Any hope this university has of continuing to exist beyond the next few months depends upon the dismissal of almost the entire upper administrative staff. This is a belief I have articulated on this blog on several occasions, and yesterday’s Tribune story truly underscores the necessity of such a purge.
Read carefully the article on the Meeks settlement. The narrative provides a look at much that is wrong with the administrative culture here at Chicago State. Here are some of the highlights:
• “The latest $1.3 million settlement marks the second time in recent years that the university has either lost or settled costly disputes by former employees who claimed they were fired after reporting alleged misconduct by the school's former president, Wayne Watson."
• “The settlement is another stain on Watson's legacy and the reputation of Chicago State, which already faces rising damages in another whistleblower case. In that case, a jury awarded more than $3 million to former university attorney James Crowley, who alleged he was fired for reporting questionable contracts and refusing to withhold records pertaining to Watson's employment in response to a public records request.”
• “With interest and additional fees, Crowley could be owed more than $5 million.”
• “Crowley's attorney, Anthony Pinelli, criticized Chicago State's board of trustees for not holding Watson accountable, instead making him president emeritus after he stepped down last year. ‘Nothing seems to have gotten through to them. ... Does it ever end the money they are willing to spend? Doesn't anyone say ‘Enough is enough. We have to fix this,'"
• “A Chicago State spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment but later issued a news release announcing the settlement. The university did not admit any liability and said it resolved the case to minimize costs and distractions at the school, which has been beset by financial woes and low enrollment.”
• “’CSU believes that many individuals faced unfair, public criticism as this case worked its way through the process, including our employees and the Board of Trustees,’ according to the statement. ‘The University and these individuals have handled the situation with integrity and patience.’"
• “The parties continued to clash for several weeks, however, as the university demanded as a condition of the settlement that Meeks provide a sworn affidavit with the names of employees who provided him documents during the lawsuit.”
So what do these excerpts tell us about the administrative culture at Chicago State? First, nothing has changed. The Chicago State administration’s first response is to lie and cover up. That is apparent from its failure to admit any culpability in this matter. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to private legal firms, we suddenly settle? We settle because we are completely blameless? It is my understanding that our deductible is somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000. We spent this amount, plus attorney costs on a case we ultimately settled? Why?
Second, the administration’s continual attempts to portray its members as victims are becoming laughable. The testimony collected during the various court proceedings, demonstrates the character of the Watson administration—paranoid, vindictive, incompetent, extracting absolute loyalty from its members on pain of expulsion and potential destruction. The victims here are the students and staff at Chicago State. However, the mewling comment in the press release about the “unfair, public criticism” faced by Chicago State “employees” along with that execrable Board of Trustees demonstrates the contempt with which the university’s upper administration views our students and staff. Neither the “employees” nor the Board members are victims in this scenario. By the way, doesn't the Board have to vote in open session to approve this settlement?
Third, why in the world does the university want the names of the employees who provided information to the Meeks legal effort? Given the history of this administration, it seems likely that more retaliation is forthcoming.
Finally, the reason our school is in such dire straits has nothing to do with the Chicago Tribune’s reporting. Neither the Tribune nor any of the other Chicago news media outlets are supposed to function as a public relations arm of Chicago State University. The argument that the media only reports negative stories holds no water. If our administration and Board simply stop doing stupid, newsworthy things, there won’t be anything negative to report. The problem here lies in our administrative behavior, not in the news coverage. In fact, by adopting the self-serving garrison mentality displayed by the Watson and subsequent administrations, we continue to alienate the press. University spokespersons lie, stretch the truth, or in this current case, simply don’t respond to press inquiries. No way to build a relationship with the media.
As the debacles continue to unfold, the administration steadfastly refuses to accept any responsibility for its myriad and continuing failures. It refuses to provide an honest accounting of all the malfeasance and unethical behavior under Watson that continues to occur at this school. The President refuses to discharge the persons who have been responsible for the succession of disasters that have befallen Chicago State. To echo Anthony Pinelli, our administration really doesn’t get it. Unfortunately, in its current iteration, it never will.