Saturday, October 3, 2009

Just more of the same stuff that doesn't work

So, much has been reported about the university’s upcoming visit from our accrediting agency. If you spend any appreciable time on campus you will see much activity in preparation for that visit. I long ago learned not to mistake activity for accomplishment, so when my class was interrupted yesterday by one of my colleagues attempting to locate a student who received an academic warning I had enough. Something has to be said. Here are the facts as I understand them.

On June 1st, the university submitted a monitoring report to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association to address the progress the university had made since 2006 when the last monitoring report was submitted. This 2009 report, as yet unreleased, highlighted several deficiencies in the enrollment management and retention areas as well as in university governance and leadership.

The university received a response to the monitoring report dated in the first week of July that recognized the university’s lack of progress in the areas that were noted in the 2003 accreditation report.

By the second week of the semester, the Deans, Chairs and Directors were sworn to secrecy about the report in a meeting with the Provost. The next week, members of the Faculty Senate were given information about the situation a day prior to an all campus assembly that informed the university community for the first time about the seriousness of the situation the university found itself in. Several members of the Senate asked pointed questions about accountability and communication of this information. They were informed by the then ‘unpaid consultant’ that there would be no accountability for decisions made that led to this situation. The faculty was assured by the Provost that the process for preparing for the mandated focus visit was going to be transparent. The ‘unpaid consultant’ communicated through his comments that the process would be less than transparent. I inquired at that meeting whether the Governor’s office, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the IL Senate Higher Education committee chairman, or the IL House Higher Education committee chair. I was told then that none of the people or agencies had been contacted since the letter was received in July. I encouraged the Provost and the ‘unpaid consultant’ to thoughtfully approach how we would boost our retention and graduation rates. Given our history of lack of accountability and open communication, I suggested that the university not rush into policy shifts, personnel changes and reckless activities that would impact the confidence of the campus community.

An ad hoc committee was formed to address the situation, which by my reckoning was completely the responsibility of the administration and the Board of Trustees. The participation of faculty in this process smacked of tokenism. At the all campus assembly I made remarks to the effect that the faculty’s hands were clean in this. It was an administrative and leadership / governance failure. The university was informed that it would be hiring a Vice President for Enrollment Services. This is curious decision for two reasons. First, no other state university has a vice president for enrollment services. Only Northern Illinois which has a VP for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management has enrollment management directed at the vice presidential level. Is this creation of yet another administrative position necessary? Is that the interpretation of the problems with leadership noted in the monitoring report? Is the Student Affairs area going to be short changed by not having a VP like every other state university? For a regime purporting to be student friendly, that is a clear lack of leadership depriving the student affairs area while attempting to shore up the retention/graduation problems on the administrative side. Second, according to the Board of Trustees governing policies, “...the appropriate and duly constituted committees of faculty government shall participate in the decision-making process of the university in the following areas: ... 3. Creation of administrative positions at the level of Dean and Vice President and selection of administrative officers for such positions as well as of the President of the university.” It is clear that the faculty was not consulted in the creation of the Vice President for Enrollment Services. So yet again the administration fails in their duties and there is no accountability for the failure from the BOT. That leads me to believe that the BOT is the core problem. They historically have hired presidents who prove to be incapable of providing the necessary leadership to prevent situations like this instead of ineptly responding to them.

This leads me to yesterday. While in the middle of my lecture a department chairperson from my college inquired as to the whereabouts of one of my students who had received an academic warning. The student was not in class, nor was the telephone number he tried contacting her on a good one. Sadly, we have gotten to the point of department chairs being truant officers. If any of you good readers have any academic references for the efficacy of department chairs as truant officers raising retention rates please provide that citation here so that my intuition can be proven faulty. Otherwise, my story is that using chairs to chase down students will likely not be successful in any appreciable way in addressing the underlying dysfunction at the university, namely a lack of accountability and no clear or transparent communication process. I asked when the duties of the chairs had changed. What I discovered was there is no connection between the university’s academic warning system and the oft criticized mid term grade process. It appears that the absence of a thoughtful approach to the retention/graduation problem has in large measure shown the academic warning system in its current configuration to be useless and I imagine the mid term grade system will prove to be equally useless.

So why not try something new? Let’s hold those responsible for the problem accountable. How about publishing the monitoring report and response from the HLC on the university website in the spirit of transparency. It is one thing to say there will be transparency and another to actually have transparency. The Provost has promised transparency while the now board selected president has been notably silent on the issue of transparency and communication. At least the BOT is consistent in its selection of presidents, professional administrators with no connection to students or faculty and no experience or inclination in communicating or being accountable.

And the saga known as CSU continues.

1 comment:

  1. ...understanding your frustration...but then you say that "The Provost has promised transparency while the now board selected president has been notably silent on the issue of transparency and communication.... in your words the "Board selected president" took office 1 working day before your post. Watson is dedicated to student success. Give him a chance. This is the first President of Chicago State University for years and years to care enough about others and put in the effort to straighten wrongs out. Perhaps i am wrong, but I think he needs more offical hours on the job, certainly more than I day before making such a judgement