Yesterday’s post by my distinguished colleague opens the door for a discussion about the how and why of “financial exigency.” What follows is my interpretation based on both tangible evidence and information and belief. Before getting into the particulars, I must emphasize that this fiasco rests squarely on the shoulders of the Board of Trustees, particularly Anthony Young, Nikki Zollar, and Marshall Hatch. I will endeavor to make this clear.
Dr. Beverly’s post provides a useful chronology of events that led up to yesterday’s announcement of Notification by the Higher Learning Commission. As has been the case for the past six-plus years, whenever the University’s internal actions are seriously scrutinized by outside agencies (courts, oversight and regulatory bodies, even sometimes politicians) the results are disastrous, even catastrophic (see Jim Crowley) for the university, its public image, and frequently its coffers. Frankly, our administration has been a clown show at best for a long time. At worst, it has operated as a corrupt political entity with a ludicrous Godfather-style patriarch leading a pack of inept Capos and other assorted wanna-bes. Sleazy it was, competent it was not. Yesterday’s somewhat predictable HLC action demonstrates that body’s lack of amusement with Chicago State’s shenanigans. Frankly, it’s long overdue.
So why was the University willing to risk the consequences of what was essentially a sham declaration of “financial exigency”? A brief history helps answer that question. Based on his post-president behavior, Wayne Watson was not ready to leave Chicago State when his contract expired, or when he was supplanted as President by Thomas J. Calhoun. If you recall, the Board, ignoring Watson’s monumental failures in virtually every category of leadership at CSU, awarded him unwarranted perquisites like an office on campus, his own parking spot (a nod to his narcissism), the title of “President Emeritus” (rather than the more appropriate “President Horribilis”), and unearned and inappropriate tenure in Doctoral Studies (in the College of Education).
So Watson was able to remain on campus. Because of the likelihood that various administrative and financial improprieties might still be discovered if anyone took a careful look at his administration, keeping his cronies in place became an important consideration. Along with the fact that virtually no one in his upper administration would be able to get a similar job without Watson’s patronage, his cronies needed to remain in place to protect Watson, insure continued tenure in their august positions, and safeguard their lavish salaries.
Beginning with Thomas Calhoun’s arrival on January 4, 2016, a number of Watson holdovers reportedly began beating a path to the doors of several Board members to complain about the new President. The Board members most prominently mentioned were Young and Zollar, who apparently began to express their doubts about Thomas Calhoun’s job performance. Mind here, these meetings and expressions of disaffection took place scant days after the new President took office. Reportedly, Marshall Hatch soon joined the anti-Calhoun forces. So early on in the new President’s tenure, palace intrigues apparently split the Board as the anti-Calhoun forces engaged in a smear campaign against the new CSU leader.
When February rolled around and with the state appropriation for CSU not yet forthcoming, President Calhoun asked the Board to declare financial exigency with the caveat that “If the university receives, or is notified that we should anticipate receipt of additional funds from the State of Illinois prior to your special meeting, I will withdraw this recommendation.” The next day the Board declared “financial exigency” and created the ridiculous “Management Action Committee” along with an equally ridiculous “Board Financial Exigency Committee.” This unwieldy structure included the President of the University, the Provost, the Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance, and the Vice President of Human Resources, all except Calhoun holdovers from the Watson administration. The Board’s ad hoc Committee included the three anti-Calhoun voices on the Board: Young, Zollar and Hatch.
So, exactly one month into his presidency, Calhoun found his hands tied by a Board resolution creating an executive committee. Instead of having final authority at the University, the new President found himself one vote in four on a committee constituted of individuals not qualified to wield executive authority at the university level. The results have been predictable: botched layoffs and recalls in April and May, the elimination of key persons in important University units, a seemingly perpetual state of financial exigency that has placed the university’s future in jeopardy, and an end run around existing contract language in order to deprive employees of contractually-mandated notification and post-layoff terminal employment.
The administration’s hypocrisy reached its apex with the recent non-recall of several faculty members coupled with the University’s insistence that notification did not apply because of the school’s “extreme and immediate university-wide financial exigency.” While treating the separation notification of terminated administrators (per Board Regulations) as sacrosanct (to the tune of $2 million), the Board and University administrators worked assiduously to negate the contractual rights of faculty members. I think chickenshit only begins to describe this disgraceful and ham-handed skirting of the contract.
Both Dr. Beverly and I have been rebuffed in our initial attempts to convince the Board to end financial exigency. Earlier this week, we made a second attempt. At this point, there has been no response. We will see how far this Board will go in an attempt to continue this untenable condition. Will we bluff our way into losing our accreditation? Given yesterday’s comments by Dr. Calhoun, will anyone continue to argue that the university is in financial crisis? We will see. This farce has played long enough, it must end immediately.