Monday, October 6, 2014

What Wayne Watson Really Thinks: A Modest Interpretation of the Administrative Rhetoric in the Chronicle Article

“Thomas Wogan . . . argued that the administration's relations with its faculty remained good. He blamed the conflict on the Faculty Senate, which has about 45 members, and said it had been hijacked by a small number of faculty members who ‘want to grind their political ax" against the administration and turn the senate "into their own soapbox’."
" ‘Their motivation is, increasingly, to tear down the name of this university’," said Mr. Wogan, who argued that ‘all of this puts shared governance at risk’." Thomas Wogan, quoted in “Clash Between Chicago State U. and its Faculty Leaders Redefines Hardball,” by Peter Schmidt in the Chronicle of Higher Education, October 6, 2014.

Let us examine the recent statements from the administration, quoted in the Chronicle article. Remember the various memorandums sent by Henderson, Watson and Cage about the election. They all expressed deep concern about the Faculty Senate’s failure to adhere to the provisions of its 2011 Constitution, citing the increased representation as the underlying motive for the administration’s concern. On October 31, 2013, Henderson wrote: “[t]he Faculty Senate changed the Senate’s membership representation structure prescribed by the Senate’s Constitution.” On January 28, 2014, Watson parroted Henderson’s concerns: “this action changed the Faculty Senate’s membership representation structure prescribed by its Constitution.”

Then on March 4, 2014, Watson misstated the facts of the election and accused the Senate of engaging in voter suppression: “Dr Beverly, indicat[ed] that amendments to the Constitution had been approved by 99 % of the faculty. The University has since received various complaints from eligible faculty indicating that they neither received notice of the election nor cast their ballots.”

The ever-shifting rationale takes a new tack in the recent Chronicle article. Nowhere is the change in representation mentioned by any administrative persons. Nowhere are concerns about voter suppression mentioned by administrative persons. Instead, we learn that the administration’s problems with the Senate exist because they do not like the things its members say or do. Ignoring the fact that the Senate is an elected body with more than 40 members, Thomas Wogan’s (obviously speaking for Watson) rendering of the controversy focuses on “a small number of faculty members” desiring to “grind their political ax,” while using the Senate as “their own soapbox.” All of this dissident behavior “puts shared governance at risk.”

Really? First, the members of the Faculty Senate are hardly the bunch of weak-minded fools implicit in Wogan’s characterization. In fact, the reality is just the opposite. Any rump group of dissident faculty attempting to impose its own will on that body would find itself quickly voted down and eventually voted out of office. In fact, I believe my Senate colleagues have been most convinced by the overwhelming evidence presented to that body cataloguing the various failures of the Watson administration.

Second, while a modest number of faculty have been vocal about their discontent with the Watson administration, the two no-confidence votes (28-2 and 25-2) have resulted from Senators articulating the will of their constituencies—tenured and tenure-track unit “A” faculty. This is what faculty governance means and nonsensical administrative assertions that dissident voices threaten “shared governance” (an oxymoron at this institution) is nothing more than another ham-handed administrative stab at censorship.

Finally, the argument that those faculty members who oppose Watson are trying to “tear down the name of this university” is irrational. Any sane person assessing the major source of the damage to Chicago State would conclude that the main problems emanate from the third floor of the Cook Building. What benefit to administrators, faculty, staff and students could possibly be derived by the sullying of what is left of Chicago State’s “reputation”?

To summarize, the administration’s position seems to be the following: 1) most of the members of the Faculty Senate are either fools or dupes as they are being led around by a “small number of faculty members”; 2) no one opposed to Wayne Watson has any viable arguments, their only purpose is the university’s destruction; 3) shared governance (as defined by Watson) is only possible in an hierarchical atmosphere of acquiescence and deference; 4) despite all their disingenuous protestations, the administration’s moves against the Faculty Senate stem from a desire to squelch dissent; a familiar story at Wayne Watson’s Chicago State.

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