The rhetoric describing the controversy over Wayne Watson’s status at Chicago State is becoming positively Orwellian. The latest article by Emil Jones truly portrays up as down and lies as truth. His assertion that Chicago State’s students “deserve a university that is run like a university, not like a patronage machine,” is breathtaking, given the reality at Chicago State, where a number of persons personally connected to either Chicago political figures or to the president himself enjoy highly compensated administrative, even faculty positions.
Jones’ fifth paragraph is simply fantasy. Yes, former president Elnora Daniel resigned under pressure, but Watson hardly reduced “an indefensibly large faculty.” There have been no faculty reduction measures undertaken by this administration. Any reductions would have come through attrition, primarily due to our declining enrollment, which Jones sees as positive evidence of Watson’s leadership. The reverse is true. In the past two years, Chicago State University has experienced the largest drop in enrollment of any Illinois public university. This drop is attributable to more than simply the “essential culling of enrollment.” Even more important, the enrollment scandal that resulted in students finally being dismissed for poor scholarship occurred nearly two years into Watson’s presidency. Instead of taking responsibility for the problem, Watson courageously blamed it on the previous administration. That is “true leadership?”
Jones also writes: “This kind of vindictive blood sport has no place in an institution of higher learning.” He is correct, but unfortunately, Wayne Watson and his supporters have used character assassination by innuendo as one of their primary defenses of his presidency.
Watson came to Chicago State amid controversy. Although neither he nor the other finalist, Carol Adams, were on the short list of the university search committee, then board Chairman Leon Finney ignored the desires of the search committee and anointed Watson president. As a result, virtually the entire search committee resigned in protest. The relationship between Watson and the university community began contentiously, with the incoming president making deprecating remarks about the school, its staff and faculty. In the past three years, the contention has increased, bringing us to this point.
The faculty had substantive reasons for the no-confidence vote of November 6, 2012. They include: declining enrollment, down 18 percent in 2 years. Unacceptably high numbers of audit findings, another problem Watson blamed on the previous administration. In fact, Chicago State had 41 in 2011, and 34 in 2012. In comparison, Elnora Daniels’ worst year resulted in 20 audit findings. Watson has done virtually no fundraising for the university, one of the most important responsibilities of a university president. His relationship with the faculty has deteriorated beyond the point of repair. His administration continues to do foolish things like their recent attempt to stifle the right of free speech for all university employees, which subjected the university to nationwide ridicule; contributing to the school’s negative image as a laughingstock.
We believe Wayne Watson is a poor president, and his performance demonstrates that. However, he has powerful supporters who have the kind of media access that enables them to frame a one-sided narrative: Wayne Watson the victim. The students, staff and faculty at Chicago State University command no such platform, all we have on our side is the truth.
Robert E. Bionaz
Associate Professor of History
Chicago State University