Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is it a University Administration or an Amateurish Version of the Sopranos?: The Watson Administration and the Abuse of Power

In their recent hagiography of Wayne Watson, the Sun Times through its hack reporter parroted the Watson company line that our failed president has “enhanced . . . accountability and transparency.” As we have chronicled on this blog, that assertion is nothing more than a nostrum designed to cover a multitude of secretive and dishonest activities. In contrast to this narrative of Watson the Great, I offer this: the Watson administration has operated more like a corrupt political machine or crime family than a university administration. Members of the Watson inner circle have demonstrated their willingness to lie, even under oath, and abuse the power of their positions by using university policies, procedures and structures to engage in the politics of personal destruction. They are not averse to manufacturing false charges and they are certainly willing to use trumped-up accusations to dump students into the tender arms of the criminal justice system. Their consistent misuse of power underscores their desire to destroy their enemies with fabricated allegations.

The terms “arbitrary” and “capricious” are often invoked to describe administrative actions that are an abuse of discretion. Sometimes these actions result from simple administrative incompetence or ignorance. In the case of many Watson administrators, however, these abusive actions are anything but arbitrary. They are designed to target the most troublesome members of the university community, people who have demonstrated their lack of obeisance to the great Watson and who have committed the cardinal sin of publicizing his various unethical activities. After all, according to Watson’s supporters, the problem with the university’s image is not Watson’s various scandals or the enrollment declines, or the immense judgements against the school due to Watson’s misconduct—the problem is the public exposure of these behaviors. Just recently, I had a conversation along these lines with someone closely associated with Watson. Of course, in an environment like this one, how do you keep these matters quiet? What options for possible redress exist within the university’s structure? Do you take your complaints to the Ethics Officer, Watson crony Bernetta Bush? Do you go to the Executive Inspector General’s Office where your complaint is likely to be referred to the Watson administration?

How does this administration abuse its power? The examples are numerous. First, several Watson administrators have demonstrated their willingness to lie on a number of occasions. In the James Crowley case, both Watson and Patrick Cage had their testimony “impeached” during the trial. That means they both lied under oath and were exposed by Crowley’s attorney. As part of the attack on Crowley, Cage lodged a complaint with the Illinois Attorney Regulatory and Disciplinary Commission. The gratuitous and retaliatory complaint went nowhere. Recently, former student Willie Preston won two court cases in which an Order of Protection and a Criminal Trespass charge rested on dubious testimony and were seemingly based on a desire to silence Preston’s dissent rather than on any discernible public or personal safety issue. In the case of the Order of Protection, obtained by Angela Henderson following Preston’s appearance at a meeting with the Higher Learning Commission in October 2013, grounds for such an order never existed. In the Criminal Trespass case, the university police arrested Preston despite an absence of the required elements of the crime. The Criminal Trespass trial illustrates the lengths to which the administration will go to destroy its enemies. Here is what happened in court.

The person responsible for Preston’s expulsion from the university as a result of the October 2013 incident was apparently Associate General Counsel Janelle Carter. Ms. Carter testified that she was an important person in Chicago State’s legal constellation, that she served on a number of consequential committees and provided important legal advice them. However, when asked about the specifics of Chicago State’s “Expulsion” policy, she did not know. Mind you, this is the person who presided over Preston’s sham judicial hearing. When Preston’s attorney asked her whether the Chicago State library was or was not a public building, she did not know. How in the world does a university’s legal representative not know the policies pertinent to the discharge of her duties?

The testimony of another witness for the university, one of the Chicago State police officers, made it clear that the Criminal Trespass charge of March 7, 2014, resulted from Preston’s audacious attempt to speak to the board in a public meeting. Preston waited his turn to speak and was arrested as soon as he stepped to the microphone. As a consequence of this illegal arrest, Preston spent the next eleven months trying to clear his name, at great personal expense. Preston’s first attorney, obviously carrying the university’s water, attempted to convince him to plead guilty and apologize to Angela Henderson, saying “they’ve got you dead to rights.” Unfortunately for Chicago State, Preston persevered and has been entirely exonerated.

The sham “investigations” conducted by the university of alleged misconduct on the part of staff, students and faculty are another way they abuse their authority. They work quite simply. In any case involving a Watson critic, the allegations against that person are presumed to be completely accurate. These witch hunts proceed by failing to interview relevant witnesses or discounting their testimony, taking at face value the allegations of the complaining party, usually a Watson supporter, and either imposing discipline for allegations not committed or after deciding that the accused person’s actions do not consitute any infraction, threatening them that a continuation of their “inflammatory and unprofessional” behavior could subject them to future discipline.

The Watson administration has also been willing to use innuendo and may even be willing to coerce persons into making false complaints against Watson’s critics. Remember the e-mail sent to the faculty in November 2012 that accused one of Chicago State’s faculty with misconduct when, in fact, no investigation was even ongoing? Watson reiterated that same false accusation in February 2013 when he wrote to the board in a desperate attempt to save his job. Is it hard to imagine that Watson or his lackeys might even try to coerce someone into filing false charges against one of his enemies? Hardly, given his administration’s track record.

Making all this malfeasance possible is a twisted version of “omerta” that demands absolute silence and depends on the unwavering loyalty of persons who know the internal workings of this execrable regime. As Watson presides over a crumbling empire, being destroyed by the unethical and inept behavior of his administration, his sycophants line up to extoll his virtues. Although given his history, he is a somewhat dubious source, former SIU Chancellor Walter Wendler wrote something in 2014 that captures the essence of the Watson administration and the effect of its performance. Here are some excerpts:

“Examples of ethically bereft university leadership abound.
At Chicago State University, “James Crowley, the university’s former senior legal counsel, had been awarded $2 million in punitive damages and $480,000 in back pay after a jury decided last month that he was fired in retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct by university president Wayne Watson and other top officials,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Does this indicate guilt on anyone’s part? At its absolute best, it looks terrible.”

Even more serious are the consequences of corruption:

“Even a whiff of unethical behavior is offensive. When a president hires a son or friend of a friend, pilfers intellectual property, influences scholarships or admissions for kin or supplicant, grants a contract to a political supporter or in any way does anything that undermines the impact of academic accomplishment and integrity, the institution is compromised — corrupted.
And the levy is the highest of all: diminished reputation.”

And the ultimate price of a diminished reputation, visible right here at Chicago State:

“Students vote too — with their feet — and they have options.”

Here’s the link:

Sound like anyplace you know?

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