In another accreditation dog and pony show, representatives of the HLC and the Chicago State “community” did their dance, reprising previous farces this past Thursday and Friday. Since our financial issues have basically been resolved, the most recent HLC visit focused on “governance” whatever that means to our accrediting body and university administrators.
The clown show included a range of the usual suspects; Frank Horton and his crusade against Paul Vallas, and by extension Rachel Lindsey; the happy, happy, joy, joy pronouncements of a number of university employees; and the faculty and staff expressing concern about a number of issues—concerns for the past eight years that we have articulated consistently to no effect. Some of those nagging issues included questions about why HLC now seems so interested in the internal affairs at Chicago State after years of inaction as the university went into a near-death spiral. Questions about why the university continues to employ a Provost with no support from any campus constituency, and near unanimous opposition from the university faculty. Questions about why the HLC representatives saw fit to interview former interim president Cecil Lucy, someone who never held a permanent position at the university; a spectacularly unqualified nonentity who worked assiduously against the interests of the university by being a key member of the senior administrative staff undermining President Calhoun. After the sound and fury of the past two days, the HLC will make its determination as to Chicago State’s status sometime in November. It will be interesting and instructive to see what they decide.
Since at least February 2016, this university has existed in sort of a limbo. The financial problems created pressure, at least until the school received state appropriations in late April and late June of 2016. The abominable performance of arguably the worst university Board of Trustees in the United States created additional unnecessary chaos by its stupid declaration of “Financial Exigency”; its stupid decision to grant former President Watson unearned perquisites which allowed him to essentially create a shadow administration working against the interests of the properly constituted university leadership; then capped off the whole fiasco by dumping the president and installing Lucy as interim president, apparently based on the understanding that he would do nothing to disturb the status quo. Most important, as the Board betrayed the university and its various constituencies in September 2016, the only voice raised against that action came from the student trustee. A disgraceful chapter in the university’s history, one from which we have yet to recover.
We have been and are now standing at a fork in the road. One fork leads to an uncertain new way of doing things, a commitment to including faculty and staff in the governance of this institution. Not in the way that has been done for years—a cynical effort to provide the imprimatur of legitimacy for some actions in direct contravention of the best interests of students, staff, and faculty—but in a way that actually uses the untapped resources available in the ranks of university employees. The other fork continues us along the path we have been traveling for years; the path of unimaginative and stagnant institutional and academic practices, the path of continued struggles to attract sufficient students to keep our doors open, the path of continued top-down management that has been so ineffective for so many years.
I see some evidence that we are taking tentative steps to start down the path of future uncertainty, but as I have noted in previous posts, before we can commit to the future, we must shed the excess baggage of the past. I consider that proposition to be self-evident. First, we must stabilize the upper management ranks by putting competent people in key positions; people both credible and acceptable to the university community. We are now in our nineteenth month of uproar created by our previous board. Once again, we start yet another search for a new president, hoping she or he will be someone who can unite the university community; someone with a coherent and imaginative vision of what this school could and should look like in a few years. Make no mistake, we must reinvent ourselves if we are to prosper, bringing in another political hack like the fool we had for most of the past 8 years will seal this university’s fate.
One of the constants over the past several years has been the Board’s steadfast refusal to listen to anything the faculty had to say about university governance. Nikki Zollar described our concerns as “noise.” I think the results of that Board animosity are painfully apparent. Our enrollment has dropped more than 4,000 students and we have good faculty and staff either laid off, retiring, or like our students, simply walking away from the place. The band aid of another presidential search will do nothing to stanch the flow of our institutional life blood.
There is, however, a simple solution to this predicament. There is a possible presidential candidate who possesses the qualifications, knowledge, and experience to step right into the job. There is a possible presidential candidate who has the support of every constituent group on this campus. There is a possible presidential candidate with a vision of what this university could become, given imaginative and vigorous leadership. Most important, there is a possible presidential candidate who can bring this campus together and begin the healing process. I speak, of course, of Dr. Thomas J. Calhoun.
I can assure the current Board members that the support for Dr. Calhoun among Chicago State’s faculty and staff has not waned in the year since his disastrous dismissal. Most important, his reinstatement would enable us to immediately begin the work of rebuilding this university. The current university leadership has taken some important steps in the right direction and Dr. Calhoun is an entirely logical choice to continue that important work.
The university’s leadership situation must be stabilized as soon as possible. Dr. Lindsey apparently has no intention of remaining in her position any longer than necessary. We have had interim presidents for almost a full year, and a new search will not yield another candidate for at least another full year. Dr. Calhoun represents a completely viable alternative to the continued uncertainty surrounding this university’s leadership. I can assure the members of our current Board that, on behalf of the faculty and academic professionals at this university, I will continue to advocate for Dr. Calhoun’s return. The previous Board made a terrible mistake in firing our President. We should not have to live with that mistake, let’s fix it. I urge the members of the current Board to take seriously the proposal I have just articulated.