for the New President to Clean Up

As the new president of Chicago State prepares to assume his duties on January 1, 2016, what does he inherit? Looking back at the last several years, it is possible to assess the legacy of the outgoing administration. Obviously, our enrollment is down to levels not seen at the school since before the mid-1960s. The Chicago State web site is touting the new foundation, which has apparently received its 501(c)(3) tax status. Its efficacy is yet to be determined. While faculty ranks have been reduced, the administration is fairly bursting with high-salaried administrators who have produced a consistent track record of failure. Recently, the administration filled several positions at the Vice President and Director levels.

The school’s reputation has deteriorated since the embarrassing Elnora Daniel vacated the premises in 2008 (actually 2007, since she had a sabbatical year courtesy of our Board of Trustees). One of the contributing factors to that decline in our public image has been the number of lawsuits currently wending their ways through the courts. In particular, the suits by James Crowley, Glenn Meeks, and LaShondra Peebles have already cost the university dearly. Anyone who reads this forum regularly is familiar with the now better than $4 million award to James Crowley. Although the Meeks and Peebles matters remain in litigation, the cost to the university has already been substantial. The legal services required to defend various administrators have grown to nearly $600,000, with no end currently in sight.

In the past two fiscal years, the total contract legal expenses at Chicago State have exceeded $1.16 million. Altogether since January 1, 2010, the Chicago State administration has spent a total of $1.83 million for contract legal services, with $1.7 million going to 15 separate law firms and one contract employee with previous service as Chicago State’s General Counsel, Sonja Clayton-Pederson (now Sonja Armstrong). The yearly legal expenses for these firms/person look like this:

Fiscal 2010—$48,551.20; Fiscal 2011—130,552.50; Fiscal 2012—$179,479.80; Fiscal 2013—$182,978.60; Fiscal 2014—$758,500.40; Fiscal 2015—$405,667.87.

The firms making the most money from Chicago State include: Pugh, Jones & Johnson (defended the administration in the Crowley case)—$279,969.10; Fisher-Phillips (defense attorneys of record against both Meeks and Peebles)—$210,175.90; Franczek-Radalet (a firm the university has not used since 2013—$208,634.80; and $165,430 for former employee Sonja Armstrong. In addition, the administration has an open contract for $100,000 with Smith Amundsen, according to Circuit Court records, the firm that will represent the university in the Crowley appeal, and another open contract for $200,000 for the Stephen Stern law firm. According to the university, no record of either that contract or any invoice exists.

These legal fees are going to increase dramatically since neither the Meeks suit nor the Peebles suit has gone to trial. How much will these cases ultimately cost Chicago State? Right now, the price tag for these various matters exceeds $4.5 million. If either Meeks or Peebles wins a judgement against the university, the damages are likely to be extensive. Finally, the attorney fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys are usually part of any award. How much will those be? Obviously, there are no guarantees in court, but given the university’s track record in litigation, there seems little reason to think the monetary bleeding will stop soon. Altogether, just these three cases could cost Chicago State somewhere around $10 million. Quite a gift from the current administration to our new president.







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