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

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dr. Aghahowa, "I feel you.!!! (smile) This is your girl friend sister Leah Gilmore. You know, "I's hon-ned by da' mayor, I ain' stupid,I ga' schla-ship." You ga' schla-ship too??(smile)
    On a more serious note, I am following a close second behind you with similar complaints and issues. I know that with your strong faith and belief in the power of our Father God, you will be sustained. May God Bless and keep you forever in the spirit of serving Him. FIGHT ON !!!