As most of you know, the university is currently under sanction for its financial practices, with a site visit by representatives from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) scheduled for January 2017. Our financial issues are not the only accrediting criterion for which our performance is problematic; we’ve had problems in areas like communication and shared governance, and we certainly are having difficulties with our enrollment. While some of these problems are primarily caused by circumstances beyond our control, the absence of a state budget for instance, they are all exacerbated by the university’s failure to plan. Now, the HLC is asking us to provide them with evidence the university will be able to weather the ongoing storm. We are responding with bullshit.
Before discussing the problems with the report we are apparently going to submit, I must stress that this is an administrative production. Look at the composition of the University Accrediting Steering Committee (UASC). Its twenty-six (26) members include 3 faculty, 2 students, 1 staff member, and 20 administrative employees; truly a representative group. While two faculty are nominally co-chairs of the committee, the submission will be the product of our administration’s efforts.
To give readers an idea of how much nonsense this document includes, I will look at two criteria: criterion two and criterion five. Criterion two deals with “institutional integrity, ethical and responsible conduct,” and Criterion five addresses “Resources, planning, and institutional effectiveness.”
Criterion 2.A. asks for evidence that the university “operates with integrity,” and “establishes and follows fair and ethical policies and processes for its governing board, administration, faculty and staff.” The university’s evidence includes not a word about the integrity of its “academic and personnel . . . functions;” not a word about the “fair and ethical” policies that govern its “administrators, faculty and staff.” Instead of addressing those concerns, the administrators serve up this garbage: these processes are safeguarded by the Office of Compliance, or by the “professionals” in the Office of Internal Audit. The majority of the response deals with financial issues.
In reality of course, we know how “ethically” this university acts when it comes to its administrators, faculty, and staff. The recent mishandled terminations and layoffs of faculty and staff, the university’s refusal to provide non-recalled faculty their contractually mandated terminal contracts, and the evisceration of the university’s academic enterprise in order to protect the jobs of administrative employees, particularly those employees in the Provost’s Office, Human Resources, and Administration and Finance, demonstrate the university’s multiple ethical failures.
Going beneath the surface of the university’s rhetoric reveals a consistent pattern of saying one thing and doing another. Criterion 2.D. charges the university to be “committed to freedom of expression.” The evidence that the university meets this criterion is utter nonsense: the CSU Code of Excellence and the Faculty Handbook. Over the past several years, the university has made a number of attempts to silence dissenting faculty (for examples see the Computer Usage and Communications Policies, threats to the Faculty Blog, suspension of the Faculty Senate, resultant lawsuits). The Faculty Handbook threatens that “it is improper for faculty members to include materials which has [sic] no relation to their subject, or fail to present the subject matter of their course,” a perversion of the AAUP standards on academic freedom referenced in the Handbook. Those standards include an admonition that faculty not “persistently [intrude] material which has no relation to their subject.” In the hands of the censors at Chicago State, that passage becomes a blanket prohibition against deviating from the course content. Frankly, for most of the employees of Chicago State University, freedom of expression is non-existent.
Here's the note to the AAUP statement on academic freedom:
A look at the university’s reply to Criterion Five again reveals a pattern of non-responses and downright bullshit. The university can meet this criterion by providing evidence that its resources are “sufficient” to meet its educational responsibilities, and that the university “plans for the future.” The “evidence” included in the university’s response seems to be the same old song and dance that worked before. For example, the university offers only vague and meaningless explanations for its compliance with Criterion 5.A. These include: “CSU has been preparing to change its funding model away from its level of support on state appropriations (is that actually a sentence in English?).” Or this: “CSU has organization-wide workforce planning strategies to respond to enrollment declines and state funding unpredictability.” So the university will free itself from dependency on state appropriations? When is this likely to occur? Will that marvelous day come about through the efforts of Wayne Watson’s new foundation? At this point, I believe the university’s endowment stands at $5 million or so. That won’t run the university for one month, even if those funds could be used for operational expenses. Given the precarious position of the school and the steady drumbeat of bad news thanks to our board and administration, who is going to contribute to Chicago State at this juncture? Of course, the language indicates that we are “preparing to change” our funding source. When will we do that exactly? As for the “organization-wide workforce planning strategies,” the faculty and staff on the University Advisory Committee have asked for that information since March 2016. We’ve received nothing from the administration. There is no plan; a fact which some members of the university administration seem to think is a good thing. We’ll see how the Higher Learning Commission feels about that.
The university’s response to Criterion 5.B. is just plain deceitful. This criterion asks the university to demonstrate “effective leadership,” and “support [for] collaborative processes.” For that criterion, the university administration points to faculty and student organizations “require[d]” by the Board of Trustees. These organizations include the “Faculty Senate, Student Government and the University Budget Committee.” In addition, “University departments across divisions come together regularly to address problems and opportunities together. I cannot speak for student government, but the university pays no attention whatsoever to the recommendations of the Faculty Senate. Similarly, colleagues who have served on the Budget Committee indicate that they ultimately have no real input into budget decisions. As for the togetherness mentioned “across divisions,” I assume that refers to those ridiculous dog and pony show “Town Hall” meetings. If anyone can think of an occasion when the administration gave way to the judgement of either faculty or staff, please advise me. There is simply next-to-nothing collaborative about the working relationship between our administration and the school’s faculty and staff.
Criterion 5.C. talks about “systematic and integrated planning,” as a key component of institutional effectiveness. Again the university’s response features nothing definitive, no actual plan, just promises of “gearing up to enter into a new enterprise strategic planning period.” What the hell does that mean? Finally, we discover that “Innovation is encouraged and ideas are explored throughout all operations.” Brutal passive construction and again, what the hell does it mean?
In the past, we’ve been able to scam the Higher Learning Commission into accepting the garbage the administration dishes out. To respond to the most recent inquiry by that organization with the same empty rhetoric we’ve used in the past is extremely risky. If they do not buy our explanations, if they actually look beneath the surface, we may very well end up on probation. Imagine the great press that will generate. Will we skate through again, or will the pack of fools in the Cook building bring us one step closer to extinction?
A final note to our administrators. Before you submit this semi-literate document, please have someone who can write English do copy editing. Let's not embarrass us any more than you already have with your appalling communication skills.