Now that four Chicago State Trustees (Anthony Young, James Joyce, Michael Curtin, and Spencer Leak) are officially departing, it is time to take a look at exactly what these four people did for the university during their tenure as Trustees. Frankly, they did almost nothing but damage to the university while zealously safeguarding the interests of Wayne Watson and his cronies. Their singular “accomplishment” seems to be enabling the Watson disaster to unfold unhindered. Voluminous supporting evidence exists for this assertion.
Joyce and Young appeared on the Board for the first time on December 9, 2011. At the time, Chicago State’s enrollment stood at 6882. Curtin made his Board debut on September 21, 2012, when the school’s enrollment had already dropped to 6107. Spencer Leak’s first Board meeting occurred on May 17, 2013, when the university’s enrollment (Spring 2013) had further sunk to 5821. As these four Trustees depart in January 2017, the university’s enrollment is around 3000 (3578 in Fall 2016).
When these four persons began their Board service, the university’s full-time employee complement stood at more than 950. As they leave, the university employs (full-time) around 550 persons. On June 30, 2011, the Chicago State University Foundation’s net assets totaled $4.612 million. On June 30, 2015, they totaled $5.777 million, an increase of $1.165 million in four calendar years, or an average increase of $291,250 per year.
In 2012, 2014, and 2015, the university’s faculty voted “no confidence” in the President of the University (2012 and 2014) and in the University’s Provost (2014 and 2015). In March 2013, as he fought to keep his own job, Watson fired Vice President of Administration and Finance Glenn Meeks after Meeks reported what he believed were ethical violations on the part of the President. Meeks subsequently sued Watson for wrongful termination and violating the state’s “whistle-blower” law. In October/November 2013, Chicago State faculty discovered and reported lies and misrepresentations on the applications/resumes of Provost Angela Henderson, Associate Vice President Cheri Sidney (Watson’s girl friend at the time), and Associate Director of Financial Aid Tyra Austin. In February 2014, former CSU attorney James Crowley won a $3 million decision against Wayne Watson for unethical and dishonest behavior, wrongful termination, and for violating the state’s “whistle-blower” law. In September 2015, the Executive Inspector General’s Office notified the Board that it had found Wayne Watson committed misconduct and violated university policy by making “numerous false accusations” against former Board members Gary Rozier and “Z” Scott in a February 2013 letter to the Board of Trustees (which at the time included Joyce, Young and Curtin). In December 2016, the university settled the Meeks lawsuit for $1.3 million, bringing the running total for unsuccessful defenses of Watson’s misconduct to over $6 million (the Crowley total is still growing). Along the way, the Board oversaw a dramatic increase in the size of Chicago State’s administrative component, including a number of obvious crony hires, even while university enrollment plummeted.
Presented with a University President who had presided over (and still presides over) a 51 percent drop in enrollment in six years which made the university particularly vulnerable to the budget impasse afflicting the state since early 2015; a President whose incompetent performance eventually resulted in hundreds of employees losing their jobs in 2016; a President who had such a dismal fund-raising record, he barely raised his own salary; a President at the center of a number of highly-publicized scandals and legal problems; a President who obviously condoned lies and misrepresentations by his senior administrators; a President who hired incompetent cronies for key administrative positions; a President whose management “style” created a vindictive, paranoid, and inept management culture, this Board did either nothing, abetted, or even rewarded Watson’s mismanagement and unethical behavior.
In March 2013, Watson nearly lost his job. Despite the three-ring circus surrounding the Board’s (Rozier, Scott, and Butler) completely proper attempt to remove the Watson blight from Chicago State, Anthony Young, Michael Curtin, and James Joyce reportedly voted in favor of retaining Watson, setting the stage for the post-2013 disasters that have befallen the university. Subsequent to surviving the attempted ouster, Watson moved against Meeks and could proceed to hire his incompetent friends and cronies without fear of Board oversight. In May 2013, the Board rewarded him for his incompetence by extending his contract until June 2016. In July 2013, he made an unqualified Angela Henderson Provost, this promotion coming after she had spent two failed years as Vice President of Enrollment Management, another position for which she had no experience or qualifications. When confronted with indisputable evidence of the falsity of applications/resumes of Henderson, Sidney, and Austin, Watson did virtually nothing, the only exception apparently being a one-day suspension meted out to Sidney.
As evidence of Watson’s failure to retain students mounted—one of his contract requirements—the Board swallowed any nonsensical explanations offered by Watson sycophants in Enrollment Management for the continuing enrollment decline. Similarly, the Board did nothing about Watson’s abysmal failure to raise money for the university—another contract requirement. When the jury in the Circuit Court found for Crowley and the trial judge wrote a blistering opinion that revealed that both Watson and Patrick Cage had lied under oath during the depositions/trial, the Board voted to give the Watson administration virtually a blank check to employ outside counsel. As a result, the university has likely spent at least $1 million on defending Watson’s actions and fruitless appeals, including one to the Illinois Supreme Court. Just a few weeks ago, the university’s insurer warned that it felt no legal obligation to cover the damages awarded to Crowley since Watson and Cage acted with “malice” and “deceit”, and that their “reprehensible” and purposeful behavior had created the liability. So, in confronted with the demonstrable enrollment decline, and the demonstrable misconduct by Watson and his allies, the Board did absolutely nothing to protect the university and its students.
However, the Board did find its way clear to reward Watson with outrageous and unearned perquisites upon his “retirement” in 2015. They gave him the title of “President Emeritus” which Anthony Young claimed to me was part of his original 2009 contract, In fact, that the Board granted Watson that honorary title in a 2014 revised contract, which Young should well have known. Additionally, the Board granted him office space in the new academic library to write his “memoirs,” a laughable endeavor for someone who has not even published a dictionary entry since receiving his Ph.D. in 1972. Finally, the Board granted him tenure in the College of Education, a position for which he is wholly unqualified.
When the Board received the OEIG report citing Watson for misconduct, it determined that he had not had been afforded “due process” even though the university spent $11,000 on Gary Chico to represent Watson in the matter. Confronted with compelling evidence of Watson’s misbehavior and dishonesty, the Board did nothing. Conversely, after hiring a president who would likely take the university in a different direction, thereby threatening the Watson holdovers, the Board moved quickly to remove Thomas Calhoun from his position, therefore protecting the Watson cronies still running the university.
Personal relationships likely played a major role in the disastrous decisions made by the Board of Trustees over the past few years. Anthony Young and Watson reportedly meet for breakfast once a week, and Angela Henderson is reportedly friends with Nikki Zollar who apparently told Thomas Calhoun that she didn’t want to see Henderson “hurt,” which in translation meant she was providing Henderson protection from the new President.
Because of the Board’s failure to protect the university, we are in our current predicament. One of the most interesting things about the Board’s decisions over the past several years is their unanimity. Every important decision has been unanimous. No one thought any of the actions I have described above were problematic. In fact, no one thought any of those actions even warranted a public discussion. Most important, the decisions made by this Board were not just bad, they were arguably the worst possible choices they could have made. As a result, Chicago State stands on the brink of destruction, while the persons responsible for our plight continue to earn hefty salaries for continued incompetence or enjoy the retirement benefits derived from decades of mismanagement and corruption.
Anthony Young, James Joyce, Michael Curtin, and Spencer Leak disgraced themselves over the past several years. They consistently protected the interests of a small group of people at the expense of the university and its students. Their appalling performance provides a model for how not to do university governance. I think it important for the incoming members of the Chicago State Board to understand the recent history of Board governance at this school in order to avoid the kinds of disasters visited on the university by these four former Board members. I also think it important that the incoming Board members are able to recognize the self-serving appeals likely to be made by holdover members of the Board as well as holdover members of the university’s senior administration. If this school is to be saved, someone needs to take a hatchet to our upper administration.
We will soon see whether or not the new Board members desire to hear the concerns of Chicago State’s staff or if they will choose to listen only to the administration. As staff members, we know we are not always right, but we certainly cannot be 100 percent wrong 100 percent of the time. If there is any hope for this university’s renaissance, we offer our services in that effort. As for the four departing Board members, good riddance, you deserve nothing but scorn for your awful performance.