Sunday, April 5, 2015

How Chicago State Violates the Freedom of Information Act to Keep Watson's Misdeeds Secret

In the past couple of months, we have obtained a clearer picture of what the Watson administrators actually do during their busy days. We know, of course, that Wayne Watson cannot be bothered with such mundane matters as raising money for the university. After all, he’s too busy berating and intimidating undergraduate students, planning ways to destroy his “enemies,” even if that means “framing” his critics for offenses they did not commit, ordering his subordinates to lie in order to shield him from scrutiny for his various misdeeds, lying under oath, and ultimately costing the university thousands of students and millions of dollars. Even though all the proven liars at Chicago State seem to be in the Cook building, Watson pays a nice salary to his favorite toady, Tommy Wogan, to call everyone a liar who dares bring Watson’s behavior into the light.

The Watson administration, like any group of parasites, intensely dislikes the light. One of the ways they work assiduously to keep their activities secret is through their constant violation of the Ilinois Freedom of Information Act. Not content to merely disobey the law, the Labor and Legal folks at Chicago State, under the guiding hand of Patrick Cage, flout the law in the most outrageous ways. Unfortunately, there seem to be no serious consequences for their actions, a not surprising outcome in a state as corrupt as Illinois.

Illinois FOIA is designed to enable private citizens to keep abreast of the activities of public officials and public bodies. The law takes an expansive view of what constitutes “public” documents and expects public entities to respond within certain time frames to requests for public information. There are simple requirements in FOIA: a public entity has five business days to respond to a FOIA request but may extend the time another five business days. If the requestor receives a denial of a FOIA request or the public entity fails to respond within the statutory limit, the requestor may (within 60 days) file an appeal with the Public Access Counselor. The Public Access Counselor has seven business days to respond and if “further inquiry is warranted” the public entity has seven business days to respond to the Public Access Counselor’s inquiry. Thus, most FOIA requests should result in the requestor receiving public information within a month of the original request. In extreme cases, a binding decision from the Attorney General may be necessary to resolve the matter, but those are rare. A timely response is one of the aims of FOIA.

However, some public entities treat the law as an inconvenient nuisance. Chicago State’s FOIA responses are simply abominable. Since August 2013, I have filed 35 FOIA requests with the university. The legal department has complied with the law five (5) times. On twenty (20) occassions, the university has simply ignored my requests and it has been necessary for me to appeal to the Public Access Counselor eighteen (18) times. Of the last 22 FOIA requests I have filed, the university has not reponded to 16, denied 2, provided documents late 2 times and provided requested documents on time twice. Out of necessity, I appealed thirteen (13) of those 22 requests to the Public Access Counselor.

What does the university gain by these kinds of tactics? In my estimation, Chicago State’s refusal to comply with the FOIA law is simply part of a larger pattern of lawlessness that has resulted in disastrous consequences for the school. At this point, the main goal seems to be delay. An administrator close to Watson told me a few weeks ago that Watson had said the following about the James Crowley case: “fuck Jim Crowley, he’s not getting paid while I’m here.” The longer the university can delay the inevitable, the sooner Watson can walk away with his lavish retirement and leave the smoldering ruins behind him.

Patrick Cage and his legal department operate as if no requests for information are worthy of their consideration. Underscoring an apparent desire to keep the Watson administration’s activities a secret, Cage even ignores existing legal opinion to deny for ridiculous reasons legitimate FOIA requests. Recently, I requested a copy of the contracts between the university and several private law firms. I also requested copies of invoices paid to these firms by the university. The university denied this request although Public Access Opinion 14-002 clearly states that withholding non-exempt information from legal invoices is a “violation” of FOIA, and that “remaining information contained in the legal billing invoices, including general descriptions of the nature of the services . . . and the corresponding dollar amount billed . . . may not properly be withheld under section 7(1)(m).” I guess Mr. Cage, as one of the “top” university general counsels, does not keep up with current legal decisions. (Mr. Cage also seems to have as much trouble with “advice” versus “advise” as he did with “tenants” versus “tenets.”)

You may access the Public Access Opinion here:

At this point, I am waiting for the university to respond to three outstanding FOIA requests, the request for contracts and invoices for private legal firms being only one. I seem to be under the mistaken impression that the legal expenses incurred by the Watson administration for its various misdeeds should be part of the public discussion about Watson’s utter failure as this university’s president, a failure abetted by a Board of Trustees that continues to abdicate its responsibility for Chicago State’s welfare. By all means let us rig another search to bring another worthless hack into the president’s office. By all means let us allow this administration to hand-pick the search committee, railroad another fraud through the search process and complete the destruction of the school. Truly, it seems that the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the actions of our Board over the past five-plus years is that their goal is the destruction of this university.


  1. As a former elected member of the Board of Trustees (and FOIA officer) for my local library district, my state training tells me that this Administration's routine denials of information are exceedingly unlikely to pass muster under the law. FOIA requests entitle the petitioner to a VERY wide range of documents for ANY public entity. The attorney for this university should know that, otherwise he should be fired for rendering incompetent legal advice. I suggest that you file a claim with A.G. Madigan and ask her to investigate.

  2. I sent a modest 2 FOIA requests to Cage's office on October 1 2014. One was complied with after having to appeal to the Public Access Counselor's office. It took Cage and company a couple of months to fulfill that request. The second request has still not be complied with. The other asking about records regarding arrests and other public safety matters including firearms discharges on campus, and correspondence regarding police procedures as related to the school cafeteria has as of this date not been complied with by Cage and company in Legal.