Thursday, December 29, 2016

Administrative Failure Writ Large: Chicago State on the Hook for the Crowley Damages

Another story about our completely opaque financial situation appeared recently in the Tribune. The depth of the Watson administration’s failure is again on display. Of course, with our weak new Interim President in place, the people who brought us to the precipice are free to continue their destructive behavior. Some horrific examples sketch the contours of the seemingly never-ending disasters afflicting this university.

First, the enrollment continues to decline. Based on our past history, I expect we will be scrambling to get above 3100 for Spring. This coming semester will be another chapter in what will become the thirteenth consecutive semester of enrollment decreases. We will likely be around 40 percent of the student population that attended in Fall 2010.

Second, the graduation rate is down to depths not seen since around 2007 or 2008. You remember last year’s 11 percent graduation rate? Well, the unofficial numbers I keep for the 2010-16 cohort come in at 13.3 percent, or 68 graduates out of a cohort of 520. Important to remember that all these students matriculated under the Watson regime and spent virtually their entire college careers being helped along by Angela Henderson and her Enrollment Management/Provost incompetents. Only at Chicago State could failure on the scale of the Watson/Henderson train wreck be materially rewarded by a fawning Board of Trustees.

These failures are dwarfed by the news coming out of the James Crowley case. You might remember he won a punitive award for about $2.5 million, with a total award now exceeding $5 million. Add to that the better than $1 million spent by plaintiff and defense attorneys, and the price tag for that Watson retribution is likely approaching $7 million. Remember, however, how the Watson administration shrugged off the decision, after all, we have insurance, right?

Not so fast. A letter sent from attorneys representing the insurance company to Chicago State’s crack legal counsel Patrick Cage makes clear that the insurer is telling the university that it has no intention of paying a punitive damages claim caused by the insured’s willful behavior. The attorneys write “However, in light of the Appellate Decision and the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision not to review it, there are significant coverage issues that Illinois National raises . . .” The letter includes language from the Appellate Court decision (which the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review) that makes clear the culpability of Wayne Watson and his stooges. It deserves to be quoted at length: “[D]efendants make virtually no argument that Watson's actions did not rise to the level of willful and wanton conduct that could warrant the imposition of punitive damages. This is congruent with our view of the evidence, which shows that Watson and his lieutenants were nothing short of reprehensible and that they acted with malice and deceit. Defendants did whatever they could to protect Watson's reputation, and they did it at Crowley's expense, when he sought only to comply with the public's right to know information about the activities of a state university. Rather than acknowledge that Watson inappropriately got involved in university business affairs before he had officially started, CSU instigated a campaign designed to both economically harm Crowley and to inflict psychological distress upon him. Defendants engaged in a lengthy course of manufacturing reasons, through Crowley's legitimate and previously untarnished work with the JCC, to discharge him and subsequently reported Crowley to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) so as to impede his future employment as a lawyer. The ARDC complaint was dismissed as lacking any basis. Likewise, there was evidence suggesting the administration's rooting out of other employee dissenters resulted in their demotion or eventual discharge, too. Defendants' entirely pretextual investigation and the resulting termination letter were clearly calculated to professionally bury Crowley.”

The insurer is invoking a policy provision that provides “dispute resolution.” Nonetheless, it appears certain that the university is not covered by its insurance, as claimed by administration mouthpieces. After all, the reptilian former president’s actions are described perfectly in this passage: “After hearing from many witnesses during the course of a two-week trial, the jury concluded that Defendants’ conduct was ‘willful.’ The trial judge in his Memorandum Opinion and the Appellate Court in its decision found that that the jury’s verdict was supported by numerous examples of ‘reprehensible,’ ‘deceitful,’ and ‘malicious’ conduct . . .”

Yes, “reprehensible,” “deceitful,” and “malicious” accurately describe the behavior of both Watson and his hand-picked senior administrators, abetted by our ridiculous Board of Trustees. In this case, the consequences are probably going to be costly for the university: “As stated in Illinois National’s previous coverage letters, it is well established in Illinois that punitive damages are not insurable when the employer – here, the Board of Trustees – even “indirectly participated in the wrongful conduct of the employee for which punitive damages were assessed.” You have never addressed this point or provided any case law that rebuts it. Here, to impose punitive damages in the first place, the jury had to find complicity by the Board of Trustees. As such, Illinois National maintains its denial as to punitive damages.”

So, this is what total failure looks like. I invite all the major players, Angela Henderson, Patrick Cage, and the rest of the senior administrators to immediately begin exploring other career opportunities. The bill for the past six-plus years is now due and payable.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Do We Really Need A Review of 2016?

So as is the custom of many media outlets, this time of year provides an opportunity to recap what has happened in the past twelve months as a way of helping to focus our attention ahead to 2017. "You can't get where you're going if you don't know where you've been" comes to mind at this time of year. In brief, within the past twelve months, the university has had three presidents, lost 20% of its students, declared and terminated financial exigency, fired tenured faculty (sort of), lost half of its workforce, decimated its enrollment management function, welcomed 86 first time full time freshmen, had the Crowley verdict upheld by the Illinois State Supreme Court, held on to incompetent Watson cronies, got sanctioned by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and further damaged its reputation with among other things, a nationally broadcast key turn in fiasco. Who would have imagined all that would have been possible in a short twelve months? 
Thankfully, the university will be getting four new trustees in the New Year. I imagine the Governor has had trouble finding volunteers for a ship that is clearing sinking quickly. Who would want to oversee a university that has had a 53% enrollment decline since 2010 largely due to incompetent and corrupt management? Being a board member is supposed to be a part time job, yet at CSU it is likely to require more hours than at any other university. And if those new board members are appointed in early January, as is anticipated, they will come on board just in time for a visit from the HLC on January 23 & 24. Will those board members be able to address questions from the visitation team about Criterion 5 and the university's plan for continued financial viability? With 26 days before the HLC visit only time will tell. 
It is clear to me that 2016 has been an eventful year in many respects that mercifully will draw to a close this weekend. As bad as you or I may have experienced it, 2017 could certainly be much worse. Let us exercise caution as we usher out the old and usher in the new. 
Could it be worse? You bet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In Preparation for the HLC visit....

So I learn something new everyday. Today I learned that federal regulations require accrediting agencies to provide opportunity for third party comment. The link here is for third party comment about the HLC visit currently scheduled for January 23rd, 2017. For those loyal readers who wish to communicate something to the accrediting body for this humble university, your opportunity is now.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The New Administrative Narrative: "We saved CSU from closure." Yeah, but you were also the ones who broke it in the first place.

We were treated to another memo from Mr Lucy, Interim President, yesterday. The new p.r. policy of informing what remains of the CSU faculty and staff of a potential news article from the media hounds is clearly in place.

Yet the mantra we keep hearing that Mr Lucy expresses below is that the media only publish negative stories about CSU. It sounds awfully like the critique we are hearing on a national level from you-know-who in Trump Tower. "We have great stories to tell, stories the media refuse to cover because it [sic] doesn't sell papers or increase ratings." Well, duh.

Tell me, Mr Lucy, do you think it is the "media's" job to report that some professor at CSU got a grant or that some student got a high gpa or that some administrator went to a conference? I do not see that kind of boosterism from the local Chicago papers for any other universities in Chicago. Why haven't the highly paid bright young things that your ex-boss hired been able to make the kinds of connections with the media to plant the right stories about us in the press? From what I see universities get "good" press when something is a big deal--nobel prize winning at U of C, new business school at Northwestern, that sort of thing. You weren't here to remember how Wayne Watson's CSU was allowed to fly under the press's radar while U of I was going through a big scandal regarding its Board of Trustees. A few years back U of C was all over the local newspapers for its own presidential shenanigans including a somewhat scandalous divorce.

So stop bleating about the negative media coverage. We are a public institution and must be held accountable to the taxpayers of the state for our failings. One way that is done is by shining a light through a free press. I realize that for decades the principle of accountability is something CSU has chosen to ignore or skirt around. I and others have said this to you administrators and trustees before, if you don't want negative publicity stop doing things that generate it. If you want faculty to stop airing your dirty laundry, stop dirtying up so much laundry.

If CSU had been bound by rules that other universities follow (i.e. standards set by the American Governing Boards or the AAUP) instead of being bound up in the crony-ridden politics of Illinois, if CSU had been subject to proper vetting and scrutiny, checks and balances by state agencies and accrediting agencies in place to do that, we would not be scrambling pathetically to keep body and soul together now in this winter of our discontent.

You can say that you saved CSU from closure, but the same people who truly wrecked CSU and brought it to its knees are the ones who are still in power. Firing staff, firing lower level administrators, firing tenured and tenure-track faculty is nothing to boast about to us. What high-level Watson crony hire has lost their job in the saving of CSU bloodbath? No sacrifices there. And it's interesting how students come first when the administration is backed up to the wall. Be honest--did you really save CSU for the students or are you clutching at it like a golden goose for the cronies and their patrons who ran it into the ground?

Friday, December 9, 2016

And I Was Thinking We Were Headed to Double Secret Financial Exigency

So on the BOT agenda for today's meeting was the dissolution of the Management Action Committee and the University Advisory Committee and the termination of the financial exigency. Now might be a good time examine what has been gained by the board declaring financial exigency in February. 

There doesn't seem to be one action that was taken by the university that required an exigency declaration. And about half of the work force is gone. Overpaid administrators continue to populate the university. Enrollment continues to decline. The narrative of the university's closing continues to spread unabated. The university foundation is unable to raise any money because of a dysfunctional relationship with the BOT. The much touted new president is gone, $600K richer for his efforts. The university was sanctioned by the Higher Learning Commission for failing to plan how to manage and terminate its financial exigency and now faces serious accreditation risks. The failed past president and his terminally incompetent cronies continue to interfere in the operation of the university, even going so far as to try to influence the composition of the next Board of Trustees. Students continue to be scammed by the shameless conduct of academic pretenders and plagiarizers. Faculty melt, drift or otherwise flee tenured positions. The physical infrastructure rapidly deteriorates and now there are two huge gashes/trenches/ravines scarring the face of the campus, making CSU even more uninviting to prospective students. The corporate memory of the institution has been decimated by the #CSUclowncar to the point that I wonder if the university even knows how to function as a university in its most basic of functions. Does anything still work at this university? With an HLC visit a mere 44 days away, what will the university look like when they get here? Are they possibly coming to begin the post-mortem for a university that had so much promise before being turned over to the terminally incompetent? 

And with the press paying a bit more attention, the interim president continues the failed behavior of his predecessors by defending the indefensible and not taking responsibility for the university's actions. Yes, all university's have or use lobbyists AND what has the university gotten from its politically connected lobbyists especially in the past year? And yes, all universities have legal fees, but CSU has spent an inordinate amount on avoidable litigation, (see Crowley v. Watson; Meeks v. Watson; Peebles v. Watson) and add up what the attorneys' costs from those cases are. Ironically, the cause of the lawsuits walks away with no penalties. Only the taxpayers, and thus the students pay for this incompetence.

And now the BOT is considering terminating the financial exigency. Wow! It was actually on the agenda for the last Board meeting and yet they found a way to not consider it. Maybe it was the critique they were receiving from unhappy students that it slipped from their memory. Now the phrase "too little, too late" comes to mind when considering the extensive damage wrought by those with the fiduciary responsibility for the university.

So in the spirit of the holiday season, let's give thanks for the gift that keeps on giving, the CSU Board of Trustees. Maybe the Governor will finally say enough and give the university a gift by replacing the entire board. This is probably the last chance for the university to be a university.