Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Open Letter to the CSU Community

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem.”

Quote attributed to Eldridge Cleaver.

According to the Tribune’s article yesterday, his attorney “compared Watsons' struggle to that of religious leaders like Jesus and historic icons like King.” I realize that hyperbole is one of the tools of the trade for a defense attorney, but as a historian, I can think of nothing that better captures the empty cynicism of yesterday’s repulsive parade of political insiders rallying around one of their own. This is truly a transformed narrative, in it, the oppressed become the oppressors and Wayne Watson the martyr.

Since 2010, some of us have engaged in a number of struggles with this administration. Not over control of the school, but simply for recognition as viable members of this university community. We want to be able to do our work without ridiculous and illegal restrictions on our freedom of expression, to be able to decide what standards should be within our respective disciplines, to be able to have our judgment respected when we make determinations of who should join our community as colleagues and as teachers of our students. Our reward has been vilification by an administration hell-bent on maintaining and expanding its power. Typically anonymous, but always personal and scurrilous, these missives by the administration and its puppets have served as the intellectual rationale for a "scorched earth" campaign that seems designed to ensure their continuation in power while it simultaneously possesses the potential to destroy the university. Yesterday’s Board meeting illustrated that perfectly.

The point here is not to position ourselves as victims, I certainly do not feel that way nor do any of my colleagues, but to ask those of you who have yet to engage in this struggle to join us. There is certainly risk involved, but I ask you to consider the risks attendant in continuing to be passive. I make this appeal not just to faculty, staff and students, but to our mid-level administrators, College Deans and Department Chairs. You have in many cases stood silently by or even abetted the administration in its efforts to stifle dissent and damage tenure. You apparently said nothing while this president, to the university's detriment (see Enrollment Management for an example), packed his administration with unqualified but reliable supporters. Many of you participated in the DAC fiasco (and multiple contract violations) in the Summer of 2012 and some of you actively participated in the completely improper Criminal Justice search in August 2012. I ask you to consider where your interests lie and what you believe to be your true status at this institution. Are you faculty who currently perform administrative duties or are you full-fledged administrators whose interests align with Wayne Watson’s?

In his 1968 classic, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Friere offered some insights into the nature of oppression and the relationship between the oppressed and their oppressor(s). Since the new narrative claims that Wayne Watson is being victimized by an overreaching Board of Trustees aided by an oppressive and controlling faculty minority group, it seems pertinent to this discussion. Let’s see who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor:

“The behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor.” (Friere, 3)

This certainly sounds like the situation here at Chicago State. Wayne Watson’s behavior is limited by the constraints placed upon him by the tyrannical faculty minority. Clearly, Wayne Watson meets the standard for "the oppressed" here.

Let’s try another:

“However, the oppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires. Moreover, their struggle for freedom threatens not only the oppressor, but also their own oppressed comrades who are fearful of still greater repression.” (Friere, 4)

Again, this obviously reflects the situation here at Chicago State. Wayne Watson and his minions have been inhibited in their ability to free either themselves or others. There is much fear in the administration because of faculty power. Running afoul of the faculty on this campus will surely result in at least an administrator’s termination and likely render them unemployable (because of inter-institutional blacklisting tactics powerful faculty practice). Eventually the poor administrator may even find his or her community status diminished. Again, the conditions at Chicago State validate Wayne Watson’s status as "the oppressed".

As his learned attorney pointed out yesterday, Watson is engaged in the same kind of struggle against oppression waged by such historical giants as Dr. Martin Luther King. Thus, the current titanic conflict with the Board over his position is an epic struggle underscored by Friere’s argument that: “It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors. The latter, as an oppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves. It is therefore essential that the oppressed wage the struggle to resolve the contradiction in which they are caught.” (Friere, 10)

This passage pretty much sums it up, our poor martyr, Watson is engaged in a life and death struggle to free himself, a struggle in which his liberated “educator” identity may enable him to transcend his victimization and free not just himself but his tormentors. What a man! What a cause!

Perhaps those of you who have read this far recognize some of these concepts in the reality of your own experiences here at Chicago State. Perhaps you know how it feels to be fearful or intimidated. Perhaps you have even identified the source of that fear. Is it the faculty?

Finally, Paolo Friere offers a critique that can be applied to the actions of the administrators who have gone along with the enlightened leadership of our great president.

“Discovering [herself/]himself to be an oppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the oppressed. Rationalizing his guilt through paternalistic treatment of the oppressed, all the while holding them fast in a position of dependence, will not do. True solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality . . . To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.”
All quotations from

If any of these ideas strike a chord with you, please join us. In my estimation, the future of this university is at stake. For me, yesterday’s performance by Chicago’s Edgar Bergen and his various Charlie McCarthys generated an important question. Are we going to be nothing more than a subsidiary of the Chicago political machine, a place benefiting the few, or are we going to be a university that serves its students and in that service aids the community at large?


  1. Well stated, birobi!! I think ever member of our campus community needs to spend some time thinking about what role they play at this university and answer your concluding questions themselves.

    Wayne,, have brought a great deal of pain and anger to this campus. The longer the BOT delays his firing, the more pain and anguish it causes. The longer WE allow political hacks, Chicago political insiders and spineless administrators and BOT members to make CSU their playground, the more we suffer. I believe your call is to move us from suffering, anguish and pain to indignation and action. Once Wayne is removed we will need to begin a process of rebuilding our campus including many relationships that have been harmed by Wayne's behavior. I hope that all will engage in an individual and collective process to set a truly new course for our university. There are no magic bullets for turning this or any institution around. It will require hard work and commitment. Who will join us in this transformation?

  2. Prof Pancho, to quote FDR in 1940, I am an old campaigner, and I LOVE a good fight.

    Part of the University experience is becoming a better citizen, and part of becoming a better citizen is in becoming politically AWARE and INVOLVED.

    This is a straightforward fight between those who would use an institution who's stated goal is to empower the powerless against entrenched corrupt special interests who would pervert the institution and twist it to further their own despicable ends.

    SHAME on faculty members who shirk their duty in helping their students in this VITAL part of the University experience this week.

    EMPOWER the students by INFORMING us on what the fight is about.

  3. There should be no question that the "CSU Community" especially includes students. We need the entire CSU family to unite and fight this battle. I personally reject the notion that the faculty "empower the students." The students do that themselves, they are the most powerful collective voice on campus and need only realize that to effect change. Our responsibility as faculty is to inform. The power to act rests with you.

  4. Doc, notice how I specifically said empower via informing. :)

    LOL. You KNOW I'll be there. GOTO your FB page, doc.