Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Anatomy of a Crony Hire: Nikki Zollar Again Demonstrates She Does Not Give a Damn About Chicago State

Remember when Wayne Watson expressed all that faux outrage at Board members allegedly trying to get their friends hired at Chicago State? Here are Watson’s words from around February 2013: “We believe that the real motivation behind the board's actions stem from the my refusal as president and the refusal of key members of my administration to capitulate to the incessant demands from Chairman Rozier and Vice-Chair Z. Scott to either hire, promote and to give salary increases to their friends and associates.”

While Wayne Watson and his retinue supposedly rejected overtures from some Board members to hire their “friends and associates,” a laughable assertion indeed, they failed to apply that exacting standard to other Board members, particularly Watson’s old “friend and associate” Nikki Zollar. What follows is the anatomy of a crony hire. As I have said in previous discussions of crony hires, the blame here rests on the people doing the hiring, since they are willfully subverting the University’s integrity by insuring that “friends and associates” get jobs which are often created out of thin air just for them.

First, as of January 31, 2017, the staff of the Provost’s Offices included eight persons: the Provost, three Associate Provosts, one Executive Secretary, one Associate, one Assistant to the Provost, and one Academic Contract Specialist. All these positions survived the April 2016 blood purge of staff and administrators. Six of the persons occupying those eight positions have worked in the Provost’s office since 2014. In addition, the current Director of Communications reports directly to the Provost.

The position I will focus on is the “Assistant to the Provost” position occupied by Yvonne Davila. This position last appeared as a funded line in the Fiscal 2012 Internal Operating Budget at a salary of $62,496. Now, however, this position is classified as a “Temporary Administrative” position by Human Resources, with a salary of $85,008 per year, or a salary equivalent to the compensation of two staff positions. While the University laid off and terminated scores of staff and administrative employees in April and June 2016, this temporary position survived. Why, exactly? What are the duties of this position? How did it come about?

To get straight to the point, the incumbent in this position survived because of the relationship between she and Nikki Zollar, and because Zollar and the Provost have colluded to keep the University in the hands of the Watson holdovers, and by extension, of Watson himself. In the spring of 2016, Dr. Calhoun mentioned to me that someone named Davila worked in the Provost’s office as a “crisis communicator.” He indicated that he had no idea what that job entailed but that he had been informed that he needed such a person.

How did he get her? According to records received from a FOIA request, the Legal Department contracted with Davila for unspecified legal services. She received $4999.75 on February 25, March 19, April 14, and May 28, 2014; a grand total of $19,999. On June 24, 2014, Davila signed a contract—which the Provost approved—to provide the University “Crisis Communication Consulting Services on behalf of the University, including matters of reputation management, media and message management, internal communication and litigation.” The contract called for $19,998 in compensation, which she received in three payments of $6666 on July 9, August 15, and September 5, 2014. The contract ran from July 1, 2014 through November 13, 2014. On November 3, 2014, the University apparently hired Davila as the “Assistant to the Provost,” at her current salary of $85,008. According to records obtained from Human Resources, since February 2014, she has received $245,000 in compensation.


The duties of this position are unclear. Although the “Crisis Communication” portion of the July 2014 contract suggests that the work product should include things like press releases or other external and internal communications designed to protect the University’s “reputation,” there is no evidence of any such concerted effort. No stories in any of the local media outlets include statements from the Crisis Communicator. In addition, a search of the CSU web site reveals only one entry for Davila, a comment included in the Provost Council meeting of July 6, 2016: “Y. Davila indicated an article about the accomplishments of The College of Pharmacy has been published. She shared that this story is one part of a broader project to share achievements and positive information about CSU. The goal is two stories a month for this year. She invited participation/suggested leads and will establish a calendar.”

Her comment apparently refers to a story in the Chicago Defender by “YD Avila” about the College of Pharmacy. An internet search revealed that to be the only reference to “YD Avila” and the Defender. I found no other articles about Chicago State University written by Davila in the Defender. So, what communications are the province of this position? Perhaps the “news” on the CSU web site might be one of the job duties. In the 28 months since January 1, 2015, a total of 75 “news” articles have appeared on our site, most a paragraph or two. That’s around 2.7 per month. Perhaps that’s the “two stories a month” Davila referenced at the Provost Council.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Davila had no hesitation about expressing her feeling to Trustee Zollar that Phil Beverly should be “fired” for having the audacity to make a video documenting his classroom teaching. Davila’s inclusion in an e-mail thread eventually going from CSU administrators to Zollar demonstrates her close connections to the Trustee. Zollar’s informal “Good gravy,” comment and her subsequent stupid assertion that Dr. Beverly “incites riots” (when, I wonder, was the last “riot” to which Zollar referred?) demonstrates her willingness to discuss these matters with someone with which she has a degree of familiarity. Likewise, Zollar’s admonition to Dr. Calhoun (previously reported on this blog) about “not hurting” various administrators, including, Davila, demonstrates her fealty to the Watson cronies.

Frankly, I am not even sure that Davila’s job at Chicago State is her only full-time job. Nonetheless, her connections with Nikki Zollar insure her continued employment, even as other staff persons see their lives disrupted by losing their jobs at Chicago State. In fact, she may even also work for one of Nikki Zollar’s companies, Safespeed.

A recent article on Safespeed detailed the connections between the officers of the company, and their contributions to various state and local politicians whose support is integral to the Zollar’s lucrative financial dealings with a number of local municipalities. Safespeed’s political activity has given it a “license to print money,” according to one observer. The article documented over $183,000 in contributions since 2007 from Zollar, Safespeed, or Triad Consulting, another Zollar company.

Throughout the article, the reporters refer to Yvonne Davila as a “spokeswoman” for Safespeed. One of the co-authors of the article indicated that Davila had an e-mail address at Safespeed.LLC. In a written response to questions from the reporters, Davila commented on Nikki Zollar, Triad Consulting, and three other persons associated with Safespeed. She said this about Zollar: “Ms. Zollar is an attorney with a wealth of experience in many different fields … She is an entrepreneur whose ideas are not constrained." The authors of the article described Zollar this way: “SafeSpeed LLC was formed in Illinois in June 2007 by a group of individuals who at the time appear to have had zero experience in traffic safety or control . . . One of those partners, SafeSpeed President Nikki M. Zollar, is a former official in the administration of Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and has longstanding ties to both Chicago Democrats and state GOP officials. . . Zollar brought political connections from both sides of the political aisle to SafeSpeed but it is unclear from a review of state records how she got into the red-light camera business.” The link to the article is: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/1-17-2017/Easy-money:-Area-red_light-camera-tickets-a-boon-for-clouted-company-/

Nikki Zollar is also an “entrepreneur” who has no objection to using Chicago State as an employment agency for her “friends and associates.” Certainly, someone that politically connected would insure that only someone she knew and trusted would serve as a “spokeswoman” for her company.

To recap, Nikki Zollar and the Provost worked to install one of Zollar’s “friends and associates” in a nicely compensated administrative job in the Provost’s office. Obviously, Zollar’s patronage and the Provost's complicity insured that the position and its incumbent (despite the "temporary" status) survived the April 2016 staff cuts. The job duties are murky and it seems unclear just exactly what Zollar’s person actually does, although there is no evidence of any kind of “crisis communication” or of press releases from the “crisis communicator” pertaining to Chicago State’s various crises. The “crisis communicator” serves as a “spokeswoman” for one of Zollar’s “clouted companies,” a position that suggests she may actually be employed by Safespeed. Based on her votes at the last Board meeting, Zollar’s loyalty to the Watson regime remains unshaken, and Zollar’s role in insuring the continued employment of her crony hire demonstrates her contempt for Chicago State as an educational institution. This is not the place to stash your “friends and associates.” I can only echo my distinguished colleague’s demand to Zollar. Ms. Zollar, your performance as a Trustee has been shameful. For the good of the institution, please resign immediately.

This is precisely the kind of "business as usual" we must eliminate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Morehouse University Cleans House, Time for CSU To Do the Same

The collusion outlined by my colleague’s last blog post between members of CSU's Board of Trustees and ex-president, the manipulator-in-chief, Wayne Watson, explains how Thomas Calhoun's nine-month presidency did not stand a chance of survival. One year later we can see that it was DOA.

In light of the details of the emails between board members and the supposed ex-president Wayne Watson the events of last year come more clearly into light. Watson, who was not only granted "emeritus" status by the Board, but GIVEN some kind of shady/honorary "tenure" in the College of Education, as well as the unprecedented privilege of an office or two in the Library (an abuse of state-supported property?) was able to run a shadow university administration. He was clearly aided in this by the refusal of the Board, spearheaded at the time by Anthony Young and Nikki Zollar, to allow Calhoun to replace the provost, their sacrosanct Angela Henderson, or any of the other high-placed Watson "team." Before he was a month into his time at CSU, the Board found a way to clip his wings with its claim of “financial exigency.” They effectively took executive power away from the president and pitted him against Watson’s three minions, Provost Angela Henderson, Interim President Cecil Lucy, and H.R. person Renee Mitchell on a Management Action Committee assuring Calhoun’s one vote to their three. 

The Board of Trustees under Anthony Young and Nikki Zollar was shameless in its partisanship of the old Watson regime and completely unethical in their continued communication with Watson after he was no longer president. In light of the transcript of emails referenced, one can conclude that they really only bowed to public pressure and the Governor's Office to remove Watson after all the high-priced lawsuits began to be added up in 2015/2016. In reality, they had no intention of removing him from power—nice subterfuge. Their dismissal of Thomas Calhoun in the summer and early Fall of 2016, with its big payout and secrecy agreement, is something that still stinks to high heaven. The Governor’s Office and the legislature should demand to see the details of that agreement. I’d be interested in seeing that dodgy legal agreement tested in court. How can a state Governing Board withhold details of an agreement from the people to whom it is allegedly responsible?

The Board of Trustees is entrusted to oversee Chicago State University. The question to ask now is how low and nefarious were these connections by the old board members and do they continue to exist? As much as some Board members and the Watson set and all the past (and current) local politicians may see CSU as their private golden goose to be used to benefit an in-crowd (of their choosing); as much as they may bring in the "community" to shout “Amen” whenever light is shone on this twisted corruption, CSU remains a public institution with state money accountable to ALL the taxpayers of Illinois. It is not a private institution. The past Board of Trustees violated the public trust. All the old members of that board currently sitting should be purged immediately.

The Board of Anthony Young and Nikki Zollar showed no sense of discernment—they did not oversee what they were charged with overseeing, they were unable or unwilling to distinguish the self-interested voices from those calling on them to make changes on campus and demand accountability. They intervened in the direct operations of the university to such an egregious extent that it is surprising they have escaped sanction from the Association of American Governing Boards or even our own Higher Learning Commission on the category of governance on campus and the State Ethics Commission. 

 An article in on April 9th in Diverse Issues in Higher Education outlined a story about Morehouse University that is worth reading for its parallels to us. “Morehouse College Overhauls Leadership”:
https://diverseeducation.com/article/94972

Morehouse College replaced its president and the chairman of its board of trustees late on Friday afternoon, after several months of turmoil at the historically Black institution. William Taggart, the college’s chief operating officer since 2015, is now the interim president.

…In a letter sent out to the Morehouse community on Friday afternoon the board wrote, “With today’s action, the Board acknowledges that it has heard the voices of students, faculty, alumni, and many other key members of the Morehouse family, who have called upon all of those who love this historic institution to put aside out differences and put Morehouse and our mission first.”

The board encountered increasing criticism from faculty, students, and alumni after the board voted to not renew President John S. Wilson Jr.’s contract in January, leading the faculty to take a vote of no confidence in the board chairman in late March. Many said that the board never fully explained its decision and excluded students and faculty from the decision-making process…

Chicago State University may not be Morehouse University, but our own overseers, the Board of Trustees and Governor Rauner, could take a lesson from them and listen for a change to the voices of the students and the faculty when we speak truth to power as we have been trying to do for upwards of nine years. It is time for CSU to clean house.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Scandalous Relationship Between our Old Board and Wayne Watson: Our Administrators are Not Victims Here

Although the Board made two new appointments Friday, the University is still a long way from the wholesale leadership changes that must occur if we are to have a chance at survival. I think it likely that our various Watson cronies will still fight to keep their jobs, even perhaps by attempting to portray themselves as victims. Now, however, we seem to have a Board attentive to the needs of the school and willing to act in Chicago State’s best interests. The question remains, given the monumental and multiple administrative failures of the past six-plus years, why has it been so difficult to get rid of those “leaders” most responsible for that failure? One of the major reasons is the incestuous relationship between certain members of the Board (former and current) and some remnants of the Watson administration. Communication between several of these persons in August and September 2016, suggests that with the active participation of Board and administrative members, Wayne Watson has continued to play a substantive role in the affairs of the school.

On August 5, 2016, I provided an analysis of our enrollment problems, and suggestions for addressing those problems, to the Board of Trustees, Dr. Calhoun, and then Interim Vice President of Enrollment Management Michael Ellison. On August 9, 2016, former Board Chairman Anthony Young forwarded my letter to Wayne Watson. Why?

On September 16, 2016, Young received for his “approval” a draft “resignation” letter from Dr. Calhoun addressed to the University community. Another Board member wrote to Young: “The word and spirit of this letter breaks the confidentiality agreement. If Dr Calhoun can give explanation, so should we. I hope our attorney is up to protecting our interest in this. The effect of the letter blames the board alone for his separation. Counsel should advise if this is breach that halts payout. Btw: the Trib has editorialized that we be ‘fired’ by the gov.” Young forwarded Dr. Calhoun’s letter to Wayne Watson at 5:41 p.m. September 16, 2016. Why? Young forwarded the other Board member’s remarks about the letter to Wayne Watson at 7:54 p.m., that same day. Why?

An e-mail thread beginning on September 21, 2016, and ending on September 23, 2016, discussed Dr. Phillip Beverly in unflattering terms. The thread began at 9:14 p.m., with a reference to a video produced by Dr. Beverly. At 9:17 p.m., Yvonne Davila, a temporary administrator working in the Provost’s Office, responded “He (Beverly) should be fired.” The communication, apparently titled “Last email..look at this clown,” went to Board member Nikki Zollar who wrote Davila: “Good gravy. He just incites the riots (and he knows exactly what he’s doing).” Zollar also copied the thread to Angela Henderson. At 9:32:29 p.m. Zollar forwarded the thread to Young, and Board member Marshall Hatch, with the message, “FYI.” On September 22, 2016, at 8:50 p.m., Young forwarded the message to Watson who responded on September 23, 2016, at 6:31 a.m. Watson wrote: “He is very smart . . . The judge in the ‘Fire case’ has stated that she reads our blogs and I believe this video is for her, the judge. He is sending her the message that he is a calm, reasonable, thought provoking teacher (a little controversial but thought provoking). The allegations against him in the fire case are very strong as it relates to his interactions with students. I content [sic] that the audience intended is not the CSU campus but the judge. He does not make moves like this for what appears to be the obvious reason. He is very good at communication and this is a strategic move.” Once again, why did Wayne Watson receive these communications?

So, with enrollment cratering, scandals galore, and mountains of evidence pointing to the complete failure of the Watson administration, several of our Board members include him in discussions about University operations. This is what Nikki Zollar, Anthony Young, and Marshall Hatch spent their time doing? Crony hires like Yvonne Davila feel free to offer a worthless opinion to a Board member on the employment of a tenured faculty member? Just who the hell are these people? No wonder Nikki Zollar voted for the status quo.

The Watson administration continues to afflict Chicago State—a cancer that must be excised if the school is to survive. The various cronies who continue to damage the school must be rooted out. In 2009, an Illinois Reform Commission report detailed the features of crony hiring: 1) the hiring of politically connected or politically subservient persons, 2) the creation of political positions, 3) hiring and promotion based on considerations other than merit, 4) increasing numbers of contract employees, 5) ignoring or modifying listed job descriptions and minimum qualifications.

Ultimately, the patronage system generously rewards mediocrity and incompetence while contributing to the continuing existence of a variety of operational failures. The Watson administration at Chicago State University offers an excellent example of patronage at work: its cronyism, secrecy, disregard for competence, and ultimately, its deleterious effects on the operation of the school.

The holdovers from the Watson administration will probably struggle mightily to retain their positions. They will avail themselves of any potential strategy, no matter how ludicrous, to paint themselves as victims, a truly laughable position. We all know about the multiple failures of their “leadership.” Let’s see how much they’ve earned while demonstrating their incompetence.

Focusing on only four employees—two of whom were hired as soon as Watson “officially” became president on October 1, 2009, and are still employed at CSU, one crony who came in 2011 and who is still employed at CSU, and one girlfriend Watson hired in November 2009 who lost her job in April 2016—we find that Chicago State has paid at least $4.02 million to these four persons for their various administrative failures. Here’s the breakdown:

Vice President/General Counsel Patrick Cage, hired November 1, 2009. Total salary: $1,154,265.
Provost Angela Henderson, hired June 15, 2011. Total salary: $1,081,969.
Associate Vice President Rene Mitchell, hired October 5, 2009. Total salary: $1,043,712.
Associate Vice President Cheri Sidney, hired November 9, 2009, terminated April 30, 2016. Total salary: $740,586.
Total compensation paid to these four through March 31, 2017: $4,020,532.

According to Board regulations, if the three persons still employed are terminated without cause, they are entitled to the following payouts: Henderson, $225,000; Cage, $155,004; Mitchell, $144,996. That brings the total salary for these Watson cronies (including Sidney) to $4,545,532. If that’s victimization, I’d like some. I can only paraphrase something I said in a long forgotten post: never have so many been paid so much to accomplish so little.







Friday, April 7, 2017

The Dawn of a New Era?

So after two lengthy special meetings, the Board of Trustees decided to appoint an interim president worthy of the position. Dr. Rachel Lindsey, former Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, has been appointed interim president. She brings more than 30 years of higher education experience to an institution desperately in need of accountable and integral leadership. The time to rebuild a badly broken university has long passed, yet here we find ourselves. Congratulations to Dr. Lindsey!

The only sad note in Dr. Lindsey's appointment was the NO vote cast by Trustee Nikki Zollar. She has a long relationship with the prior failed president and his current administrative holdovers and by this vote appears to want to maintain the status quo. This humble blog has vigorously documented what that status quo looks like and that picture is less than flattering. 

To Trustee Zollar, I say this: RESIGN! Resign today! I will draft a letter of resignation for your signature and hand deliver it to the Governor, should you wish. Please spare the university any more of your "service." The message should be clear. The university can no longer stand your support and enabling of failure. Your board colleagues have clearly repudiated the 'reward failure' mantra by appointing someone who will remove those who have so badly devastated the university. That you were unwilling to support your fellow board members leaves me with only one message for you. 

RESIGN!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Here we go again. Board of Trustees meet tomorrow. What will happen next?

 Tomorrow the Board of Trustees is supposed to announce a new Interim President and who knows what else. Stop by the fourth floor of the Academic Library. Sign up for public comment before the meeting and the comments will be made before the Board goes in to executive session.

The question we are all waiting to have answered: will it be a brand new day or the same old same old?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Public Comment from the Last Board Meeting

Remarks made at the Chicago State University Special Board meeting on March 27, 2017.

By Minister Michael Muhammad, founder of a new coalition known as the New Black Leadership Coalition:

I am here at the consent of our steering committee who asked me to come and make a statement concerning these affairs. So I’ll be brief.

Incompetence, evil, negativity leave a residue. They bear fruit. They live in the mind, practices, and policies of narcissistic, sociopathic leadership. Formal degree does not preclude one from being a sociopathic personality; whose mind is so self-centered that guilt, shame, remorse, nor self-correction are even possible despite formal education. Cronyism, intimidation, demoralized staff, faculty, and students, and a demoralized community of interests are the by-product of the current model of leadership. Institutional bullying of staff, faculty, and students, censure of all voices of accountability, the request of staff to make false claims of criminal behavior by those viewed as a threat. Millions of dollars in liability from bullying of staff and faculty. Crony contracts for highly placed individuals requiring minimal work product, extremely low black contract and vendor participation. A high reduction in enrollment over the last six years; extremely high. The unethical suppression of our next two generations of black scholars, (who are) committed to a more equitable model of governance, management, and leadership than the current model. Gross financial irresponsibility in the process and execution of the hiring of Dr. Calhoun and his forced resignation. There must be a forensic audit of the finances of this public institution as well as a full investigation of the connections, relationships, policies, and practices of those in the highest offices of government, governance, administration, to root out all of those who are cronies and lackeys for the current administration. Bruce Rauner nor Paul Vallas are in any way responsible for any of these institutional atrocities. It is black men and black women who are responsible, and must, and will be held accountable by the community for these failures. Change is necessary, the old model must die.