Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Predictions for 2015!

So I have found that the end of one year and the beginning of the next allow for two things; reflection on the past and inquiry about the future. I won’t reflect on the activities of 2014 but I will inquire about what you loyal readers might see coming in 2015.
First, will the audit findings of the recently completed state audit show continued mismanagement of university resources or has the university turned the corner and finally driven its findings into the single digits? You might recall that only CSU and the University of Illinois system have averaged double digit audit findings for the past 15 years. Will 2015 be the year when some positive publicity will come the university’s way regarding its financial management?
Next, how large with the pre-emptive layoffs be? Yes, loyal readers I believe that the layoffs, rumored to be starting in January, will be done as a pre-emptive measure in anticipation of substantial state budget cuts. It appears that the university’s right sizing initiative continues. Unfortunately, none of the administrators with six figure salaries and proven poor performance will be subject to an opportunity to pursue other career options. And given the posting in this venue of the insurance coverage for the university, it is unlikely that insurance will cover the continuing increasing damages and costs for the Crowley case. Are these layoffs actually a way to find the money to satisfy that judgement once the case is heard by the Illinois Appellate Court?
And as we are talking about legal matters, will the university find it necessary to hire more attorneys and law firms to represent it in its ongoing docket of cases? If so, how many firms might need to be retained to dispose of the pending legal actions facing the university? Of course, the university through its spokesman will say that all the cases are groundless and the result of disgruntled employees or some such nonsense. As a follower of the judicial process, that is the expected response and yet, you loyal readers don’t appear to be persuaded by the protestations of the administration. This doesn’t include new lawsuits looming on the 2015 horizon. As I am not a gambler, I can only imagine that there will be other suits filed this year that will lead to further negative publicity which leads to declining enrollment which threatens the existence of the institution even more.
Another question present with many is how much longer the decline in enrollment will continue. It is likely to be under 5,000 students for the spring with no relief in sight. And with the unannounced interim vice president for enrollment management floundering, there is no hope for the Fall 2015 semester. I predict the Fall 2015 enrollment to be 4,500 students. Given that our financial breakeven point is about 6,500 students it would appear that the university has been operating at a loss for some years now. Obviously the bored trustees don’t seem interested in the plummeting enrollment even as they asked Ms Sidney pointed questions about enrollment and were answered with Orwellian doublespeak.
Related to the plummeting enrollment is the academic bloodbath known as the cut session. This semi-annual ritual has taken on new significance as criteria for retaining classes has been changed in the face of plummeting enrollments. As a refresher, let your humble narrator walk you through my experience with the cut session.  I asked the previous three provosts why we cut classes. Classes were cut to save money. I asked “How much money was saved?” I was told that they didn’t know. I asked about the “calculus or formula for determining the cost savings.” I was told there wasn’t one. I then asked “Why classes were cut if there was no evidence of cost savings and no formula to collect evidence of cost savings?” I was told that classes were cut because it saved money. The expense that was never calculated was the ill will that was generated toward the students who had classes cut. Many of those students voted with their feet and left the university, taking with them the story to tell their friends about not being able to get the classes they needed to graduate at CSU. 
Hmmmm. I wonder if that has anything to do with declining enrollment, especially given the significant increase in courses that have been cut in the last five years. Prior to this administration, if 80 courses across the university were cut that was a bad year. Last semester over 200 courses were cut. I would predict when the course addendum comes out later this week, we will find 250 courses cut. The connection of these outcomes to previous decisions is clear. Flawed searches lead to flawed outcomes and the university not being able or allowed to offer courses because it can’t recruit and retain students is one of those outcomes from the flawed presidential search in 2009.
One way to recruit and retain students is to put qualified people in place, don’t micro-manage them and let them do their jobs. Another way is to have more university financial aid available so students aren’t as dependent on loans as many of our students are. To that end the CSU Foundation plays a critical role in generating money for the university. Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees has been convinced that the Foundation has failed and that the person to correct that failure is the president. Thus the question for 2015 is how much is this new fund raising machine going to generate. High value donors don’t give to unrecognized non-profits. There is no tax advantage. The 501c3 designation given by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is from the US Tax Code. That designation is not awarded like a tax identification number which you can get online. I am curious if given the university’s checkered financial management history whether the IRS would given heightened scrutiny to the application for tax exempt status especially given the presence of the CSU Foundation.
Finally, I am curious about whether and to what extent questions from Springfield might emerge about the mismanagement of this university. Are legislators going to provide cover using the same tired excuses that the administration spouts about small number of disgruntled faculty, everything is fine, the university is being right sized etc. or will those responsible for appropriating tax payer dollars finally put an end to this Kafkaesque nightmare and give the university a chance to recover. Will the chairs of the appropriate legislative committees ask and demand logical answers to questions or will the game of legislative hearings being facades continue? Will the new governor weigh in and demand in his corporatized way that dead weight be shed from the state budget? Will ultimatums be issued to those who have quite possibly irreparably damaged the university with an expectation that they fix the many broken bits? Will there be hand wringing and questions posed about what can be done while the institution descends further into disintegration?
The reality is that the university will reach a point where it will not be able to recover. I am afraid we are rapidly approaching that point. 

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