Sunday, December 19, 2010

Highlights from the Board of Trustees Meeting (or, A University Without Faculty…)

Friday December 10th was the last CSU Trustees meeting of 2010. In case you missed it here are some of the highlights:

1. Trustee elections that afternoon brought about a new Chair, Gary Rozier; Vice-Chair Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott; and Secretary Lisa Morrison Butler. All are the new Gov. Quinn appointees. Best of luck to them.

Did I hear that right?
2. At one point during the nomination for Secretary of the Trustees, Rev. Tolliver asked Langford Neal, Trustees’ legal counsel, if Neffer Kerr, the student representative, could be nominated for the position of Secretary of the Board. I believe Rev. Tolliver was serious about this. No disrespect to Ms. Kerr, but considering the faculty has absolutely NO representation on the Board is anyone else out there as uncomprehending of his thinking as I was? Ok, we are in the season of “a child shall lead them” and all that, but if a student can be Secretary, why stop there? Let the student trustee be elected Chair of the BOT. Well, now wait a minute, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea now that I think of it… In the end Ms. Kerr declined the nomination and legal counsel, who did not know the answer to Rev. Tolliver’s question, did not have to rule on it.

Straight from the Orwellian Playbook.
A student spoke to me at the end of our final exam this week and expressed great shock and outrage after learning of how history is being re-written (or written out of) the high school curriculum in the State of Texas. The conservative Texas school board will emphasize Christian values, capitalism, rehabilitate the reputations of Jefferson Davis and Joe McCarthy and de-emphasize “contributions” of minorities to U.S. history. Since we had spent some part of the semester discussing the “construction” of history I was happy to find that my student made this connection to the events in Texas. It’s not just the “victors who write the history,” it’s state school boards and legislatures as well.

And anyone who has read Orwell’s 1984 knows that totalitarian states are dependent on this kind of re-writing or erasures from history. Which brings up the rewriting of history at our very own CSU.

3. In some lengthy remarks praising Rev. Tolliver, Rev. Finney stressed Tolliver’s peaceful handling of the 2009 CSU Presidential Search process that ushered in Dr Wayne Watson to CSU’s CEO position. Calm? Peacful? As the “Holy Alliance” shared the dais with their CEO, and gave a show of hugs and handshakes all around I wondered if anyone else recognized CSU newspeak: “All war is peace,” “all lies are truth.”

4. If you are as curious as my student is about how history is constructed or erased in the re-telling, check back on some of the blogs here and from the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times, and ChiTown Daily New(i.e. the “white-controlled media”) for a reminder of those contentious months in the spring of 2009. Rev. Finney is interpreting history against the evidence. This is just a fraction of the timeline from that period:





I suppose it is not a surprise that Rev. Finney would want to construct the history of the CSU Prez search in his own way, memory fades over time and they are all friends after all. What is disturbing is that the public record of the events of those meetings has been erased. Try as you might, you will not find a single reference to the resignation of the Faculty Search Advisory Committee on April 17, 2009 in the BOT Minutes for that day, not in the section under Presidential Search, not in the Executive session. No mention of the letter of resignation that was submitted, let alone of the contentiousness of the meetings in April. Check out the minutes for those meetings (they are public records and are posted on the CSU Trustees webpage) if you want to see how well CSU matches Texas in its revision of history.

And on other Fronts
5. The 1000-room dormitory seems to be underway in the imaginations of the upper Administration and Trustees; full steam ahead on getting that off the ground. No word, however, if this will be constructed at the CSU “West-side campus” or the one on 95th Street…

6. In the President’s Report based on the last 3-4 months Dr. Watson reported that he has continued to push for articulation agreements with high schools and community colleges around the City; wrote letters to ILL legislators who are grads of CSU citing CSU’s accomplishments. And in a performance self-evaluation to Trustee Hill he mentioned that she wanted to see more “metrics” in it (i.e. items that can be measured—enrollment, retention, grad statistics etc.).

7. A video of a short t.v. commercial to be broadcast somewhere sometime with Dr Watson and students was shown.

8. Lastly, discussion among Trustees, Administrators, and Students led to high-fives all around over the declared success of the IPAD initiative as reported by CIO, Ce Cole Dillon. For those not in the know, this was the idea to supply first-time, full-time students with IPADs —was it to enhance student learning or to lure them to CSU? a little of both, I guess. This was an initiative taken up and approved in a July 2010 BOT meeting. At this meeting Trustee Samuels wanted to get faculty input on the initiative, but Rev. Finney did not see the necessity of delaying the process in this way. Approximately $350,000 was spent to bring this technology to incoming freshman students. The moneys came from the Information Technology Division. One could wonder what was sacrificed to make this possible, not to mention what process was used to make this determination.

While CIO Dillon quoted a litany of statistics from an “assessment survey” given to students about the IPAD regarding student use, Ms Kerr volunteered that the students said that giving them IPADs makes them feel that the university is “investing” in them. In response to earlier reports of the IPADs being sold or stolen, she noted that there was a “zero-tolerance” policy (not sure exactly what that means—expulsion? arrest?) for students found to have sold or stolen an IPAD.

And a Wow moment: Trustee Samuels suggested to CIO Dillon that she needed a faculty survey on the use of this technology to which Rev. Tolliver agreed! I already know from my colleagues what the IPAD technology hath wrought in the classrooms. The students may smile and say in their surveys to anxious Administrators that they are using the thing for taking notes, but if my experience is like anyone else’s, students are mostly checking their email, surfing the net, and basically quite divorced from interaction in the classroom. If I ask a student with an IPAD in my class to answer a question, I am met with a blank look and a request to repeat the question. Another colleague tells me he will ban ALL hand-held tech devices in his classroom next semester because of the distraction they cause.

After the meeting ended a faculty member suggested to Ms. Dillon that there were some problems with the IPADs in the classroom that needed to be addressed. What started out as a rather reasonable conversation with the potential for real communication, turned into an all out contest: faculty vs. administration. In many ways this conversation symbolized the divide on this campus. Why can’t faculty ask questions directly of those who have power to make decisions that affect us so significantly? Why must one have to go through the intermediary of the Center for Research and Teaching Excellence which is what Ms. Dillon suggested? And this conversation was the first place that I had heard the faculty being directly blamed for the failure of technology in the classrooms.

When Ms Dillon was asked why there was a need to spend $350,000 on IPADs, not to mention $140,000 on flatscreen t.v.s in classroom buildings, when that money would have benefited more students by updating the classrooms on campus that have computers in disrepair or no computers at all, she said that basically faculty are to blame for this. Faculty are to blame for the damage to the computers and to the theft of them (5 computers or projectors were stolen from BHS during the first weeks of school this year) because faculty fail to lock up the cabinets that house these. She said that there will be no new classroom technology until there can be a way to secure it. So there’s your answer O my colleagues who have beaten their paper notes into powerpoints and who bought into the old regime’s dictum of incorporating technology in your teaching.

The security issue led to another discussion on the impracticality of keeping classrooms themselves locked at all times or of giving out keys to all faculty for every single classroom. I think Ms Dillon is aware that this is not a high school (at least not yet) where we all have “homerooms” that are “our” classrooms for all our courses. This was not at all a pleasant conversation. It resolved nothing and did not leave hope for future dialogue between Information Technology and faculty concerns, at least not with the CIO herself. The ability of this conversation to escalate into anger and condescension on both sides makes me think that a university without faculty might be awfully hard to pull off, but would be just what many at CSU would prefer.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Faculty Resource Network: to stay or go?

Two emails came my way this week. One of them from Anne Ward describing the next round of courses for faculty from the NYU Faculty Resource Network. See below for details.

The other email from a colleague at CSU who writes that there is a plan for CSU to leave the Faculty Resource Network. This would be a great loss to the faculty here who are already denied sabbaticals, travel funds, and offered very narrowly defined "research" cues (all this taken away while being asked to train and mentor undergrads and grad students to write senior theses and M.A. theses). Anyone who has experienced the benefit of the NYU program MUST write in defense of maintaining CSU's affiliation. By Dec. 12th email Dr Liz Osika: and express your support for CSU to continue to be part of the Faculty Resource Network.

This is what my colleague has to say:

I had a conversation with the Executive Director of Faculty Resource Network, Dr. Szybinski, at Howard University at a seminar in Washington D.C and she raised her concern about Chicago State University leaving the Faculty Resource Network (FRN) program from New York University. This is very distressing news.

In times of financial constraint it is still important that universities support faculty development initiatives. The FRN has been an invaluable venue that has allowed CSU faculty through the years to collaborate with colleagues from other universities around the country, keep abreast of research and trends in our fields, and gather new ideas to bring in the classroom. It would be regrettable to abandon such a program.

I am writing to ask your support for this program. Please email Liz Osika, Director of Faculty Development – Center for Teaching and Research Excellence (CTRE) at, and ask that CSU remain part of FRN. Time is short – please email by December 12th, 2010.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

REMINDER: Trustees Meeting FRIDAY Dec 10th

NOTE: Full board meeting is at 12.30 p.m.

Board of Trustees Meeting
Academic and Student Affairs Committee Meeting
Academic Library, Auditorium Room 415
December 10, 2010 8:00 a.m.

Finance and Audit Committee Meeting
Academic Library, Auditorium Room 415 9:00 a.m.

Facilities Committee Meeting
Academic Library, Auditorium Room 415 10:30 a.m.

Legislative and Human Resources Committee Meeting
Academic Library, Auditorium Room 415 11:15 a.m.

Board of Trustees Meeting
Full Board Meeting
Academic Library, Auditorium Room 415
December 10, 2010
12:30 p.m.


1. Call to Order…………………………………………………………………….………………….Rev. Leon D. Finney, Jr., Ph.D., Chairman
2. Roll Call………………………………………………………………………………………………...………….…………………Ms. Altricia Wheeler
3. Verification of Meeting Notice………………………………………………………………………………………….…Ms. Altricia Wheeler

4. Action Items
a. Previous Meeting Minutes
b. Election of 2011 Board Officers
1. Chairman
2. Vice Chairman
3. Secretary
c. Approval of 2011 Meeting Schedules
March 11, 2011 May 13, 2011
June 24, 2011 September 23, 2011
December 9, 2011

5. President’s Report…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..…….Dr. Wayne Watson
a. CSU Commercial……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..Dr. Wayne Watson
b. iPad Update………..………………………………………………………………………………………………………….Mrs. Ce Cole Dillon

6. Reports
a.Academic and Student Affairs……………………………………………………....Trustee Betsy Hill, Chairman

b. Finance and Audit…………………………………………..……………..Trustee Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott, Chairman
1. Action Items
a. Bond Refinancing
b. Pharmacy Tuition Increase
c. Pharmacy Fee Increase
d. Occupational Therapists Collaboration in Urban School-Based Practice
e. Legislative Language Changes for Capital Improvements
c. Facilities……………………………………………………………………………………………………….Trustee Gary Rozier, Chairman
d. Legislative and Human Resources….………………………….Trustee Lisa Morrison Butler, Chairman
e. Civil Service Merit Board……………………………Trustee Rev. Richard Tolliver, Ph.D., Chairman
f. Foundation………………………………………………………………………………...................Trustee Gary Rozier
g. Student Trustee…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….Trustee Neffer Kerr

7. Recess into Executive Session Pursuant to The Illinois Open Meetings Act
a. Employment Matters
b. Legal Matters
c. Collective Bargaining Matters
d. Minutes of Meetings Lawfully Closed

8. Reconvene into Open Session Action Items
a. Approval of Meeting Minutes Lawfully Closed
b. Approval of Special Board Meeting Minutes

9. Other Matters
a. Public and Employee Comments

10. Adjournment

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whither the Search Committees?

So one of the less exciting aspects of being in the professorate is serving on committees. I would venture a guess that most faculty have an internal ranking system of committees that they would prefer to serve on. Committees that address curricular issues or faculty personnel matters are likely more desirable than serving on the budget committee. However, committee work is critical to the life of a high functioning university. The meetings may be tedious, the charges ambiguous, the resources needed unavailable and faculty owe the institution they serve the depth and breadth of their intellectual capacity to address the non-classroom or non-research issues facing the institution. It is part of our evaluation process. The service we provide to our departments, colleges, university and community is important. It isn’t glamorous and clearly not anything faculty should be saved from. Yet, I am mystified by the recent death of search committees since the installation of the new regime. Several new administrators have been hired in an interim capacity only to seemingly be made permanent after six months or so. It was my understanding that searches are to be conducted for positions of dean and above.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, the Office of Access & Equity oversees both academic and non-academic personnel matters. The office has published online a Search Manual to aid in the process of recruiting, interviewing and recommending highly qualified applicants. UIC, as a Research 1 institution, is subject to federal guidelines on the use of search committees. Of course there are situations that do not warrant the formation and use of such committees and those circumstances are explicated in the Search Manual. For academic positions of Dean and above, search committees are required and for administrative positions, Director and above, search committees are required. A search of the CSU website yielded ten results on the term “search committee” with seven of those results being related to the most recent presidential search process.
The examination of that process begs the question of “where have the search committees gone?” If there were no expectation or necessity of a search why appoint someone as the Interim in the first place? I sought an answer to this question by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request. I was curious if faculty had been appointed to search committees so I requested, “Letters of presidential appointment of those search committees constituted between July 1, 2009 and November 15, 2010.”
Interestingly I was denied by the university the information related to the appointment of search committees. This was a very curious and troubling development for an administration that does not seem to have gained any traction in the past year in addressing fundamental issues. The near riot during the financial aid disbursement, the imposition of a Senior Thesis without evidence of its need or efficacy or consultation with the faculty, the “right sizing” initiative, the departure of a nationally renowned scholar under questionable circumstances, micro-management in the selection of academic department chairs without regard to faculty wishes, lower enrollment and no demonstrated commitment to fund raising all indicate an administration struggling to understand how doctoral degree granting institutions function and differ greatly from junior colleges. Abandoning a vital quality control process like a search committee is another indicator of an administration determined to rule by fiat in the guise of populism with no interest in principle or practice of shared governance. Denying faculty an opportunity to serve on search committees is tantamount to declaring the university to be a fiefdom to be ruled at the pleasure of the president. What is this regime afraid of in ending the search committee process? It should understand that flawed processes lead to flawed outcomes? It is clearly flawed not involving the university in university business. I understand the reluctance to include faculty. Faculty may ask hard questions, challenge applicants, demand high standards, overlook personal acquaintance as a hiring criteria. No administrator I know would want to be second guessed this way by faculty in a hiring process. But as the UIC Search Manual states:
A search committee, though not always necessary, will in most cases strengthen the pursuit of high-quality and diverse appointees. Good search committees will seek out and attract first-rate applicants. For positions of campus-wide significance, a properly balanced search committee can ensure that various constituencies are represented in
Developing search strategies
Participating in recruitment activities
Screening candidates
Search committees are always advisory, since ultimate responsibility for hiring rests with the key administrator. Crucial to the success of any search is a serious commitment to the time and effort required on the part of the search committee members, its chair, and the unit served. Also an important goal of the search committee is to make good faith efforts to identify appropriate women and minority as well as majority candidates, not to be satisfied merely with "what comes in over the transom." The end of such an approach, however, is almost always worth the efforts.”
Since the regime has apparently done away with search committees, ostensibly because of their anachronistic nature, might the university consider doing away with the archaic process of deans having hiring authority in academic departments or of the president selecting department chairs. Let the faculty members of the departments decide who they want to work with and spend substantial parts of their careers with. In the spirit of cost saving or time saving or building a better mobile mouse trap let’s end these arcane decision making processes across the board.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Thoughts on Universities, and the Importance of Faculty Unions

A few weeks ago, a previous post challenged CSU faculty to think about what a university is and the contradictions created by the so-called "business model" or "corporate model" that has become increasingly dominant at universities in the U.S., including at CSU. Many of you may be familiar with the situation at SUNY-Albany, where the president there recently announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. Since this announcement, numerous faculty from across the US have denounced the actions of the SUNY-Albany president, but one recent example of such a denunciation struck me as quite telling.

In a letter written to the SUNY-Albany president, biologist Gregory A Petsko pointed out that it is precisely the dominance of the business model and its incompatibility with universities that is at the root of this recent attempt to eliminate these departments. I will just quote one small part of his letter that outlines this: "As for the argument that the humanities don't pay their own way, well, I guess that's true, but it seems to me that there's a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I'm not saying it shouldn't be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do 'old-fashioned' courses of study. But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future." I encourage you to read the entire letter, which I have linked above.

At the same time as this attempt to eliminate departments and programs as "cost savings measures," we have been reminded again of the importance of faculty unions in helping to prevent such draconian tactics. At Florida State University, an arbitrator has ruled in favor of faculty members who filed a grievance through their union, requiring FSU to rescind the firings of these faculty members. You can read about this decision in The Chronicle of Higher Education and in Inside Higher Ed.

These events are worth reflecting on as we think about the ideas that we were challenged to think about in the previous post on this blog. It was a call to action, and perhaps we need to think about what kinds of action we can take to engage the CSU campus in a wide-ranging dialog that looks both inside CSU and at universities across the world. What is a university? What kind of university do faculty & students want CSU to be?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


So one of our responsibilities as faculty is to recognize each other, especially colleagues in other disciplines. Our long serving colleague in the College of Health Sciences, Elizabeth Wittbrodt, merits special notice. Professor Wittbrodt has served on faculty here since 1987. She has taught thousands of students in her 23 years here. She is a multiple Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers award winner. Not only is she an exemplary teaching faculty, her professional service includes appointment as an Accreditor in the American Occupational Therapy Association,and as an Appeals Board member in the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. From 2006 until 2010 Elizabeth served as President of the Illinois Occupational Therapy Association. She received the Honorary Award of Merit for her work in reshaping Occupational Therapy in the State of Illinois. The only previous award winner, Artice Harmon, created the OT program at Chicago State in 1980. In her two decades of service Elizabeth has mentored junior colleagues and both graduate and undergraduate students. I am sure your Dean is as appreciative of your accomplishments and service as I am and will take time to recognize you publicly for your work. Congratulations Elizabeth and thank you for your service to this university!
If you have a faculty colleague you wish to recognize let me know and we will publicly acknowledge them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CSU in the News, that is, Courthouse News this time

Oh yeah, I just remembered this month we all have to take the ILL State "ethics" exam...

Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 09, 2010Last Update: 9:52 AM PT

Attorney Says Chicago State Fired Him For Refusing to Cover for New President

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago State University fired its senior legal counsel for responding to FOIA requests about the controversial hiring of a new president, the attorney claims in Cook County Court. James Crowley claims the new president, Wayne Watson, threatened his job and ordered him to restrict the flow of information to Tribune reporters and a faculty member, who had requested it, and fired him when he refused to do so.
The chairman of the board of trustees hired Watson, then-chancellor of the City Colleges, which set off public controversy, according to the complaint. "As a result, the Board of Trustees hired a presidential search firm, The Hollins Group, to conduct a search for a new university president. In addition, a University Search Committee was formed to assist in the hiring process.
"In 2009, the University Search Committee resigned in protest over the selection of Watson. Watson's hiring resulted in protests from students, faculty and administrators. As a result, the media covered Watson's hiring and the protests, and this generated numerous requests for information regarding his hiring."
Watson was hired to begin on July 1, 2009, and retired from the City Colleges on June 30, 2009, the complaint states. But the State University Retirement System required that he wait for 90 days before beginning his new job, "as a requirement for receipt of a retirement benefit," so his start date was pushed back to Oct. 1.
Then came allegations in the media that Watson actually began working - "and whether he sent contracts to his friends" - months before October.
Allegations included that he made "renovations and moving into the residence of the university president, held meetings and made decisions in the capacity as university president regarding the operation of CSU," Crowley says in his complaint.
Crowley says Watson claimed that he was "volunteering" before his start date, though he "was paid a full year's salary for a nine-month period of employment."
A university faculty member and two Chicago Tribune reporters demanded information on whether Watson was living in the presidential residence, "was using the president's staff, thereby being a non-state employee having state employees work for him, was making decisions on behalf of the state and spending state dollars," according to the complaint.
Crowley says that the media and private groups wanted to know "whether Watson was really working and not 'volunteering,' whether he violated SURS rules and state contracting laws, and whether he sent contracts to his friends."
Crowley says that in August 2009, in the midst of gathering the documents, he was called into the president's office.
Crowley says Watson tried to persuade him that "only two pages consisting of the moving company bill were responsive," though Crowley insisted that "numerous additional pages related to the residence should be tendered in order to be in compliance with the FOIA request."
Watson then grabbed his wrist and told him, "If you read this my way, you are my friend. If you read it the other way, you are my enemy," the complaint states.
"Plaintiff Crowley understood this statement to be a threat."
Crowley claims that during that, meeting Watson told him to contact the Hartman Group, Direct Mail Solutions and FLW - companies that had contracts with the university - and discuss the information that he intended to release.
On Sept. 1, 2009, Crowley met with the Illinois Attorney General's Office and turned over copies of the requested materials, related documents and some of the contracts. He also "detailed his concerns and fears of retaliation," he says.
Crowley says he had had reservations about the contracts, and that ultimately the work was not performed as expected.
Crowley says that in January this year he confronted the school's general counsel, Patrick Cage, after discovering that the contracts had been altered after he had approved them.
On Jan. 26 this year, just days before SURS scheduled a hearing for Watson, it "sent follow-up FOIA requests to Patrick Cage requesting copies of the FOIA requests made to CSU and responses which had been prepared by Crowley and noting that Cage had failed to timely respond to prior requests for the materials," the complaint states. "Crowley released all documents responsive to the FOIA request as required by law," according to the complaint.
As a result, Crowley says, he was placed on one-week leave and then Watson fired him via letter, disregarding the university's termination procedures.
Crowley demands reinstatement, back pay and costs from CSU and Watson, and damages from Watson "sufficient to prevent his future violation of 5 ILCS 430/15-5 et seq.," (the Illinois State Official and Employees Act and the Illinois Whistleblower Act).
His lead counsel is Anthony Pinelli.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What is the University? A Call to Dialogue and Action

The last two decades have witnessed a revolution in higher education. A couple hundred years of tradition has been under attack and the University has been transformed from a place of free thought and inquiry into a corporation. As graduate students in the 1990s we began to witness this hostile takeover as bastions of critical thought and free inquiry such as area studies, Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies came under attack by right wing business interests. These areas of the social sciences and humanities asked questions about power, inequality and social systems. They found that the social structures in our society, the political system, economic system, patriarchy and homophobia undermined claims to freedom and equality made by subordinated peoples. Many used the information gained from such inquiry to press for social change and social justice. The successes led to a series of backlashes from ‘traditional’ seats of power. “Family Values,” Christian conservatism, Dinesh D’Souza, Linda Chavez, the Promise Keepers, English-Only Campaigns and the like were marshaled by conservatives to realign the power they felt they had lost.

Attacks on progressive thought in the academy, economic conservatism of the Reagan years and repressive politics opened the door for the entreprenuerialization of the university. The university became a business enterprise. Those units that could pull in private monies through grants and donations (mostly from the business elite and conservative organizations) were privileged. Areas that relied less on the patronage of big business were deemed marginal to the new university. The Republican Revolution left gaps in university-funding and the less lucrative areas of the university were cut. Those areas of the university that could contribute to the development of military technology (engineering, computers, military science), pharmaceuticals, or business development (read: capitalist development) loaned their graduate students and professors to business and the military to innovate and were granted darling status on their campuses. Those areas which questioned capitalism, militarism, colonialism, sexism, etc. began to find it hard to survive.

At the same time, a new class was developing: the professional administrator. Members of this new class were trained in business principles and market thought processes. Administrators who had never stepped foot in front of a classroom nor trained in critical analysis and pedagogy were taught the language of business and ‘professionalism.’ The crisis of the university opened the doors of opportunity for the professional administrator to take over the university from the scholars and educators. The everyday running of the university was ripped from the hands of faculty and former faculty in administrative positions. The business model replaced the model of developing thoughtful, engaged citizens. The critical language of Foucault, Lorde, Marx, Spivak, Fanon, Anzaldua, Althusser, and Butler, among many others, was replaced by ‘best practices,’ ‘data mining,’ ‘customer service,’ ‘right-sizing,’ dress codes, productive efficiency, time and motion studies, time management, economic determinism and surveillance. Foucault’s panoptican reached the halls of the academy like never before.

We went from “express yourself!” to “pull your pants up!” in one generation. Everything including thought would be privatized, corporatized, surveilled and quantified. Everything has its price. For how much will we sell our university to the corporatists? For less than a six-figure salary?

This is a call to dialogue and action. We have witnessed the erosion of our campus from a university to a business. We are witnessing a hostile takeover; a slow death. The shenanigans of the Board of Trustees in the Spring of 2008 whereby the decision to name our own leaders was stolen from the faculty, students and staff of the university was the latest in a long line of maneuvers that has brought corporate think to the university. Faculty and staff see cuts and layoffs (‘right-sizing,’ the preferred euphemism of the professional administrative class), departments and programs are threatened with closing, staff is made to work harder for the same pay and then ordered to pay more just to park, decisions in areas of faculty expertise such as faculty hiring and appointing of chairs and deans are made by non-faculty entities and there is talk of ending tenure. Moreover, there is an attack on faculty and students. Everything that is wrong with the university according to corporate speak results from lazy and irresponsible students or incompetent faculty. Chairs and Deans have been asked to ramp up surveillance of faculty making sure we are in our classrooms during posted class times. Besides turning scholars into cops, such directives illustrate the professional administrative class’ low level of understanding of teaching and learning.

[Sidebar] What does informal dress have to do with learning? In the dozens of classes involving thousands of students that I have taught over nearly two decades learning has never been disrupted because a student dressed provocatively or poorly. Those who claim learning is hindered as a result of student dress should re-evaluate. Perhaps, it is only you who can not think when a student wears provocative clothes or is dressed down. For myself, I think best when I’m in my pajamas. This raises the questions: Whose university is this? Who should have the power to enact regulations over expression? Are we really ready for another lawsuit? What’s next? Standard American English-only? Bans on long fingernails and hair extensions? A finishing school?

Yet, all is not lost. As the business model proves anathema to the university mission, more and more of us realize the problems. It seems time that faculty, staff, and students understand the nature of the university and the roles we play in it. We require the development of a coherent, cohesive, faculty, student and staff vision through democratic dialogue and consensus-building (which are anathema to the anti-democratic, hierarchical, capitalist ethics and organization touted by the business model). Last Fall nearly 500 members of the campus participated in a teach-in to begin the process. Many important ideas and relationships were forged. Can we continue this productive dialogue? Can we engage each other in dialogue and action to save the university?

Friday, October 29, 2010

You gotta be kiddin' me

In the I-can't-believe-this-is-true category, word is out that there is a committee organized on campus that is seeking to institute a mandatory DRESS CODE for CSU students.

I'm posting this on behalf of a student who brought this to my attention this week. My student told me that this initiative to mandate a dress code is coming out of a subcommittee of the President's Executive Council which includes administrators and students. The Senate President confirmed that there is a discussion going on about this.

So, with all the things that need attention on this campus, this is what our CEO chooses to focus on? The great micromangerial presidency of the past year is now seeking to micromanage not just his administrators, faculty, and staff, but students as well.

What is driving such an initiative as this? Is it the ubiquitous "business model" that is supposed to be the panacea for all problems at American universities? The BHS building is plastered with rhetorical slogans urging students to drop the baseball caps and wear business attire.

I asked a few professors of my acquaintance if they noticed the falling-down pants to be prevalent in their classes or around campus and the non-scientific consensus was no. One professor said that it is rare enough to see this on campus that when you do see it you remark on it. It is hardly the case that our students are any worse in dress than students who walk around Columbia College or Roosevelt University.

Two things, I believe are at work here. Last year, Morehouse University adopted a dress code (see article and link I've posted below). Another professor here on campus noted that the dress code discussion reflects a generational issue within the African American community. I'm flashing back to 1960s and 70s horror with which the white middle class reacted when their children took to wearing jeans (an original sign of rebellion), when their sons grew long hair and their daughters wore miniskirts.

My irate CSU student said another rationale for the dress code goes something like this: CSU risks losing donor money if potential donors come to campus and see students in sloppy gangwear. Um, does anyone else here see the racist underpinning to that way of thinking?

Bottom line. CSU is not a private HBCU. CSU is not a high school. CSU is not church. If my student's anger over the dress code is any indication of student response on campus, I'd like to see the Administration try to enforce it. I think CSU's president has better things to do than to go around campus telling students to pull up their pants.
Morehouse dress code seeks to “get back to the legacy”
By Mashaun D. Simon
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
6:05 p.m. Friday, October 16, 2009

Young men of Morehouse, pull up your pants, remove your do-rags and remove your shades and hats when you enter a building.

Thanks to a new policy on the campus of Morehouse College, they are no longer permissible.

The new policy is an effort to “get back to the legacy” of Morehouse leaders, said Dr. William Bynum, vice president of the Office of Student Services.

“We expect our young men to be Renaissance men,” said Bynum. “When people go about campus we want them to represent the college in an appropriate manner.”

The policy details 11 expectations of students, including:

* no caps, do-rags and/or hoods in classrooms, the cafeteria, or other indoor venues

* no sun glasses worn in class or at formal programs

* no jeans at major programs, as well as no sagging pants on campus

* no clothing with derogatory or lewd messages either in words or pictures

* no wearing of clothing usually worn by women (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at college-sponsored events.

Students that violate the new rules risk academic suspension.

Bynum said most students are supportive of the policy.

Cameron Thomas-Shah, the student government co-chief of staff, is one of them. While working as a resident’s assistant (RA) he said he noticed freshmen dressed in a way that was unflattering to Morehouse.

“The image of a strong black man needs to be upheld,” he said. “And if anyone sees this policy as something that is restrictive then maybe Morehouse is not the place for you.”

Daniel Edwards, co-president of Safe Space, a gay straight alliance student campus organization said he has heard from students that are for and against the policy, but he believes it is discriminatory.

It is the restriction to women’s clothing that has many students up in arms.

“Some believe that this restriction is what the entire policy is correlated around,” added Edwards. “It is all an issue of perception and what manner of image you want to prescribe to.”

But the new policy is not meant to be discriminatory, said Bynum.

“This is necessary, this is needed according to the students,” he said. “We know the challenges that young African-American men face. We know that how a student dresses has nothing to do with what is in their head, but first impressions mean everything.”

Morehouse is not the only college to enforce a dress policy.

Hampton University also has a dress code, including within its business school where students with braids or dreadlocks are encouraged to cut their hair. And Bennett College, in Greensboro, N.C., has enforced a policy similar to Morehouse’s.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How Time Flies 2003-2010

A lot of buzz this month kicking off accreditation on campus--committees are meeting-- a new "mission" statement underway, a university "self-study" that will take some time to put together for the big 2013 HLC review. In the meantime, after much searching on campus, (you won't find it on the web, you will not find it in the university archives--supposedly the repository for these types of documents)-- but it finally emerged: The Higher Learning Commission's Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit to Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois, April 7-9 2003.

You know the saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same?" Wow, check out what HLC wrote about CSU's governance (shared or rather, lack thereof) in 2003. I wonder what exactly was the problem with a Provost search at that time? At any rate, check out some interesting excerpts from the report. There's still time for CSU to change it's evil ways...
OR La plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose..."

[2003 HLC Report sect.V. B.2.k. p. 11] "While governance structures are in place, many faculty, staff and students do not feel respected nor empowered. Further, there are significant communication gaps in governance mechanisms."

RE: [2003 HLC Report. V.C.2.a, pp. 13-14] "While the organization has many structures to effectively execute the mission and programs of the University, there is a lack of communication and feedback loops between the hierarchy of these structures to allow for information sharing and recognition of sound practices. This lack allows many anxieties and concerns to rebound through several layers of faculty, staff, and administration before the individual or group with expertise and knowledge base can correct misinformation and communicate chosen avenues of decision making. There is a lack of knowledge about roles and expectations. Many groups and individuals feel slighted but also do not understand the decision making process. Communication about how decisions are made and who carries the responsibility for decisions would greatly improve the morale on this campus. For example, faculty were not aware of how the provost search process was established, and many faculty and staff were operating with misinformation or conjectures about the budget. Communication issues extend to students who also expressed concerns about not being heard, and about receiving conflicting information from university offices"

[2003 HLC Report. V.D.2.a &b., p.17 ]
a.Despite the existence of mechanisms for faculty participation in the decision-making process (Faculty Senate, collective bargaining unit), the Team is concerned that many faculty do not feel empowered or respected by the administration. A recent example includes the establishment of a search committee for the Provost. Faculty Senate leadership do not perceive that they were appropriately consulted. Misperceptions also exist regarding whether admissions standards were raised and the role of the faculty in any process to do so. Many staff and students expressed similar feelings of lack of respect and input.
b. There is a significant communication challenge at Chicago State University. Many do not know their role in the decision-making process and frequently were unaware of the decisions that were made. The Provost search is one example and misinformation about budgets is another. Students expressed displeasure about the lack of factual information and being "bounced" from office to office when they seek assurance. The University will have a much brighter future when this significant issue is resolved."

RE: Strategic planning [2003 HLC Report. V.E.1.d, p. 18] "CSU's strategic planning process is public and directly involves faculty, staff and students."
[2003 HLC Report. V.E.1.f, p. 18] "The University's strategic planning process is public and inclusive. Budget priorities are developed in concert with the plan. Effective mechanisms are in place to monitor the plan, and the Budget Committee ensures that financial resources are linked to the plan's implementation."

Fundraising [2003 HLC Report. V.B.2.i, p.10] "While the University is to be commended for its recent fund-raising activities, these are still in their infancy. A culture of philanthropy initiative is currently underway. The Team encourages this development. In addition to the President and the development office, best practices indicate that the Board of Trustees and the Foundation Board should also assume prominent roles."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bits & Bobs

So fair readers I am taking this time to share with you some of the things happening on our lovely campus. First, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has opened a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in the lobby of the Jones Convocation Center for citizens impacted by area flooding that occurred a couple of months ago. It is the only DRC on the South Side and CSU has graciously agreed to host it for the next couple of weeks. If you know anybody in need of assistance as a result of the flooding please don’t hesitate to send them to the DRC.
Second, the Senior Thesis discussion continues. The Board of Trustees was informed last Friday that the Senior Thesis requirement will reach full implementation by Spring 2015, not Fall 2010 as initially reported. I suspect there were a plethora of administrative, logistical and curricular details that weren’t considered until consultation with the faculty occurred. I guess this could be a lesson in why faculty consultation at a university is important. One of the Trustees expressed a concern that if the Senior Thesis was to be applied, every discipline should have a writing requirement. That means that the Senior portfolio in Art would still be required as would a substantive written project. As the Senior Thesis is a work in progress, there will be more questions answered and details addressed to stay on task for the 2015 implementation date.
Third, your humble reporter was informed by the University Police Chief that he was over-trained in the area of Emergency Management. And by over-trained, I imagine that means that having a faculty member who is accredited by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency as a Professional Emergency Manager. I plead guilty to that qualification. I have made several comments to the BOT about my concerns about the university’s absence of preparedness in the event of a crisis or major event. The Chief informed the Board that the university had met the ‘minimum requirements’, leading me to conclude that the university is minimally prepared. The disturbing thing about those remarks is some belief that meeting the minimum should be satisfactory or acceptable. That somehow striving for excellence in this area is anathema to the administrative mindset. I fear this administrative belief, not refuted by the CEO, permeates the administrative fabric of the institution and in some substantive ways prevents the university from breaking out of the rut that it appears to have been in for at least the last twenty years. I would hope that an astute CEO would definitively repudiate any implication of minimalism in this educational setting and demand excellence and not just meeting the minimum standards. It sends the wrong message to the university community, especially in the area of preparedness and safety.
I suggested to the BOT the university consider a Green Initiative. It involves moving our diesel powered vehicle fleet to bio-diesel, creating an urban farm and composting program and implementing an E-Recycling program to recycle computers, printers, fax machines, and other electronic devices that have reached end of life. Currently, State of Illinois property control rules and regulations require that equipment be turned in and moved off campus to be warehoused. I proposed that the university, under a pilot scheme, seek to have those rules suspended for the purpose of E-recycling. There are companies in the private sector that take the property and refurbish it for use in other markets, often overseas. It would of course require that the university exhibit some leadership and do something not done before. Or would it? The Board was informed by the University’s Chief Information Officer, that this was a bad idea because in 2-3 years the use of technology will have obsoleted computers as we know them so there would be no need for electronic recycling. Who knew that CSU was moving so fast in the technology world that in a scant 2-3 years we would do most of our computing on mobile devices?
And on a final note, rumors abound about CSU students selling their recently gifted I-Pads, only weeks after getting them. Upon hearing that I became concerned about the property control implications. State property purchased with appropriated funds being sold by students can’t possibly be good for the university. Is that an audit finding waiting to happen? Thankfully, I was assured that the I-Pad which retails starting at $499, is considered a consumable and not equipment. Therefore, no property control requirements exist. If the university were ever challenged on why it used state tax dollars for technology that was sold by the users, the institution would be justified by citing the rules and therefore suffer no damage to our institutional reputation.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CSU Board of Trustees--meets on Friday

Did you ever wonder why it is that CSU sends message after message to your email on everything from the far corners of the university that could not possibly interest everyone on campus every day of the week even after posting the things on the weekly "up to the minute" reminder? The snappy mainpage of our website often repeats the same notices. The one thing, however, that stays on the down low in spite of the age of technology is the Board of Trustees meetings, something that should interest ALL of the campus community. Alas, no. No notice in the "up to the minute" guide, no email message (let alone daily email messages) about the when and where of those meetings, no flashing notice on the main webpage for all the world to see. Oh they do post the yearly meeting notice in the Student Union Building and on the day of the meeting there will be a sign outside the elevators on the 4th floor of the so-called "Academic" Library telling us they are meeting, but they do like to keep it all kind of mysterious, don't they?

So, for your convenience, I checked the website (you have to look under "Board" in the A-Z list to find their webpage, don't look under the more obvious "Trustees") and here is the meeting notice for Friday, September 24, 2010. So, if you have time on Friday poke your head in--just showing up can help keep a light shining on "the process."

Academic and Student Affairs Committee
Academic Library Auditorium
8:30 a.m.
• Friday, September 24, 2010

Finance and Audit Committee
Academic Library Auditorium
9:30 a.m.
• Friday, September 24, 2010

Facilities Committee
Academic Library Auditorium
11:30 a.m.
• Friday, September 24, 2010

Legislation and Human Resources Committee
Academic Library Auditorium
2:00 p.m.
• Friday, September 24, 2010

Full Board Meeting
Academic Library Auditorium
3:00 p.m.
• Friday, September 24, 2010

NOTE: The above dates and times are subject to change. Also, new dates and times may be added. For updated information, call the Office of Board of Trustees, (773) 995-3822.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Department Chair in Wonderland

'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'

'Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.

'I won't!' said Alice.

'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
--Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
, chapt. 12

Below is a slightly abridged version of a rebuttal letter to a number of administrators by the former chair of the English Department, Dr Brenda Aghahowa, for an “evaluation” she recently received. Department chairs especially should take note.

Associate Professor of English
Department of English, Communications, Media Arts and Theatre (ECMAT)
Chicago State University
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The transparency of the retaliatory nature of the Chairperson’s “Evaluation” I received last Wednesday, September 1, 2010, from College of Arts and Sciences Dean Rachel W. Lindsey, is almost laughable. The evaluation was handled on an “emergency” basis and under false pretext, two months after I was forced to step down as Chairperson, and perhaps three months after the Contract Administrator’s annual deadline for such evaluations. Thus, while a meeting was held last week to discuss my performance, I do not acknowledge that any valid Chairperson’s Evaluation was conducted or occurred, nor will I sign any paperwork related to any such “evaluation.” For these reasons quotation marks have been placed around the term “evaluation” here initially. From this point forward, readers should consider any use of the term “evaluation” to refer to a so-called evaluation of September 1, 2010.

While the Dean had all spring and summer to evaluate me, she did not. During the summer, due diligence was not exercised to meet with me, even though I taught a ten-week summer course that was scheduled to meet on campus twice weekly, and even though she has my home telephone number and email address. The fact that the contents of this suspect annual evaluation amount to retaliation will become clear as one considers the information that follows.

False Pretext of the Evaluation
When the Dean called me at home at 8:17 p.m. the evening before the evaluation to ask me to meet with her, I asked the agenda for the meeting. I was told that a flurry of calls had come in from the Chicago Tribune and quote, “I need to clarify some things about your letter,” unquote. She was referring to the now controversial memo that I wrote to faculty of the Department of English, Communications, Media Arts and Theatre on my last day as Department Chairperson, June 30, 2010. The memo, posted by a CSU Faculty Senator on the CSU Faculty Voice blog, has been seen by the media there, and (according to Provost Sandra Westbrooks during the September 1, 2010 meeting) also has been seen by everyone at the University.

FYI, I had picked up a voice mail from a Tribune reporter some days prior. She wanted to speak with me and others because she was writing a story about Prof. Haki Madhubuti. The reporter said she wanted feedback from those who had worked closely with him about his creative and scholarly work, and also feedback about his exit from CSU and his start at DePaul University. Prof. Madhubuti, and possibly others as well, referred her to the CSU Faculty Voice blog, to get my take on his exit, since I had declined to discuss that matter.

In any case, I was lured to the meeting on a false pretext. Be very clear that if I had known the real reason the Dean wanted to meet with me on September 1st, I never would have attended any such meeting, particularly since the evaluation was being conduced two to three months late and amidst controversy… It is standard protocol for Chairs (in fact, for all employees) to be consulted about the scheduling of annual evaluations so that they can be fully prepared, and I would not have agreed to schedule a meeting at that late date at all. Do not miss the fact that I was called on a Tuesday night for a meeting that just had to be held the following day (i.e., less than 24 hours later). It could not wait until I returned to campus on Thursday, even though the Dean had had all summer (and all spring) to conduct an evaluation.

I invited the campus Union 4100 attorney, Prof. Janet Grange, to sit in on the September 1st meeting, just in case any disciplinary action was planned. I informed the Dean via email that Prof. Grange would be there. The Union leader, Dr. Laurie Walter, also had been invited, but she was unable to attend due to the short notice given…. I am now in the faculty bargaining unit, however, and am entitled to representation at such meetings, even though this particular one related to my duties as Chair. Chairs are faculty anyway, per the Union Contract. Prof. Grange did graciously attend, and a document was to be developed later for her signature in which she would agree to not speak with anyone about the conversation held during the meeting. I agreed to no such silence, however, and do fully retain my First Amendment right of freedom of speech. To remain silent …would amount to being complicit in it and a party to my own victimization. Perhaps others will be helped by my speaking out.

The meeting was held in Harold Washington Hall, Room 300A and, as mentioned earlier, the Dean was accompanied by Provost Westbrooks. (Of course, there was no mention the night before the meeting that the Provost or anyone else would be in attendance.) During the meeting, the Dean spent under five minutes voicing a couple of …objections to my June 30th memo. After that, it soon became apparent that the real purpose of the meeting, however, was to conduct the Annual Chairperson’s Evaluation that had not been conducted on a timely basis (i.e., it had not been conducted some months earlier)…

During my thirteen years on campus, I have received many accolades and recognitions from superiors, colleagues, students, and staff because of my diligence, my dedication, the quality of my work, and my love for our students and our institution. I am very clear about who I am, about Whose I am, and about the added value I bring to any setting in which God places me to work. Thus, I stand by my work and my performance. If I did not understand the retaliation involved here, I would have to say I am puzzled that roughly eight weeks after I am no longer Chair, the same Dean who recommended me to serve as Chair for three terms now alleges that I am an incompetent Chair. The actions are contradictory, to say the least.

Asked to Manage an Additional Department Just Months Prior
What is especially curious about the retaliatory evaluation I received from the Dean is that it is common public knowledge (at the very least within the College), and it also is officially documented in a variety of places, that during Spring Semester of 2010, this very same Dean invited me to consider adding management of a third unit to management of English and CMAT, effective July 1, 2010… She approached relevant parties in ECMAT and FLL and alerted them about the possible changes, and various discussions were held in and between faculty of those two departments. Up until the very end of the Spring Semester and beyond, relevant parties continued to have meetings and discussions about what such a re-merger of ECMAT and FLL would mean…

When the Dean asked me to consider adding this third area to my responsibilities, I stated (with others as a witness) that this would be a lot of work, but that I would be willing to take on the new responsibility under certain conditions. At no time, either during the spring or summer, did the Dean come back to say to me or to anyone else in ECMAT or FLL that my “poor” performance in the two areas (English and CMAT) had made her change her mind about my assuming the new role...

…You get the picture. The Chairperson who was doing well enough in her performance to be approached just a few months ago about taking on a third area is now written up as being incompetent. Clearly, the Dean’s intent seems to be to put a negative evaluation in my personnel file when there was not one there before. This is so that if the media continue to ask about my June 30th memo and why the customary process for selecting a Chair was set aside, those speaking for the University will be able to pretend that I was a “bad” Chair, and that that is why I was not allowed to have a third term.

During the September 1st meeting {the Dean}even went so as far as to refer to an invalid evaluation from academic year 2008-09, one that cited some minor concerns that have been addressed. She said that it is her practice to give lower marks the next year if the concerns of the previous year have not been addressed. The 2008-09 evaluation (which was written up late also) was invalid because I was on sabbatical during Fall 2008. Per the Union Contract, someone who is on sabbatical is not to have an annual evaluation during that year. I also received in writing correspondence retracting that 2008-09 evaluation for this very reason. If there is any evaluation for 2008-09 in my permanent personnel file, it should be removed.

Possible Aftermath or Consequences for the Dean and Others for “Workplace Bullying”
The Dean should be warned that {her actions}can have a way of bouncing back on her. We do reap what we have sown. In other words, after certain higher administrators are done using her to do their personnel dirty work, they can simply rid themselves of her, for any reason, by simply referring to this and any other unfair evaluations and rebuttals. …{The Dean might be considered} incompetent because she knew she had a “bad” Chair in her estimation, and yet she recommended the person to serve as Chair three times instead of asking that Chair to step down.

The Provost mentioned in our September 1st evaluation meeting that sometimes Chairs who perform poorly are asked to step down after year one or year two of the three-year term. If I performed as badly as the Dean is pretending now, why was I not asked to step down sooner? Obviously, the late, derogatory evaluation holds no merit…considering the recent recommendation that I serve a third term. It is poor show…to try to pretend now that I was bad Chair.

Anyone else responsible for the orchestration of that sham of an Annual Chairperson’s Evaluation I endured last week (which amounts to workplace bullying) should be aware of the laws that govern employment retaliation. Those who engage in such bullying at CSU are just as vulnerable as those of us who are victimized by it.

In light of the information in this rebuttal, I ask relevant staff in the Chicago State University Human Resources Office to do the following:

1) Remove from my permanent personnel file any evaluation from the 2008-09 academic year (during which I was on sabbatical), if there is one;

2) Remove from my permanent personnel file, if it has been inserted, the so-called evaluation paperwork from the meeting of September 1, 2010 because I did not sign it and I will not sign it, due to its retaliatory nature.

As far as I am concerned, no valid Annual Chairperson’s Evaluation was conducted for the 2009-10 academic year on September 1, 2010 or at any other time.

_Brenda Aghahowa__________________________
Former ECMAT Chairperson’s Signature and Date

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Faculty Senate Responds

In case some people didn't know, the Faculty Senate formally responded to the Washington Monthly article from August regarding the misinformation about CSU's graduation rates. Below is the Senate's letter.

Washington Monthly Editors,

This is a formal response of the Faculty Senate at Chicago State University to the article "College Dropout Factories" of August 22nd 2010. While replete with "evidence" and "facts," much of this article is little more than an intellectually lazy hit-piece parading as a well-researched journalistic endeavor.

There are many important caveats to the information presented in the article: First, the graduation rate cited is biased in favor of traditional, residential universities. It works like this: a student enrolls in a university her/his first semester in college then remains at that university until graduation. For most residential universities, the full-time students constitute better than 95 percent of the student population. At Chicago State University (CSU), most students are commuters and better than one-third of the undergraduates attend part-time. There is only one dormitory on campus. As a result, the full-time first-time freshmen measured in the graduation rate constituted roughly eight percent of the school's undergraduates from 2004 through 2007.

Thus, CSU's graduation rate is based on fewer than one-twelfth of its undergraduate population. This school, unlike the other public universities you offered for comparison, serves mainly transfer students. Unfortunately, the graduation rate gives no university credit for transfer students completing their courses of study. A student who enrolls for one semester or quarter at another college, then transfers and graduates from Chicago State is simply not counted. Chicago State receives no credit for that student's graduation. In actuality, Chicago state granted more than 640 undergraduate degrees per year from 2004-2007, a graduation rate versus the full-time student population of 19.5 percent. In comparison, during a similar time period, the University of Michigan graduated its full-time students at a rate of 24.3 percent. Less than five percentage points separates CSU from the University of Michigan yet nowhere is such an analysis provided in the article.

Second, the student you profiled to demonstrate the problems with CSU was identified as a pre-engineering student and that he transferred to another institution. As CSU only houses a pre-engineering program, all pre-engineering students must transfer to other institutions in order to receive bachelor degrees in engineering. That student and any other student in the pre-engineering program would not have been counted in CSU's graduation rate! This was omitted from the article. Interestingly, the article highlights that faculty members were those who were responsible for providing the support to the student to ensure his future success. There was no mention that CSU admitted a student that did not gain entrance into a "selective" university due to attending a high school that, "didn’t provide much in the way of college guidance," yet prepared him sufficiently to successfully transfer to a "selective" environment. Certainly, this betrays the notion of a dropout factory.

Third, the article failed to incorporate any mention of initiatives undertaken in the 2009-2010 academic year at CSU to address retention and graduation of first-year full-time freshman. For example, the Office of the Freshman Year Experience was created to be a student-centered support mechanism that provides advising, mentoring, and study support. For the 2010-2011 academic year a cohort model of course scheduling has been incorporated. This model is derived from research that suggests that retention increases when students gain a sense of greater collegiality that develops through shared scholarly and social experiences. The Dean of the Office of the Freshman Year Experience maintains regular contact with all of the first-time first-year Freshman. Clearly, this shows an interest in improving student outcomes. While other universities were profiled that showed efforts to improve outcomes, CSU's efforts were not detailed.

Noting these caveats is not to deny that CSU has problems. The graduation of first-year full-time students must improve. There are problems at CSU. However, this intellectually dishonest article provides a false picture of how the school performs. At the least the writers should have defined how graduation rates are calculated. Had they bothered to look beyond their own biases, they might have found a school that, although deserving of criticism in a variety of areas, hardly qualifies as a "dropout factory." Had the writers interviewed more than one student, you likely would have found accolades moreso than disparagement.

In service,

Yan Dominic Searcy, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
CSU Faculty Senate President

Sunday, September 5, 2010

And we're back...for now?

"Patronage is so rooted in Chicago..." That's what I caught on an NPR report last week about how Mayor Daley has done a lot for the city, but the one thing he cannot surmount is political patronage. The other half of the sentence concluded, "...but we can't afford it any more."

I've been thinking about this as I was reading the Provost Council minutes of August 11th which were sent to the faculty. I appreciate that we are included in this aspect of shared information. Apparently Illinois politicians are interested in our graduation rates and at an IBHE meeting presidents were told that appropriations to universities will not be sent out until January 2011 at the earliest, so we may face a budget cut of 50%. Reference was made to the possibility of the state closing two universities, possibly selling one to a for-profit university and/or consolidating one. So CSU is on guard to raise graduation rates by May.

Should we be demoralized by all this? Are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we scurry about keeping tabs on first time full-time freshmen, gather statistics, watch as our colleagues' programs or our own go up before the "program elimination board?" Or, should we just sit back and let the "race card" save us this time as people think it has in the past? It seems a point of view on campus is that "they" will never close us down because we are the only African American university in the state.

Can Illinois afford the patronage pits anymore?

Certainly nothing much will happen at the state level until after the November election. I'm cynical enough to recognize that, chastened as I am after seeing how little the political authorities cared to listen to faculty voices at their doors during that farce we played out called the CSU presidential search process in 2009. Governor Quinn and Senator Malony bear a lot of responsibility for the current failures at CSU, other politicians and many of our politically-appointed trustees current and past, who have no business running an educational institution, bear responsibility as well. Will Senator Malony, whose face is now broadcast on our website like some latterday Emil Jones patron saint, step in and save us? He was in bed with the trustees two years ago and probably longer than that when he ignored faculty pleas for intervention. The machine kicked into high gear once a few internal voices began questioning authority on campus.

And how true is that old canard that the victors write the history. Read the whitewash the CSU Trustees have made of our microhistory on the Presidential Search. The minutes to the Trustees' meetings for 2009 have been posted to their webpage on our website. You will not find one single mention of the Search Advisory Committee, made up of faculty, staff, and students who were excluded from the selection process, resigning from the committee. Not a single mention of the petition and resignation of that committee from that flawed and tainted search process.

The provost's minutes say that "we need to get CSU where we are not dependent upon state dollars." Like the NPR report on Mayor Daly's situation, how will we surmount the political patronage that our leadership has relied on so much in the past? Are Phuong Ly and Ben Miller in their Washington Monthly article that castigated CSU last week correct when they describe CSU's leadership as a "familiar pattern: temporary reform followed by familiar fecklessness. No improvements ever seemed to stick."

As I was reading the comments to that Washington Monthly article, I was getting angrier and angrier at the politicians and university trustees, not just here, but all over the state.

Steve White, whoever he is, commented on the article, but he is not the first to have said all this. Many of us faculty did two years ago. I'll quote him as yet another voice out there with us in the Illinois wilderness.

Steve White on Wed 25 Aug 2010 09:26 PM
As a Chicago area resident and a professor at a big university on the south
side (not Chicago State), what Mr. Miller and Ms. Ly allude to but don't
quite state is that, as usual, a failed institution (be it a university or
any other endeavor) many times is attached to or is a consequence of failed

That's Chicago.

CSU has been a dumping ground for decades for Chicago politics. It's run, by
and large, by political hacks and fools. It's no wonder that relatively few
students, faculty and staff with any choice at all would be there. Chicago
machine politics dictates that CSU, the County Hospital, the Chicago Housing
Authority, and so on, are cesspools of corruption. That the president of the
institution was pillaging the budget isn't surprising in the least once you
understand that Chicago State is a machine school. Failure for the 'little
people' like Nestor in such institutions doesn't register with either the
pols or the public.

Another school on the dropout list, Northeastern Illinois University, has a
similar history to Chicago State and similar problems with the Machine. It
too has a horrific drop-out rate, and Mr. Miller and Ms. Ly could have
easily found a Nestor there for their story.

In contrast, University of Illinois at Chicago is run not by the city but by
the state, and the Board of Trustees traditionally have been able to keep
the city at arms' length. It has greater visibility with the public, and
those two facts keep UIC from failing.

If Mr. Miller and Ms. Ly were to examine the failed colleges on their list
with the local politics, they very likely would discover (I hypothesize) a

Whether one is progressive or conservative, correcting the problem of
dropout colleges requires one to understand the connection between failed
public institutions and corrupt politics. Be those politicians Democrats or
Republicans, the problem won't be fixed until the public demands and attains

Accountability? Chicago? Be serious.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

CSU featured again

From "diploma mill" to "dropout factory"?

Washington Monthly -Sept. 1, 2010
College Guide
College Dropout Factories
by Ben Miller and Phuong Ly

It was money—or the lack of it—that determined where Nestor Curiel chose to go to college. The third of six children in an immigrant Mexican family, Nestor grew up in Blue Island, a gritty working-class suburb near Chicago’s South Side. His father worked, and still works, two jobs—machine operator and restaurant dishwasher—and his mother makes and sells crocheted gifts. Nestor, a polite twenty-one-year-old with black-rimmed glasses, graduated from Eisenhower High School with a 3.6 GPA and dreams of becoming an engineer. (As a child he was inspired by Discovery Channel documentaries about engineering marvels, and he also enjoyed helping his dad repair automobiles on weekends.) He particularly wanted to help his parents pay off the mortgage on their weathered gray house, which is two doors down from a corner store with a large “WE ACCEPT WIC” sign in the window.

Nestor was an above-average high school student who generally made the honors list, and he was diligent in his non-school hours as well, holding down a part-time job as a busboy and line cook at the restaurant where his father worked. His ACT score was 18, equivalent to about 870 on the SAT, which wasn’t high enough to gain him admission to a selective college. (This was typical for his school—41 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black—where only 31 percent of kids meet or exceed standards on state tests, versus 76 percent for the state.) And, apart from a career fair, Eisenhower High School didn’t provide much in the way of college guidance. One time, a guest speaker had urged students to expand their horizons and apply to schools out of state, but Nestor worried about going somewhere unfamiliar. Also, if he could live at home, he would save money.

Ultimately, Nestor wound up narrowing his choices down to two nearby schools: Purdue University Calumet and Chicago State University. Each seemed to have advantages and disadvantages, but Chicago State offered one extra perk: $1,000 in scholarship money if Nestor enrolled in its pre-engineering program. That sealed the deal. The stipend, combined with federal and state grants and a private scholarship from Chicago’s George M. Pullman Educational Foundation, meant that Nestor could get a college education with most of his expenses paid.

With its tree-lined campus and gleaming new steel and glass convocation center, Chicago State certainly looked impressive. But within his first month there, Nestor wanted to leave. Advisers in the engineering department seemed clueless about guiding him to the right courses, insisting that if he wanted to take programming he first needed to enroll in a computer class that showed students how to turn on a monitor and operate a mouse. (Nestor required no such training.) The library boasted a robot that retrieved books, but Nestor would have preferred that it simply stay open past eight p.m., since class sometimes ended at nine p.m. or later, leaving him without a useful place to study or do research before going home. Trash littered the classrooms and grounds, and during class many of the students would simply carry on conversations among themselves and ignore the instructors—or even talk back to them. Nestor was appalled. “It was like high school, but I was paying for it,” he says.
Several students he knew dropped out, but Nestor stayed. “I wasn’t going to give them my money and let them kick me out,” he says. For the next two years, Nestor encountered a ceaseless array of impediments to getting through school. When he wanted to get a tutor, his advisers couldn’t offer any advice about who might be available. When he visited the financial aid office to clear up what seemed like a simple clerical error depriving him of a state grant, the office told him—untruthfully, as it turned out—that getting such grant money would disqualify him from getting any scholarship money from the Pullman Foundation. (By the time the situation was straightened out, the first semester of his sophomore year was nearly over, and the financial office gave Nestor only $780 of what was supposed to be a $1,200 grant, telling him that it couldn’t give him money for a semester that was ending. “It kind of felt like they were stealing from me,” he says.) Only with the help of two dedicated instructors—Shuming Zheng, an engineering professor, and Thomas Kuhn, a physics lecturer—was Nestor able to finish his pre-engineering credits as planned. Fortunately, this allowed him to transfer to a superior school, the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a $5,000 scholarship.

UIC, adjacent to the city’s downtown, is just fifteen miles north of Chicago State, but felt like a world away. Nestor marveled over the smoothness of the operation. At Chicago State, he had been forced to work hard to find help. At UIC, on the first day of each of his classes, professors provided lists of tutors. Chicago State had offered no meaningful job assistance. At UIC, the engineering department was sending out regular e-mails about internships and other opportunities.

Nestor is certain that the two years at Chicago State put him behind. In his first semester at UIC, he failed a math class, finding it difficult to match the faster pace and heavier workload. (He retook the class, however, and passed.) It’ll take him five years, rather than four, to get his degree. But he says he feels invigorated by the challenges. “It’s hard, but it feels like everybody’s trying to help you,” he says. “You didn’t get that sense at Chicago State.”

As it happens, Nestor’s impressions are supported by hard numbers. Chicago State has the worst graduation rate of any public four-year university in Illinois and one of the worst in the nation, with just 13 percent of students finishing in six years. For stronger students like Nestor, the statistics are only somewhat better than that. According to a study from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), which looked at twenty different colleges in the Chicago area, kids who graduate from a Chicago public high school with a grade point average of 3.5 have a 37 percent chance of graduating from Chicago State. Those with the same grades who attend UIC have a much better chance of graduating—56 percent. And for those with a 3.5 GPA who attend Northwestern, just north in Evanston, the completion rate is 89 percent. Even schools all around the country with student profiles as challenging as that of Chicago State—that is, schools with mostly African American and Latino students from low-income backgrounds—have overall graduation rates that are many times higher.

Nestor’s experience of educational incompetence at the college level isn’t just a Chicago phenomenon. Nationwide, low-income minority students are disproportionately steered toward colleges not where they’re most likely to succeed, but where they’re most likely to fail.

School reformers, including President Obama, often talk about high school “dropout factories.” These are the roughly 2,000 public high schools, about 15 percent of the total, with the nation’s highest dropout rates. The average student at these schools has about a fifty-fifty chance of graduating, according to the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. But the term “dropout factory” is also applicable to colleges. The Washington Monthly and Education Sector, an independent think tank, looked at the 15 percent of colleges and universities with the worst graduation records—about 200 schools in all—and found that the graduation rate at these schools is 26 percent. (See the table at left for a listing of the fifty colleges and universities with the worst graduation rates.) America’s “college dropout factories,” in other words, are twice as bad at graduating their students as the worst high schools are at graduating theirs.

Nearly everyone considers it scandalous when poor kids are shunted into lousy high schools with low graduation rates, and we have no problem naming and shaming those schools. Bad primary and secondary schools are frequently the subject of front-page newspaper investigations and the backdrop for speeches by reformist mayors and school district chiefs. But bad colleges are spared such scrutiny. This indifference is inexcusable now that a postsecondary credential has become virtually indispensable to anyone hoping to lead a middle-class life. If we want better outcomes in higher education, we need to hold dropout factories like Chicago State accountable in the same way the Obama administration proposes to hold underperforming high schools accountable: transform them—or shut them down.
When one examines the schools on the list of college dropout factories—the worst being Southern University at New Orleans, with a 5 percent graduation rate—one thing that stands out is their diversity. Geographically, they are all over the map. From New York to Florida to Alaska—few regions of the United States are spared a local dropout factory. Some, like Chicago State, the University of the District of Columbia, and Houston’s Texas Southern University, are located in big cities; others, like Sul Ross State University and Heritage University, are in small towns and rural areas. Nor is there a bias toward public or private institutions: it’s split fairly evenly, although the public colleges, which are generally bigger, tend to account for greater numbers of dropouts. Some are heavily weighted toward certain minority groups—historically black colleges, for instance, and tribal colleges. Others, like Idaho State, are 80 percent white and do just as poorly. Some of the schools are religious—like Jarvis Christian College, with a 90 percent attrition rate. Most are just seemingly ordinary schools that mostly fly beneath the radar of the national press.

But there are also similarities. As a percentage of their student bodies, these college dropout factories enroll twice as many part-time students, nearly twice as many from low-income families, and around 50 percent more blacks and Hispanics than the average American college or university. They mainly serve local communities, admit most of their applicants, and have much less money than colleges that are higher in prestige. Most upper-middle-class parents would never send their kids to these schools—nor have they generally even heard of them. Not surprisingly, the worst of the dropout factories are allowed to roll along in dysfunction, year after year.

The school that would later become Chicago State was founded in September 1867 and called the Cook County Normal School—“Normal” referring to schools that prepare teachers for the classroom. For a century or so, it fulfilled this teacher-training role reasonably well. But in 1965 the school was acquired by the state of Illinois, soon renamed Chicago State, and converted into a standard four-year institution. In 1972, Chicago State moved to a newly built $95 million campus that could accommodate an additional 10,000 students. Most of them would be drawn from the city’s poor and working-class South Side and nearby suburbs. It was an admirable attempt to open new doors to a demographic that had been largely shut out of higher education. But it wasn’t long before signs of neglect and mismanagement were obvious. Passage rates on an elementary education teacher licensure exam, for instance, plummeted from 82 percent in 1968 to 42 percent in 1973, and the school almost lost its teacher accreditation.

One year later, in 1974, a devastating series on Chicago State appeared in the Chicago Defender, the city’s premier black newspaper. Under the heading “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Read,” the articles blasted the school, calling it a “diploma mill, with little quality control or concern about the product,” and noted “oppressively low” morale among students. Chicago State is a “ripoff institution,” it said, “a place where a comfortable white administration and faculty is providing a second-rate education for black students.”

Benjamin Alexander, the university’s first black president, arrived as a reformer in the 1970s. He made some significant improvements, but the progress largely evaporated after he left in the 1980s. Another reformer came in the 1990s and then was likewise gone. This would become a familiar pattern: temporary reform followed by familiar fecklessness. No improvements ever seemed to stick. In 2008, Chicago State’s President Elnora Daniel resigned under pressure after the school suffered yet another severe bout of mismanagement. A state audit found that even as the university suffered budget cuts, Daniel and other employees had spent lavishly on meals, alcohol, and first-class airfare. Daniel had brought five relatives and a university administrator with her on a nine-day Caribbean cruise for a “leadership conference.” Lax financial oversight allegedly resulted in the university paying more than a quarter of a million dollars for two photocopiers purchased from a company owned by a university employee.

Meanwhile, students contended with broken elevators, dirty classrooms, and ill-equipped labs. As enrollment declined, so did graduation rates. Of the first-time, full-time freshmen who started in 1996, about 18 percent graduated within six years. The graduation rate dropped to 13 percent in 2008.

Last year, the school’s board of trustees picked a new president, Wayne Watson, who has vowed to boost the school’s graduation rate through such reforms as a new electronic “early alert” system to track student attendance and class performance. But he cautions against expecting too much from Chicago State, given the kind of students that go there. “I serve a lower economic quartile,” he says. “So they’re going to drop out because their baby’s sick, because they don’t have money, because they’re trying to survive.”

Certainly, Chicago State enrolls a large share of academically underprepared students compared to more selective schools such as UIC or Northwestern, so its graduation rate might be expected to be lower. But the idea that Chicago State is doing the best it can with the kind of students it serves is belied by ample countervailing evidence. As the chart below shows, there are more than half a dozen schools in the United States with student bodies that are remarkably similar to that of Chicago State in every important respect—from race to test scores to family income—but whose graduation rates are at least double, and in some cases more than triple, the graduation rate of Chicago State.

Take North Carolina Central University, which enrolls 8,500 students. About 85 percent of students at both schools are black. NCCU’s median SAT score is 840, the approximate equivalent of about 17 on the ACT, even lower than Chicago State’s average ACT of 18. The difference, however, is that NCCU tries to work with the students it has. The result: while Chicago State graduates about 13 percent of its students, NCCU graduates about 50 percent. “We have the philosophy that if we admit the students into this institution we have a great responsibility in ensuring their success,” says Bernice Duffy Johnson, dean of the school’s University College, which focuses on supporting students during their first two years.

Students entering NCCU are told from the start that they are expected to have a goal of graduating in four years. The University College keeps students together in groups and assigns them advisers who must approve all major academic decisions and meet with students frequently. NCCU students even sign a contract upon arriving, a document that lays out the goals of what they are going to accomplish. If they start to struggle, they sign an additional contract that commits them to even closer monitoring. Above all, what drives places like NCCU is a culture of experimentation and data collection. The administrators track students, and they track results. If something works, they keep doing it. If it doesn’t, they try something else.
Other schools similar to Chicago State in their profiles are likewise similar in their pursuit of improved student outcomes. Jackson State University in Mississippi—95 percent black, 65 percent Pell Grant, 43 percent graduation rate—divides incoming students into small groups based on their expected majors and has a required first-year course to help ease the college transition. Faculty can immediately identify struggling students through an online tracking system. The university contracts for extra tutoring in addition to what’s already available on campus. It also gathers as much data about students as it can find, using surveys of student engagement and an exam developed by the University of Missouri that tests students before and after their general education courses. “If you don’t put in place strategies and interventions to retain the students throughout the four, five, six years of matriculation then you are not meeting the mandate that has been set, and that is to graduate a larger number of students,” says Evelyn J. Leggette, Jackson State’s dean of undergraduate studies.

Such examples suggest that the stratospheric rates of failure in college dropout factories are hardly inevitable and that blaming the students has become the last refuge of the bungler. As Melissa Roderick, lead author of the Consortium on Chicago School Research report, asks, “How could a child who gets a 4.0 in an urban school system and has high performance in an urban school system and has managed our environment and overcome their poverty, overcome their race, suddenly become a different person in three months who can no longer perform?”

It’s important to note that most students who drop out of college don’t fail out of college. They leave because they don’t perceive that the educational benefit of college exceeds the substantial expense of time and money—especially not when it’s coupled with indifferent bureaucracies that pride themselves more on inane complexities than actually helping students. But when students are given high expectations and good teaching to match, they succeed academically. And when they succeed they’re more likely to keep succeeding and eventually earn a degree.
The worst colleges also tend to plead ignorance as to how to get better. But the strategies employed by colleges that successfully graduate at-risk students aren’t particularly groundbreaking. Researchers have been documenting effective methods of preventing dropouts for decades. Most are commonsensical: pay attention to students, and give them the support they need. When Chicago State couldn’t give Nestor advice about tutors, it wasn’t failing to use “best practices.” It was failing to be minimally competent. Nor do college presidents need research to tell them it’s a bad idea to squander student tuition dollars on cruises and booze.

Why, then, has the nation tolerated this kind of catastrophic failure, one that has destroyed the college dreams of millions of disadvantaged students, for so long? The answer begins with the fact that most of us don’t know there’s a problem. The world is run by college graduates, most of whom are products of the middle class. They didn’t attend dropout factories, nor are they likely to know anyone who did. People naturally generalize from their own experience, and most public leaders simply have no idea that so many college students fail where they succeeded.

Another reason why we have accepted extremely high dropout rates at some colleges—and, frankly, unimpressive graduation rates throughout much of higher education—is that we lack a broadly shared sense of what an acceptable graduation rate would be. Pretty much everyone agrees that all children need a high school diploma. That’s why high school dropout factories are condemned without question. College, by contrast, isn’t for everyone. So it’s easy to see college dropouts as people who didn’t get what they probably didn’t deserve.

But while some people don’t, in fact, need college, most do. Forty years ago, the majority of high school graduates went no further with their education. Today, three-quarters of high school graduates go after a college degree, because they know that a career with a middle-class wage almost always requires one.

Similarly, just as some people shouldn’t go to college, some people who go shouldn’t graduate. Colleges have an obligation to maintain academic standards, and the slothful are rightly denied degrees. But there is a huge difference between “not everyone graduates” and “hardly anyone graduates”—the latter being the norm at schools like Chicago State. Of the millions of new students who stream into colleges as freshmen every year, barely half will graduate on time. Many won’t graduate at all. According to the census, nearly 34 million Americans over the age of twenty-five list their highest level of education as “some college, no degree.” And there is little or no evidence that they fell short because colleges are rigidly enforcing standards. Quite the opposite: the colleges that successfully graduate low-income and minority students don’t ask less of them. They ask more. Researchers have found that more challenging coursework makes success rates go up, not down.
The public’s blindness to mass failure in higher education is bolstered by chronological happenstance: students move from high school to college at the same time that they reach the legal age of majority. As a result, without much thought, we’ve applied a binary mindset to education: elementary and secondary students are children; if they fail, it’s the fault of the schools. College students are adults; if they fail, it’s the fault of the students.

Of course, this makes little sense. College students don’t become entirely different people in the three months that pass between walking off the high school graduation stage and moving into the freshman dorm. To be sure, the proper balance of responsibility between student and school moves toward students over time. But the burden shouldn’t lurch suddenly and completely onto students between the twelfth and thirteenth grades. Good colleges understand this and take it into account. That’s why the data on colleges show such a correlation between extensive student support, especially during the freshman and sophomore years, and high graduation rates. Yet the blame-the-student mindset persists all the same.

This sort of indifference sets the stage for dismal institutions like Chicago State to prey on underserved communities, not just for years but for decades, without anyone really noticing. When a prestigious school such as the flagship University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign turns out to be making politically influenced admissions decisions, it’s national news. (When such reports surfaced, Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn immediately stepped in and forced seven of the school’s nine trustees to resign.) When a dropout factory like Chicago State turns in a 13 percent graduation rate, it’s business as usual.

It’s not just the public that’s uninvolved. While public universities are in theory overseen by a combination of state officials and voluntary accrediting bodies, none of them use their power in a manner that’s genuinely ameliorative. Low graduation rates will never cause a loss of accreditation. The fifty dropout factories listed on page 22—some of which have graduation rates in the single digits—are all accredited and advertise that fact prominently on their Web sites. Even when accreditors do pay attention to problems at a school, they tend to be slow and secretive in revealing their findings. Chicago State’s accreditor expressed “serious concern” about the school as far back as 2003, but this was never publicized. Not even the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which monitors Chicago State, knew about it. Only in 2009, when the Chicago Tribune published damning excerpts from a leaked confidential letter from the accreditor to the university, did more than a few parties know that Chicago State might be in trouble.

As for helping your students earn degrees, why bother? State appropriations systems and federal financial aid are based on enrollment: as long as students keep coming, the money keeps flowing. And since the total number of college students increased from 7.4 million in 1984 to 10.8 million in 2009, colleges have many students to waste. “It’s like trench warfare in World War I,” says Michael Kirst, a Stanford University education professor. “You blow the whistle, and they come out of the trenches, and they get mowed down, but there are always more troops coming over. It’s very easy to get new troops. If 85 percent of them don’t finish, there’s another 85 percent of them that can come in to take their place.”

That’s not the only problem with how funding for higher education is designed. It’s not uncommon for flagship research universities that enroll a disproportionate number of smart, well-off students to receive double the per-student funding allotted to regional universities and former normal schools like Chicago State. In K-12 education, that kind of misallocation often results in multibillion-dollar legal judgments against the state. In higher education, it’s called “meritocracy.”
In such a climate, there’s very little profit in mending one’s ways. After all, you can’t get credit for solving a problem people don’t think exists. Nearly everyone has heard of Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools, and her battle with the education bureaucracy of Washington, D.C. Who has heard of Charlie Nelms, chancellor of North Carolina Central University? Similarly, many people have heard of the last two Chicago school superintendents: Paul Vallas, who went on to run for governor, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Who has heard of the president of Jackson State, Leslie McLemore? College presidents don’t become rich and famous by turning around Chicago State. They make their careers by never working for Chicago State in the first place.

While big-city mayors like Richard Daley and Michael Bloomberg like to focus on fixing K-12 education, few bother to go after any of the moribund public universities that students who survive the K-12 system often attend. Fortunately, some public figures are starting to see things differently. When Secretary Duncan was asked about the college graduation problem at a public event recently, he proposed that high school guidance counselors actively discourage students from enrolling in colleges that persistently fail. Melissa Roderick, the lead author of the CSSR report about Chicago public school students’ college graduation rates, notes that some high schools are banning certain universities from their college fairs because it’s understood that the colleges will not serve their students well.
But it’s not enough just to tell high school students, “Buyer beware.” In other areas of the economy, consumers rightly expect government to protect them from grossly defective products. Governors and state legislatures should do the same, in part by tying a significant portion of state funding to graduation rate goals. Accreditors, for their part, could make their evaluations public and link graduation rates to accreditation. That could go hand in hand with intensified scrutiny of academic standards, to ensure that colleges don’t react to graduation rate pressure by turning into diploma mills.

But we won’t make real headway on the college graduation problem until two even more fundamental steps are taken. The first is acknowledging that colleges share responsibility for graduation with their students. Without that, governors, mayors, accreditors, and secretaries of education won’t be willing to expend scarce political capital on behalf of students like Nestor. The second is a willingness to broach a heretofore-forbidden topic in higher education: shutting the worst institutions down.

On the surface, a peaceful university campus can seem like a vital asset to the community. But a university with an 87 percent dropout rate is a service to no one. And chronically dysfunctional organizations can be very difficult to change. There is no reason that states can’t quickly build newer, better, more cost-effective public universities to educate people who are currently stuck in college dropout factories. No university, regardless of historical legacies or sunk cost, is worth the price being exacted from thousands of students who leave in despair. The sooner we acknowledge that, the better off those students—and the rest of us—will be.

Ben Miller and Phuong Ly collaborated on this article. Miller is a policy analyst at Education Sector. Ly is a journalist who writes frequently on education and immigration issues. She is currently a John S. Knight Fellow in journalism at Stanford University.