Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In the news again?

So how many more hits can the university withstand? To wit, an editorial in the paper of record, a story on the NPR affiliate in Chicago, and a story on the local ABC affiliate all mentioning the university’s connection to an emerging scandal with the former director of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). A local television station ran a story on October 17th  that was curious in this regard. The written version of the story, some eleven paragraphs long, mentions the former DCFS Director, his close friend and subject of the Executive Inspector General’s investigation and Chicago State University. There are clearly other  agencies involved so I find it very curious that a mention of Chicago State University would be so randomly added at the end of the story. Given that it is alleged that $18 million was misspent what amount was misspent through the university? If it were $180,000, then why would a 1% participation in the alleged fraud warrant a mention in the article? It seems as if the mention of the university isn’t directed at the university but at some agent of the institution. The ABC 7 story states “There are several officials at Chicago State University also implicated in the scandal.” So is the university being portrayed accurately or is it an employee at the university and if so how high ranking an employee. As it turns out the amount of money involved is at least $1million, possibly more. During the Board of Trustees meeting in December 2008, the Board voted unanimously to accept a federal and state funded grant given to the university from the City of Chicago. Little would the Trustees know that their actions would drag the university squarely into the middle of another political scandal. As it turns out, the current CEO hired a new Interim Vice President for Grants and Research Administration, what was previously known as the Office of Sponsored Programs. The newly hired administrator had neither experience at universities or experience in Sponsored Programs, possibly setting her up for what was to come later. When a “Chicago Department of Family & Support Services Head Start Support Services Contracts Non-Federal Share (In-Kind) Cost Report” was due, the Interim Vice President admitted that she signed a document without having the documentation required by the “Agency Certification for Non-Federal Share Expenses.” This essentially defrauded the state and placed the university in a precarious position relative to perceptions of the institution’s ability to perform appropriate oversight for taxpayer provided grants.  The Office of the Executive Inspector General recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Dr Harris for her failure to conduct appropriate oversight. The university responded in a letter dated August 1st, 2011 that Dr Harris “will receive a one day suspension.”
So it appears that it isn’t “several officials.” Rather it is one official placed in a position without requisite experience or knowledge by a president who though responsible for the university, has declined to publicly admit culpability in this matter. Of course one would hope that when the criminal and civil cases are launched all who are responsible will be held to account whether they wish to admit to it or not.
And on another note, is it really surprising that CSU is portrayed negatively and sometimes incorrectly when a member of its governing body lacks the sensibility to quietly resign from the Board of Trustees so as not to be a distraction or cause collateral damage resulting from an ongoing  federal investigation. Details of this story can be found here. Fortunately Governor Quinn recognized that and appointed three new Board of Trustees members on October 24th. Details of the new appointees can be found here.
Stay tuned.

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