Monday, February 17, 2014

Responsibility, Transparency and Accountability in the Watson Regime at Chicago State: In a Laughable FOIA Response, CSU Legal Team Claims the University Actually Spends More than $400 million on an $84 million budget.

You really cannot make this stuff up. We have all seen how some of our upper-level administrators lie, cheat and plagiarize to acquire and hold their lucrative positions. We have become familiar with Orwellian rhetoric and outright mendacity from administrative mouthpieces trying to justify the various misbehaviors of this execrable regime. In particular, the Watson cabal dislikes having its ethical lapses and questionable practices publicly exposed. Stonewalling, something that has been too little explored on this forum, plays an important part in the Watson administration’s strategy for preventing its actions from being exposed to the light. In order to accomplish this, the administration uses its crack legal team to crank out all number of ridiculous rationales for its contemptible conduct.

However, the stonewalling sometimes becomes untenable given the fact that state oversight agencies are able to order Chicago State to cease its laughable behavior. In that case, the university administration’s options are somewhat limited. One possible response is a shift into its attack the messenger mode, attempting to discredit the perceived source of its embarrassment: the disloyalty of some member of the “CSU family” who dares to bring administrative irregularities to light. I believe this is the dynamic at work in at least one of the recent judicial affairs attacks on a CSU student.

Another student filed the aforementioned judicial affairs complaint against the alleged offender on February 11, 2014. This complaint alleged “harassment” and indicated that this offense had taken place on January 15, 2014. Why wait nearly a month to file a complaint if the alleged offender’s behavior was so egregious? A possible explanation lies in a letter sent to the Chicago State legal team by the Illinois Public Access Counselor on February 5, 2014. Allow me to explain:

On November 18, 2013, the student who is currently under judicial affairs scrutiny filed an “amended” Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with Chicago State University. Responding to the university’s claim that his original FOIA request had been too broad, the student asked for all invoices over $2500 from specific sub-accounts for student activities funds. The student also requested copies of all contracts relative to expenditures from the specific sub-accounts. Although this information should be readily available in any contemporary accounting program, the time necessary to copy the material might warrant the university requesting a five-day extension as provided by FOIA requirements. However, the administration flatly denied this FOIA request and provided this rationale: “the request . . . would unduly burden the operations of the University . . . [which] processes hundreds of thousands of invoices and the overwhelming majority of invoices are greater than $2500.” The university’s response continued with: “Compliance with your request would require University personnel to expend hundreds of hours to research, locate and copy the large number of documents that would fall within the scope of your request.” Given this allegedly impossible task, the university denied the request.

Of course, even in a state as corrupt as Illinois, there are sometimes higher authorities than the administration of Chicago State University. The student submitted the original FOIA request and the university’s letter of denial to the Illinois Public Access Counselor and asked for a review of Chicago State’s actions. The Public Access Counselor seems none too impressed with Chicago State’s response. The Public Access Counselor informs Chicago State that: “We have determined that further inquiry is warranted.” The Public Access Counselor then requires Chicago State to “provide us with a detailed explanation of its legal and factual basis for asserting that compliance with . . . [the] revised FOIA request would unduly burden CSUs daily operations.” Finally, the Public Access Counselor orders Chicago State to “clarify how and why the burden of complying with the revised FOIA request outweighs the public interest in the requested information.”

Given Chicago State’s track record of legal arguments in opposition to FOIA requests (see Public Access Counselor opinions 13-009 and 12-003 for examples of the legal team’s stellar work), it seems highly likely that the Public Access Counselor is going to order the university to release the pertinent records. The argument that Chicago State advanced in this case seems ridiculous. Asserting that the university processes “hundreds of thousands” of invoices suggests that the university deals with at least 200,000 invoices yearly. If the “overwhelming majority” are in excess of $2500, I take that to mean that perhaps 135,000 of those alleged invoices exceed $2500 (remember these are minimum figures based on the university’s assertions). Thus the Chicago State administration claims that the school’s yearly expenditures on various invoices is a minimum of $337,500,000.

Please forgive the descent into numerical geekdom here, but there is an objective way to verify the university’s claims, which do not quite stand up to close scrutiny. For example, the total projected expenditures for all university operations in fiscal year 2014 amounted to nearly $84 million. Of that total, $71 million are fixed costs, leaving the university with almost $13 million to spend on a discretionary basis. Even more important, the Student Activities budget amounted to $585,500 for Fiscal 2014. The discretionary budget included $168,000 for contractual services, another $9,200 for travel, and $78,600 for commodities, a total of $255,800. If every invoice for discretionary spending totaled exactly $2500, that would come to just over 102 invoices to research. Slightly different than “hundreds of thousands,” no?

Based on the university’s assertions in its FOIA denial, Chicago State’s legal team is asking the requestor as well as the Public Access Counselor to believe that the university spends over $300 million dollars yearly on an $84 million budget. It is asking both parties to believe that the university is unable to determine the expenditures from a tiny sub-account within the university budget because retrieving that information would result in “hundreds” of hours of labor. It seems like a fair question to ask how the university’s administration actually gets someone with a law degree to write this kind of hyperbolic drivel. Another reason why Chicago State is a laughingstock under this ridiculous administration.

At this point, the student who stirred up all this uproar has still not gotten a definitive statement of the “charges” included in the judicial affairs complaint. Since the university cannot prevail by using silly lies and exaggerations to fool citizens or public bodies, the next best thing might be to make life miserable for the author of the original request.


  1. My own interactions with the student activities director, as an adviser to student clubs, have left me with the impression of needless and confusing protocols and NOT effective support of students. Unfortunately I see inactivity as the outcome This is not to say there are not dedicated people in the office, but it certainly suffers from the leadership, in my view.

  2. I don't believe they are trying to hide anything but the ineptitude of the overpaid staff to perform this simple task. CSU has the technology available to perform this task easily. so the question is how do we hide the improprieties while giving this student this information.

  3. The Administration's argument stinks on ice. President Watson has long since ceased to be a credible leader of our University. He should step down before he is inevitably brought down by this kind of obfuscation. FOIA requests cannot be evaded under the rationale provided, and his lawyer should know that.