As we enter August, Chicago State continues to employ a University Provost with absolutely no support from the University faculty. Why? There seem to be two rationales circulating: 1) that former President Wayne Watson gave her a “five-year contract”; 2) that the Higher Learning Commission’s concerns about Chicago State make it extremely difficult to take action against the Provost, in effect, providing her “cover.” However, looking at relevant documents reveals that neither of those conditions obtain. The Provost continues to have a job because the University has chosen to retain her. I will explain.
The Regulations of the Chicago State Board of Trustees specify employment conditions for various classes of employees at the University. Administrative positions are “at-will,” and the authority to hire employees rests with the University President or her/his designated representative. On December 9, 2014, Renee Mitchell appointed Angela Henderson Provost of Chicago State University, effective December 1, 2014, at an annual salary of $225,000. She has served in that capacity until this date. The memorandum appointing her to the Provost’s position contains no special agreements or any extended terms of employment. Thus, the Provost is an at-will employee who can be discharged at any time, with or without cause.
The former Board’s stupid decision to declare “financial exigency” in February 2016, exposed the University to scrutiny by the Higher Learning Commission. In July of that year, the Commission put the University “on notice” because of its financial uncertainty. In September, the Board fired President Thomas Calhoun and replaced him with an Interim President, Cecil Lucy. In January 2017, the Governor appointed four (4) new Board members. In March, the Commission issued a draft report that recommended removing Chicago State from “notice,” and returning it to normal accreditation status.
In March, things began to go pear-shaped. First, the Board announced that it would install a new Interim President by April 7, 2017, and that Lucy would be demoted back to the position of Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance. In late March, Lucy reportedly met privately with one of the HLC staff people, Dr. Anthea Sweeney. On April 7, 2017, the CSU Board announced the appointments of Dr. Rachel Lindsey as Interim President and Mr. Paul Vallas as the University’s Chief Administrative Officer, a newly created position.
On May 24, 2017, Anthea Sweeney sent a letter to Chicago State asking about its lines of authority and wondering whether the Interim President had the “unfettered authority” over “all other employees of the institution.” Her concerns stemmed from an understanding that according to his job description, Mr. Vallas was able to make “make recommendations to the HR Committee of CSU’s Board on personnel changes and improvements and . . . upon consent of said HR Committee, carry out personnel directives.” Sweeney wrote: “Commission staff perceives within this job description the implication of Board encroachment in day-to-day affairs . . . as well as an ambiguous reporting structure vis-à-vis the Interim President.” Based on the information cited in the letter, these concerns seem entirely appropriate.
On June 29, 2017, the HLC Board voted to extend Chicago State’s “on notice” status. In a letter dated July 10, 2017, the HLC notified the University of this action. The pertinent portion of the communication reads: “the University should submit a brief report that provides any additional details that are available related to the University’s current governance and administration and planning as highlighted in the Staff Analysis, which was provided to the University in May 2017.” Additionally, the HLC asked that the report “include an update on terminations, particularly among executive staff and senior administration. The report may also include any additional information you have about the University’s financial resources in light of the adoption by the Illinois legislature of a budget. This report should be prepared and submitted to the Commission within 30 days of this letter, or no later than August 9, 2017.”
Nowhere in the HLC letters is there any specific reference to the University Provost. There is also no suggestion that the President’s ability to discharge employees should be restricted. In fact, the language about the CAO job duties cited in the May 24, 2017, letter is ambiguous and should be clarified. In reality, Dr. Lindsey has “unfettered authority.” That must be made clear to the HLC. To summarize, there are no internal contractual or external accrediting impediments to the discharge of Chicago State’s Provost.