In the past three months, we have ridden an emotional roller coaster as it first appeared we would be rid of Wayne Watson, then the political reality of a “community” uprising spurred by Chicago political players and abetted by a cowardly governor ensured that he would remain. The ensuing carnage included an emboldened and predictably vindictive president and a polarized faculty. In particular, some of our colleagues have objected to the perceived character of specific statements or actions undertaken by the faculty opposed to the president. Since the Watson opposition has been unable to adhere to the standards of perfection demanded by these enablers (some masquerading as critics), they have found it appropriate to remain mute while the administration and its minions continues its attacks on the academic character of this university. For example, there is no need to catalog the various administrative abuses currently occurring in a variety of job searches, if one is interested, that information is easily obtainable simply by speaking with someone on one of the search committees. This administration seems to exist for two primary purposes: 1) to advance its friends by ensuring that they occupy key (and well-paid) management positions at the university; 2) to destroy any opposition through intimidation, firings, manipulation of the hiring and tenure process, and by outright lies and character assassination if necessary.
The contemptible letter sent to the Board of Trustees by Wayne Watson during his recent dispute with the Board illustrates the administration’s preferred method of operation. It is packed with vague accusations, innuendo, personal attacks and bald-faced lies. Given the possibility of the Provost’s impending retirement and the ascendance of one of Watson’s most loyal cronies to her position, it seems useful to review the material that focused on the Provost.
Watson’s two major accusations against Westbrooks included the implication that she played a major part in the policy failures that led to two major audit findings. Watson informed the Board that the “General Counsel [Patrick Cage] was prepared to explain her [Westbrooks] role in facilitating the policy directive that allowed hundreds of students to continue to enroll and receive federal and state aid while not meeting published academic standards.” Also, Watson claimed that Westbrooks had been responsible for the administration of “off-campus class sites that were not approved by our accreditors [or] the federal government.” In addition, Watson accused Westbrooks of giving “false statements to investigators at the University who later uncovered her involvement.” Watson’s letter contained nothing specific about any of the allegations and, most interesting, there was no mention of the office responsible for the administration of both financial aid and academic support: Enrollment Management. Since at least 2010, both those functions have been under the control of the Enrollment Management office yet there is nary a word in Watson’s letter about their culpability in either of the audit findings.
In fact, the university suffered a substantial amount of adverse publicity in 2011 regarding the continuing financial aid paid to students who were ineligible. In 2013, the university had to repay several hundred thousand dollars to the federal government. Since financial aid resides in Enrollment Management and is currently managed by Cheri Sidney, how exactly does the Provost’s Office “facilitate” any policies relative to student loans? Watson’s letter does not explain. The off-campus sites also created federal financial aid issues. In both 2012 and 2013, auditors found the university out of compliance with federal student aid requirements for off-site locations. The 2012 audit found that the university had failed to gain required approval for its off-campus sites from the U.S. Department of Education. Although the university prepared a plan of corrective action, the 2013 audit found that improper disbursements continued between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, because “staff was still in the midst of implementing the prior year corrective action plan and automating the process which included training on all the steps required for the reporting of a new location.” Thus, despite a year to do so, the team at Enrollment Management failed to correct a major federal financial aid problem.
Given the much ballyhooed “culture of accountability” brought to Chicago State by Wayne Watson, one might expect heads to roll over such major administrative failures. Since his letter blamed the Provost for the audit findings and accused her of being untruthful in her response to investigators, the president would have been justified in summarily dismissing her. What did he do? He covered up the problem and ultimately rewarded Westbrooks with a substantial raise. In his letter to the Board Watson claimed that he “had asked Dr. Westbrooks to resign or retire immediately following our accreditation visit. I handled this matter in a manner to not harm Dr. Westbrooks nor (sic) remove her during a critical re-accreditation process.” The HLC visit occurred in early November 2012. Since it is now mid-June, Dr. Westbrooks obviously neither resigned nor retired following the accreditation visit and Watson rewarded her in March 2013 with an 18.8 percent salary increase. Here’s what I think: any public discussion of these continuing financial aid problems would have exposed the leaders of Enrollment Management as the inept administrators they seem to be, since the real threat to federal funding emanates from Enrollment Management, not the Provost’s Office. Most important, that disclosure might stall the upward progress of two of Watson’s favorite cronies.
For those faculty and staff who have not decided that the opposition to Watson is intemperate and therefore should not be given credibility, I ask you to consider the difference in the evidence supporting our arguments and the evidence marshaled by the administration in support of its position. The contents of this post are supported by actual documents. The organizational positions of Financial Aid and the Office of Academic Support come from university organizational charts. The quotations attributed to Watson are taken from the unsigned and undated letter of late February 2013 titled: “Dear Members of the CSU Board of Trustees.” The material relative to the audits comes from the Compliance Reports of the Illinois Auditor General for the years 2012 and 2013 and is accessible on the web. The Provost’s raise was reported in the Chicago Tribune on March 28, 2013. I would be happy to correct any factual errors if they are brought to my attention.