We have a new Board (sort of ) and a new President, however, much remains the same here at Chicago State University. Specifically, our school continues to pour money into the pockets of contract legal firms for purposes that make sense to hardly anyone. Let me explain.
During the Watson era, legal expenses increased dramatically between January 1, 2010 through June 30, 2015, Chicago State paid nearly $1.5 million in legal fees to outside law firms. Included among these expenses: $230,000 to defend Wayne Watson in the Crowley suit, plus another $100,000 for the appeal; $62,000 for a firm to handle trademark applications; $27,000 for a firm to do research for the “West Side Campus”; $49,000 to a firm to assist with the dissolution of the old and the formation of the new “foundation”; $26,000 to a firm to investigate the behavior of a dissident faculty member; $92,000 to a firm for threatening the faculty blog with a lawsuit for “trademark infringement” or some such nonsense; and close to $200,000 to defend Watson in the Glenn Meeks suit. Let’s look at the scorecard for these legal efforts. The University lost both the Crowley and Meeks suits, the “West Side” Campus is dead, the University now has the tree substituting for the “A” in Chicago State University protected by trademark, the investigation on the dissident faculty member revealed nothing, the faculty blog continues to operate, and the new foundation is frankly a laughingstock. Not much of a return on a substantial investment.
So things have change, right? Not so much. In Watson’s years, the amounts spent for contract legal services went from $45,000 in 2010 to $110,000 in 2011, $244,000 in 2012, $134,000 in 2013, $569,000 in 2014, $397,000 in 2015, and ended at $125,000 in 2016. Since January 1, 2016, Chicago State has actually kept pace with the Watson administration in its zealous efforts to make the university look petty, vindictive, and penurious (at least when it comes to some employees). Here’s what we’re doing now.
The University has paid $196,624.92 to Akerman LLP; whose partner LaKeisha Marsh serves as CSU Board attorney. Their charge? Fuck over the faculty and staff who were laid off in 2016. They settled with 3 of our people for a low ball total of $34,000 and their jobs back. Their actual lost salaries came to around $123,000, a saving to the University of $89,000. There are still 6 former tenured faculty members who have not been rehired as tenured faculty, two of whom are currently teaching as lecturers. The salaries owed these people under the contract come to $289,000. So, the University has spent $196,642.92 to potentially save $378,000, along the way generating nothing but goodwill from non-affected and affected faculty members.
Next we have Fisher Phillips, the firm defending the University (Wayne Watson) in both the Meeks and LaShondra Peebles suits. Since January 1, 2016, the University has paid $214,467.60 to lose the Meeks case and to continue railroading Peebles by pursuing the University’s bogus criminal charges. This brings the total for these two defenses to over $423,000.
Also lined up to get a ladle full from the CSU gravy train is Husch Blackwell, vigorously defending the University’s right to violate the first amendment. Although this matter could have been settled early at minimal cost, Wayne Watson decided to fight to the death to insure that CSU could silence anyone who dared disagree with the little dictator. The price tag to this point stands at $265,000, with $91,338.14 spent since January 1, 2016.
Schiff Hardin, the firm handling the “foundation” business remains a favorite of the administration. They’ve received $80,083.59 since January 1, 2016, bringing their total since April 2015 to over $125,000.
Finally, we have two interesting firms, doing some kind of unspecified contract(?) work. The first, Jackson Lewis, advertising itself as some kind of labor and employment litigators, has received $92,981.22 since March 2017. The second, Neal Gerber and Eisenberg has received $70,233 for who knows what? I will file a new FOIA requesting those contracts and will report on the results.
Since January 1, 2016, Chicago State has spent over $780,000 on fees to outside legal firms, with $486,722.90 coming since January 1, 2017. I think it likely that by the end of the year Chicago State will have spent nearly as much as Wayne Watson threw away in his most profligate year. This looks like business as usual to me folks.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
seen my old friend Frank?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He inspired a lotta people,
But it seems good leaders, they don’t stay…
I just looked around CSU
and he’s gone.
seen my old friend Thomas?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He inspired a lotta people,
But it seems good leaders, they’re made to leave…
I just looked around CSU
and he’s gone…
In 21 years at CSU there have been three times when I have thought we finally netted someone in the upper administration with the potential to undertake the leadership that CSU has needed to move it from its oft-lamented status as the “diamond in the rough.” These three happen to be men and I would add, men of substance, who exuded intelligence, vision, and capability. I am talking about Frank Pogue, Thomas Calhoun and the third one I met last week, Paul Vallas.
CSU is not lacking in a faculty committed to moving CSU towards all it could be. But it has been badly lacking in leadership from the top for many years. Leadership, true leadership, does not issue mandates from the 3rd floor of the Cook Building such as we endured with the presidency of Wayne Watson. A contentious, venal political hire from the start, he inspired no wide support among the faculty. Our so-called overseers, the state governor, Board of Trustees, and the Higher Learning Commission permitted him to run CSU like a political ward and become the poster-child of an Illinois patronage pit. We remain saddled with the remnants of Watson’s pillaging and plundering, an execrable and disgraced provost and others whose shelf-life on this campus is well past their “sell by” date.
After Governor Quinn’s interference to save Watson and then the Calhoun debacle last year, I became convinced that the state’s ultimate intention for CSU was that it not be anything more than a southside politically-dominated community college that masquerades as a university. We would continue to be that "diamond in the rough" and any achievement a department or individual faculty made would be in spite of, not because of, its leadership. It is hard to keep one’s spirits up in the situation that persists at CSU. And there has been no Truth and Reconciliation moment over the dirty job the provost and the bogus Management Action Committee did in firing our faculty colleagues. Who has the will to do anything for which a no-confidence president or provost might take credit?
Oh, right. Do it for the students. Yes, “Students First” all the way at CSU. The words ring hollow when it comes out of the cynical mouths of administrators who have proven that their own interests and egos precede anything done for students. What would you say to the student in my class this semester who was so badly advised at the “advising center” that she is taking four classes here that she had already taken and passed at a community college? When she meekly protested to the adviser she was told that since the A.A. degree had not posted to the transcript, she had to take a freshman course load. They had the transcripts that clearly showed she had taken and passed the classes. By the time she spoke to her department chair, it was past the deadline to add/drop. Her chair told her the courses would count as electives. If it were me, or my child, I would have raised holy hell with the department and the Academic Affairs Office and possibly dropped out of the university rather than pay for four classes I did not need. But our students do not all have the kind of confidence needed to stand up to posturing authoritative administrators.
Is this what we call “students first?” Students powerless? What could any one of us as faculty do for this student? I was incensed on her behalf yet powerless myself to offer her anything beyond my sympathy and encouragement to be vigilant with the courses she needs. Faculty have protested the failures of the provost’s advising center. We have discussed this formally in the Faculty Senate and made our concerns known. Our concerns continue to be ignored or grudgingly addressed even though our concerns are not disconnected from those of our students. Have we gotten too used to people not knowing how to run a university?
At the monthly Faculty Senate meeting last week I heard CSU’s CAO, Paul Vallas, speak for the first time. He presented a tour de force of ideas, possibilities, connections and a way forward such as I have not heard in a long time here. I left the meeting thinking:
1. this is leadership I could follow, like Pogue, like Calhoun—it may not be completely possible to do it all as Vallas outlines, but sign me up—I will work hard for this kind of university. Vallas is the type of person with whom I want to work with whom I would work hard. I think he would listen and engage my ideas and let me share in the effort.
2. is this CSU’s last chance? No one person will “save” CSU. But we blew it with the loss of Calhoun last year. How many chances do we have left?
To my knowledge there is no presidential search under way beyond the Trustees talking about it. CSU needs leadership that is able to inspire faculty to participate in an agenda that is positive for the university. It needs leadership that is respected, trustworthy, and genuine. We had that in Frank Pogue. We had that in Thomas Calhoun. Paul Vallas spoke of utilizing CSU’s "faculty talent" and the faculty talent that was lost in the firings during the Calhoun coup d’état last year.
There is a bad habit here at CSU of undermining or getting rid of or ruining leaders who truly show some mettle. Governor Quinn at the urging of Watson pals dismissed the Board of Trustees led by Gary Rozier who finally stood up to Wayne Watson’s fiscal debaucheries. The left-over cronies of Watson, his protégé, Angela Henderson, and other members of that cabal undermined the presidency of Thomas Calhoun before it was a month old and forced him out of office before nine months had passed. At the Senate meeting Paul Vallas alluded to actions already in play to undermine his efforts. HLC spent way too much time focused on Vallas and his appointment and not enough on the rotten core that still holds power. Why was that I wonder?
We have a person of substance and ideas willing to work with us to renew CSU. Paul Vallas has a one-year contract. He will not be a miracle-worker. Are we going to see him undermined or cut off at the knees like Calhoun? This is not the time to opt for complacency. If we blithely think that because the state passed a budget that will keep us afloat for maybe two years (after the mid-term elections), we are mistaken. CSU cannot limp along forever as the diamond in the rough and our quasi-HBCU status will carry us only so far. I for one do not want to see Paul Vallas tread the path off this campus that we saw Frank Pogue and Thomas Calhoun take.
Apologies to Richard Holler and Dion for the clumsy adaptation of their lyrics.