Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Even if you wanted to donate $ to CSU there's a hitch. The implications of dismantling the CSU Foundation.

For the past six months the CSU Foundation has endured a slow death in the shadows of the Cook Administration Building. Today was its last day. 

In December 2014 the CSU Board of Trustees announced it was severing ties with the CSU Foundation which has been part of the university since 1968 before the 95th Street campus opened. It was granted 501c3 status the following year. For those of you who are unaware of what the CSU Foundation is or its significance to the university it is the locus of tax-free charitable donations to the university, it is the university’s fund-raiser to support student scholarships and it is the administrator of your grant money. Without the Foundation set up as a 501c3 through the Federal Internal Revenue Service the university cannot legally give anyone a tax receipt for their donation.  An organization needs an I.R.S determination letter. CSU applied for this in the spring but the application was rejected--no update on that status yet.

In answer to some of the questions posed by my colleagues this afternoon the impact to the university of Dr. Watson and the CSU Board’s actions last December is that as of July 1, 2015:

1.      No one can donate money and receive the benefit of a receipt for their tax.

2.      CSU faculty cannot apply for grants. Currently no one in the university can apply for a grant from a corporation or foundation because no one will give a grant to an organization that is not a nonprofit. Without 501c3 status you are not a non-profit organization. By severing relations with the CSU Foundation, the university no longer has a 501c3 nonprofit status.

3.      People who currently have money in the foundation (e.g. anyone controlling a scholarship fund, anyone who has received a charitable gift in support of their program or department) have no access to this money. The Administration has not told us how this money is going to be accessed or how it is to be distributed.

4.      Payroll deduction is affected in light of the fact that the university no longer has a 501c3. What of those faculty, staff, and administrators who contribute to CSU via payroll deductions? Is their charitable contribution still being deducted? How is it being deducted? Who is receiving it?  Will the moneys be held in escrow? Are they still going to be deducted and deducted from the donor's taxes? These are serious and significant questions.

5.      No one outside the university who knows about the change in the CSU Foundation is now willing to give. Anyone who has a stake in the university, anyone whom CSU has known as a donor has been told that the university cannot accept their charitable contributions. This loss of faith in CSU could have long-term implications. If people do not believe CSU can or will take care of their money, if people do not think CSU will be good stewards of their money, they will not give money. There are plenty of worthy non-profit organizations seeking donors. CSU is not the only option.   

The impact on the university grant recipients and donors is one thing. The past six months also has taken a toll on the small staff of the Foundation. Their experience is a good lesson in how you are treated at CSU when you are powerless and not well-connected. After weeks of begging for answers from Human Resources about their status post-June 30,th Foundation Staff were finally told on Monday, yesterday, that their employment would end at 5 p.m. today. Shame on the university for such a craven display and delay in providing long-serving university employees information.

The website for the new CSU Foundation was rumored to be available tonight after midnight. You could say that the “new” CSU Foundation stands alongside the much ballyhooed “West Side Campus” as another example of irresponsibility and incompetence of  President Watson, Anthony Young and his CSU Board. Will the politicians of ILL continue to give the oversight of CSU to people who clearly have no business running a university? I think we know that answer.

And knowing what you know, would you feel confident in giving CSU your money? Do you feel confident in investing your charitable donations in a university run like a political ward? 

Tomorrow: The First Day for the New CSU Foundation

Since we are supposed to have a new CSU Foundation in place tomorrow, I have some questions. 1) Where should a potential donor send a check? 2) Will any donation made to CSU after today be a charitable contribution? 3) Does CSU's new foundation have its 501(c)(3) designation in place for the opening of business tomorrow? 4) Who is the new head of the new CSU Foundation? What is going to happen to the current foundation employees?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What I Think the Board Did Today

In response to my esteemed colleague’s questions about today’s board actions, I can offer the following interpretation. I must emphasize that this is based on a reconstruction of what I think are available facts surrounding this “resolution” and may be inaccurate. I invite anyone with knowledge of the actual circumstances to provide an alternative perspective, or to correct any inaccuracies in my account.

What I think the board did today is simple: they retroactively approved Wayne Watson’s expenditures for legal representation and gave him basically a blank check to continue to squander university funds on his personal defense. University guidelines and state policy require that any professional services contracts exceeding $100,000 be approved by the university’s Board of Trustees. It seems like the board either did not know about the extent of our contract legal expenses or did not care. In any case, the board today told Watson he could throw more money away on litigation.

Once again, it seems apparent that there is no oversight for this administration. Neither our board nor the state legislators seem inclined to exercise any control over a president whose various misdeeds have already cost the university dearly. For the past several years our board has taken the position that the faculty opposing Watson are always wrong. Now, the persons responsible for the well-being of the university have underscored their support for this failed administration and have committed the university to untold additional expense for the defense of Watson’s various administrative excesses.

We can only hope the university will survive.

Just Curious

So I spent five hours at the Board of Trustees meeting today and at least one interesting thing happened that I can't quite explain. If anyone out there can provide some clarity I would certainly appreciate it. 
The background is this. The Board went into executive session and when they returned there were two items to be voted on in open session. The first was pro forma, namely keeping the executive session meeting minutes from the past four board meetings confidential. The second item that apparently had a resolution, though not provided to the public, was "to increase the spending limit for certain litigation." All board members dutifully voted for the increase and the university is now able to spend more money on university litigation. 
Does that mean that the limit was increased, read eliminated, so as not to be a limit or was there a dollar limit on the spending on certain litigation? It wasn't clear as there "resolution" was not read into the record. I am a bit confused as I don't possess special administrative knowledge.
Thoughts, anyone???

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We Have Money For Some Things: Wayne Watson and His Lawsuits

Along with at least $200,000 we have recently spent on new administrators, the university finds other important places to spend our (according to Watson's numerous memorandums) dwindling resources. Legal fees to defend various members of the university administration against a number of lawsuits are important and thoroughly justifiable expenses.

Recently, after more than three months of unnecessary delays caused by the university’s legal department, I received a response to my FOIA request for legal contracts and invoices. The process of acquiring this material as well as the information itself sheds considerable light on how Chicago State discharges its responsibilities as a public institution.

On March 19, 2015 at 9:19am, I sent my FOIA request for copies of the legal contracts and invoices for five separate law firms (Laner Muchin; Husch, Blackwell; Pugh, Jones; Smith, Amundsen; and Fisher, Phillips) involved or formerly involved in personnel investigations or ongoing litigation against Wayne Watson and company. The Illinois Attorney General had declared this type of material public information, subject to FOIA, in a 2014 binding opinion (14-002). When I sent the FOIA request, I fully expected to hear nothing since the university’s legal department makes a habit of ignoring my FOIA requests (according to my unofficial records, the university has failed to respond to 20 of 35 requests I have made since August 2013).

To my great surprise, I received an e-mail from Patrick Cage seven minutes later denying my request and citing attorney-client privilege as the reason the requested information was exempt from disclosure. I immediately appealed Cage’s denial to the Illinois Public Access Counselor. In April, the Public Access Counselor had at least two fruitless conversations with the university’s legal department about the request. On May 6, the Public Access Counselor sent a letter to Chicago State indicating that despite the two telephone conversations and requests for information supporting the university’s denial of my FOIA request that “the University still has not provided a written response or copies of the requested records to this office.” The letter continued by saying: “we renew our request for those materials, and ask that the University provide them expeditiously.” This letter apparently moved the university to provide the requested documents, which it did on May 13.

After a review of the documents sent by Chicago State, the Public Access Counselor issued a “determination” which found that Chicago State had “improperly withheld” the information I had requested and directed the university to provide me the copies I had requested in March. Of course, since this is Chicago State, nothing is simple. After several days of silence, I wrote the legal department on June 15 (sending a copy to the Public Access Counselor) asking whether or not the university intended to comply with the Public Access Counselor’s determination. In addition, the Public Access Counselor asked the same question. A victimized Patrick Cage replied by mewling: “Yes, I fully intend to comply with the 40th records request I have received from Dr. bionaz .” Poor Patrick! Poor Chicago State! Imagine having to respond to those pesky requests for public information. Finally, on June 23, I received the records I had requested on March 19.

After absorbing the lesson in civics provided by the giants in our legal department, I was able to turn my attention to the records they provided. The information paints a picture of a university administration spending huge sums of money on litigation caused by improper administrative actions. The information also demonstrates how the university withholds information in required reports to the state legislature. The amount of money the university spends on legal contracts and the relative absence of this information in reports to a group ostensibly responsible for safeguarding Illinois taxpayers suggests that the university is involved in an attempt to hide the extent of its reckless spending from elected officials.

I requested specific information for five firms. For one, the university apparently has no invoices or contracts. The university used the other four firms to either conduct personnel investigations or to defend the university (read Wayne Watson) from various high-profile suits. In December 2010, the university hired Pugh, Jones and Johnson for $96,500 to provide legal services in the Crowley case. This contract ran until June 30, 2012. On May 17, 2012, the university renewed the contract until June 30, 2014, at a maximum cost of $243,000. On February 5, 2014, the university contracted with Laner Muchin, a self-styled “workplace intelligence firm” to “review certain conduct” by unnamed parties and conduct an investigation. The contract, expiring on June 30, 2014, called for a maximum of $30,000 to conduct this purported “investigation.” On June 6, 2014, the university hired Fisher-Phillips to defend Wayne Watson in the Glenn Meeks lawsuit. This contract, amended on May 21, 2015, runs until June 30, 2016 and commits the university to a maximum of $242,500 for Fisher-Phillips' legal services. On December 10, 2014, the university contracted with Husch-Blackwell to provide legal services for the “defendants in the Beverly v. Chicago State University,” case. This contract runs through June 30, 2016, and sets a limit of $100,000 for expenditures in this matter. Thus, for just these four firms to conduct one investigation and provide legal services for three lawsuits, the university committed $712,000. At this point, two other major lawsuits are pending: Willie Preston/Brittany Bailey v. Wayne Watson and Lashondra Peebles v. Chicago State. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is defending the university against Preston/Bailey and according to the Cook County docket, Fisher-Phillips is defending the university against Peebles. Also according to the Cook County docket, Smith Amundsen defended the university in the post-trial matters in the Crowley case. I find it curious that the university apparently has neither invoices nor contracts for Fisher-Phillips in the Peelbes case or for Smith Amundsen in the Crowley case. I suppose these are freebies. Obviously there are expenses associated with these two other cases. Even though the state is defending the university against Preston/Bailey, there is still a substantial cost to the taxpayer. As for the Peebles case, I would estimate that the university’s legal expenses thus far are at least $25,000.

So how much does the university actually claim to have spent on these (and other) matters and how much of its expenditures did it report to the Illinois State Legislature?

Based on the invoices I received from my FOIA request, Chicago State spent $250,000 on Pugh, Jones and Johnson, and $26,518.3 on Laner Muchin. Ostensibly, these are the final expenditures for these two firms. Ongoing expenses include $43,009.86 for Husch-Blackwell and $154,435.40 for Fisher-Phillips. The total expenses come to: $473,963.40. Given the absence of at least two major law firms in the Crowley appeal and in the Peebles case, this figure seems suspect.

The yearly report to the Illinois State Legislature (ISL Forms) is based on calendar year expenditures. The most recent report, for fiscal 2016, includes expenditures up to the end of December 2014. For fiscal 2015, the expenditures go through December 2013, for fiscal 2014, through December 2012, for fiscal 2013, through December 2011. Since the beginning of 2011, the university should have itemized at least $333,820.80 spent on these four firms for the ISL report. However, we reported a total of $159,500 for those years, only 48 percent of the total expenses for these legal contracts. The yearly breakdown looks like this: for the 2016 report (calendar 2014), Chicago State reported $133,000. Expenses according to the invoices total $140,238. For the 2015 report (calendar 2013), Chicago State reported $25,800 in expenses. According to invoices, we actually spent $125,164. For the 2014 report (calendar 2012), we itemized $700. According to invoices, we spent $33,564. For the 2013 report (calendar 2011), we itemized nothing with actual expenditures according to invoices of $34,854.29.

For the individual firms, as far as anyone in the Illinois legislature knows, through the end of 2014, we have spent a total of $130,200 for Pugh, Jones and Johnson (actual invoice totals $250,000). For Fisher-Phillips, the university has reported expenditures of $2800 with actual invoice totals of $57,302.70. Only Laner Muchin is accurate, with the university reporting $26,500 in expenses on actual invoices of $26,518. This seems like either terrible accounting practices or willful misstatement of financial facts.

The upshot of all this is simple: the Watson administration is costing Chicago State dearly. Watson and his cronies have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in legal expenses for behavior that has already in one case been found culpable with resulting enormous damages. Frankly, there is no end in sight. In the last ISL report, the university itemized just over $787,000 in contract legal expenses in calendar 2014. So far in calendar 2015, the expenses for just the two firms involved in ongoing litigation total just under $200,000 (invoices through May 6, 2015), with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees still to come. I guess our Board of Trustees thinks Watson and his friends are all worth it. Here are copies of the Pugh, Jones and Johnson contracts and the invoices provided by Chicago State. These contracts are between the Board of Trustees and the individual firms. Do the members of the board know how much the Watson administration is costing this school? Do they even care? Does anybody care?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Some Summer Musings

So it was announced that a new police chief has been hired. Is the successful applicant the same person whose name was bandied about in March by the current police chief? Very curious if it is the same person because the soon to be former chief was the chair of the search committee that led to her hiring. I would take a wild guess that such behavior would be unethical and as this administration has repeatedly demonstrated, ethics ranks high on its list of behaviors not to pursue.

I couldn’t figure out why some academic departments didn’t hold elections for department chair during the Spring Semester. I realize this quaint activity of decades gone by is done in those other universities, like the University of Illinois or Northwestern. But why not here? Then it occurred to me that maybe there was to be no need for department chairs because of an as of yet unannounced departmental reorganization. Given the smashing lack of success from the last reorganization I was breathless with anticipation for the next iteration of incompetence. Apparently though it couldn’t be decided, because like many things here, there is much talk and sharing but no action.

I might represent the minority opinion on this but I am convinced the board is steering the ship towards failure by not hiring an external interim president. The Presidential Search application deadline has already been extended due to the paucity of applicants for this much sought after position. And now without anyone to clean up the toxic waste dump that has become CSU, the board condemns the next president to the job of cleaning up and leading toward the future. With two diametrically opposed tasks, this significantly lowers the over/under of the next president to a whopping 32 months. With the condition of the university I would definitely take the under.

A question that has been directed towards me by several of my colleagues is how did the HIV/AIDS Institute get closed. Since its inception and mention by public law, the institute has been a self sufficient and productive element of the university and then with no consultation, examination or even a dated or verifiable paper trail it was gone. Given that it took federal funds to operate, I would imagine that there must be some paper trail explaining the decision to close an Institute with such a vital mission to community that this university serves.

Does anyone wish to wager whether the university owes or doesn’t owe the US Department of Education $2m? I wouldn’t take that bet either way until a FOIA request submitted to the DoEd is responded to. It is possible because the university has had to return money in the past. Stay tuned!

The university is already a ghost town most week days. I thought I saw a tumbleweed being blown between HWH and Science but it could have been a heat created mirage. Though it does beg the question about why the university is kinda closed on Fridays. The university is open but it isn’t. Some buildings are locked and some open. Some offices are open while others aren’t. On last Friday I ran into a prospective student who could get into two of the buildings she was seeking to conduct business in. When she asked me whether the university was closed on Fridays, I couldn’t really give a good answer. There may be short staffing in preparation for the explosion in enrollment for the fall that is expected. Or maybe because the university is so efficient Monday through Thursday, Fridays become “Work If Want To Fridays.” Who knows with the visionaries trolling around in the Cook Building?

And speaking of enrollment, maybe the Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management will report to the Board on Thursday that CSU will henceforth use the wheel of fortune method to project its enrollment. Nothing else under Ms Sidney’s watch seems to have worked.

And speaking of the outgoing Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, is it true that she is to become the new Director of Compliance. With the letters behind her name and her tax payer paid trips to compliance conferences, one is left to wonder if a demotion is in the offing or will a new job title be created as have all of her previous job titles? Funny that one would need a year working in compliance with half of their work being compliance related to be a compliance professional. Maybe there will be a double dip and she will end up as the Ethics Officer as well. Those who lie on their applications can only dream.

Finally, is the regime engaged in the oft played Administrator Shell Game? In this game to avoid detection by the legislature, accrediting bodies or good government types, the regime changes the job titles of highly paid administrators but keeps them at the same salaries. That way they can say they trimmed the administrative fat and pray that our diligent legislators don’t ask the follow up question about how much money was actually saved. Because as we have learned over the past six years, running the institution is not about sound fiscal management or industry standard practices. It’s Illinois politics at its worst, which often ends up in handcuffs.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For the Chicago State West Side Campus: "Where have all our dollars gone, long time passing . . . gone to other pockets everyone."*

*With apologies to Pete Seeger.

My version of a ballad of longing for the west side campus:

My campus lies over the expressway
My campus that only I see
My campus lies over the expressway
Oh, bring back my campus to me...

Bring back, bring back
O,Bring back my campus to me, to me
Bring back, bring back
O,Bring back my campus to me

Last night as I lay on my pillow
Last night as I lay on my bed
Last night as I lay on my pillow
I dreamt that my campus was dead

Oh blow the winds o'er the expressway
Help all of my cronies to see
Oh blow the winds o'er the expressway
And bring back my campus to me

My apologies to the author of the Scottish folk song "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean."

Remember the $40 million scam on the Illinois taxpayers called the Chicago State West campus? Remember how the Chicago State web site trumpeted the imminent arrival of the new site? Remember how the Chicago State web site promised that classes would begin in fall 2015? Remember seeing this on the Chicago State web site?

Remember seeing this helpful information sheet on the Chicago State web site?

Just like Stalin’s censors purged Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Yezhov and countless others from photographs after they fell out of favor, Chicago State’s web site has apparently tried to erase the West campus from history. A look at the university’s web site today reveals nary a reference to the coming expansion. Currently, we are registering no students for classes at such a place and to the best of my knowledge, we never even applied to the IBHE and the DOE for permission to teach courses at any west side facility.

In an April appearance before the State Assembly’s Higher Learning Appropriations Committee, university administrators talked about the new campus and told the legislators that Chicago State would need more than the original appropriation to begin operations at the site. Has our shiny new west side campus been allowed to die an ignoble death? What to do about the persons who reportedly expected the expanded campus to be built on land they owned? How will they now profit from their real estate holdings? How will this person (or persons) now tap into the public coffers? What happened to the $40 million appropriation? How much of it did we spend and for what? So many questions.

Friday, June 19, 2015

More New Vice Presidents at Cesspool State

Here at Chicago State University, the destination of choice for redundant administrators, we do not have any money for salaries, except when we do. We are particularly interested in creating as many vice presidential positions as possible. This summer, our administration has operated in relative secret, adding one new vice presidential position, filling another that has been vacant for about a year and moving quickly to replace the retiring police chief. I know that Farah Muscadin has been promoted to the newly created (just for her) position of Associate Vice President of Student Affairs. I imagine she received a hefty salary increase to go along with her shiny new title. We also apparently are now the proud employers of a new Vice President for Enrollment Management (identity unknown), a position that has been vacant since Lashondra Peebles' termination last year. Finally, the new Chief of Police (again identity unknown), apparently started recently. I would estimate that the total cost for salaries and raises for these three positions to be in the neighborhood of $400,000 for these positions, with about $175,000 in new salary expenditures. This at a time when Watson sends memos about the dire budget situation.

Of course, here at Chicago State, we always have money for administrative personnel and it seems likely that more low-salaried employees will be jettisoned to make room for the salaries these new hires will be paid. Most interesting is the administration's decision not to announce these hirings. Is that the transparency about which Watson constantly bloviates? By my count, we're now up to more than a dozen vice presidents. Why? What do they all do?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Putting Lipstick on a Pig: Propaganda and Truth in Chicago State's "Factbook"

Over the past six years, we have seen the failed Watson administration use every device at its disposal to evade responsibility for the multiple administrative failures that have so damaged Chicago State. Watson and his minions have consistently advanced an exculpatory narrative long on jargon and vacuity and short on substance. We have been consistently told about the increases in “responsibility, accountability and transparency,” under the Watson regime. In reality, we have noted just the opposite. There is no responsibility or accountability for the failures or the dishonesty of Watson’s most loyal sycophants. The absence of “transparency” from our administration is the rule not the exception. We have also been told about Watson’s “raising academic standards.” Of course, the university provides no data to support that assertion, relying solely on empty assertions. I think it fair to say that the constant stream of sloganeering and empty rhetoric that emanates from the Cook building is designed to mask the almost complete absence of concrete policy and responsible management.

The Watson administration has now decided to describe the university’s disastrous enrollment decline as “right-sizing,” a basically meaningless term that is a particular Watson favorite. We first encountered “right-sizing” in 2010 when Watson and the gang laid off a number of low-salaried employees. This cant term lay dormant for several years until someone in the administration obviously thought it would serve a useful purpose as a partial explanation for the university’s enrollment problems. In the past several months, Watson mouthpieces forced to explain the ineffectiveness of efforts to stem the enrollment hemorrhage have parroted the “right-sizing” theme to our credulous Board of Trustees. Making the same empty promises about non-existent enrollment “stabilization,” Watson and his apparatchiks have fooled the board (or are its members complicit?) into delaying Chicago State’s inevitable day of reckoning—the day when we will have to begin cleaning up the mess these people have left behind.

As the scandals and administrative failures have mounted, Watson and his administrators have dedicated the university’s information dissemination organs to the distribution of pro-Watson propaganda. Look at how often the president or his administrators appear on the university web site. Look at the number of press releases that extoll the greatness of Wayne Watson or one of his other “operations team” members. Now, the dishonesty (not to mention semi-literacy) that stains our web site has spread to the university’s fact book, a yearly publication that provides objective data about the university’s effectiveness. The Watson camp has turned this publication into a propaganda vehicle.
Under the IER section of Chicago State’s web site a curious person can find 12 versions of the Chicago State Factbook, beginning in 2001 and continuing (with the exception of 2005 and 2008) through the present iteration for the 2014-15 academic year. All prior issues of the publication included one to three pages of boilerplate that described the fact book and published the university’s mission and values statements. However, a great deal of new information appears in this year’s fact book, most of it dedicated to Watson hagiography and to advancing the Watson narrative of “right-sizing.” It seems useful to examine the claims made in this narrative.

The new material includes a lenghty Watson biography as well as photos of his “operations team,” the persons who have brought us years of continual failures. A new section titled “Background” features a discussion of why Chicago State’s enrollment has declined as seen through the lens of “right-sizing.” To summarize, the administration is making sure that everyone knows the enrollment drop is not their fault. Here are the paragraphs:

Examining the various assertions made in these two paragraphs reveals the utter falsity of this discussion. First, what “new opportunities” did “right-sizing” create? We do not know since there is no subsequent discussion of what those “opportunities” might be. Second, here’s the laundry list of empty verbiage about “increasing academic standards,” etc. Third, the familiar canard about enrollment drops across the country. Here’s the truth: Of the 257 schools I track yearly (the vast majority public non-research institutions), enrollment in fall 2014 is 99.9 percent of the 2010 levels. For Chicago State, enrollment is 70.8 percent of the 2010 level. Chicago State has the sixth largest percentage decline of those 257 schools. Thus, our situation in no way replicates the national trend.

The second paragraph is even worse. First, it is not even literate. Once again, the administrative hack (or hacks) who writes this material is unable to differentiate between the contraction of “it is” and the possessive (this egregious and stupid error appears again on the main university web page). Again, the reference to “right-sizing” and the disingenuous “slow decline of enrollment” for the past 4 years. Frankly, I would characterize a nearly 30 percent drop in students as a pretty rapid decline.

When one gets past the bullshit, there are some chilling numbers in the fact book that illuminate the scope of the enrollment problem here at Chicago State. Most important, between fall 2010 and fall 2014, the university lost 2151 students. During that same time period, Black student enrollment dropped by 2106 students. Our primary student cohort is simply deciding to go elsewhere. Given the performance of this administration, who can blame them?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Fantasy World of Chicago State's Administration

We are nearly a month into the summer and although the campus seems devoid of students, there are a number of items to discuss and a few questions to ask.

Beginning with the on-going presidential search, I notice that the information on the CSU web site now reports that the application deadline has been extended by one month “to allow for additional recruitment time.” While I am still not sanguine about the board’s ability to select a viable president for our school, this attempt to increase the applicant pool seems well-considered.

Unfortunately, the May board meeting demonstrated again how out of touch the current board is with the reality of life on the Chicago State campus. Board meetings on this campus are short on substantive material and long on fluff and empty rhetoric. The constant flow of “good news” from our administrators represents their attempt to create a narrative that will enable them to escape responsibility for the epic failures of the past five-plus years—failures that have severely damaged the school. Board meetings are little more than dog and pony shows at which our administrators take a credulous board on a trip through fantasyland.

The topic of enrollment inevitably emerges at these meetings. On May 8, Angela Henderson started her academic affairs report by saying: “today’s report is really focused on enrollment . . . we, this year, have redefined the responsibilities and the roles of the, the (Deans), the work has always been done but we realize that development is key, we also know that retention is critical, um for our students and our programs . . ." Watson then chimed in with this: “with regards to enrollment at Chicago State University, bascically three things: we have right-sized our enrollment; two is, we’ve established strategies and goals for a gradual, gradual increase of our enrollment; and three, we have restructured the Enrollment Management office at Chicago State University to expand it to stakeholders that have direct contact with students on both ends—students within the university and students we’re trying to recruit to the university. All research in enrollment management models state that that is the best and strongest model going. Thank you very much.” In these two comments, I count at least seven pieces of empty jargon topped with an assertion based on nothing. Surely, there must be something of substance to discuss here.

Two of the College Deans then addressed the board. At the end of their presentations, Anthony Young asked: “how long have you Deans been involved in the enrollment process?” Jones of Arts and Sciences said “December 2014,” Collins of Business told the board his involvement began on “day one, since I’ve been here, 2010.” Young paused for a moment then asked: “I guess since 20, ah, this is the first time anybody, any of the deans, have come and talked to us about enrollment and enrollment strategies from the individual colleges. And if you’ve been doing this since 2010, how come, how come we’re just hearing about it?” At this point, Watson interceded and asked Henderson to explain. What followed was painful. After a rambling discussion about committees and the Higher Learning Commission, Henderson told Young: “I tried to give, um, we don’t go into details, when they give you their reports and we send it to you, the, the details are imbedded in the reports so that the deans share the activities that they are working on in their individual departments.”

Recognizing Henderson’s floundering, Watson rode to the rescue with this: “Let me ask the question, the Chairman’s question another way. How long has it been defined that one-third of the dean’s job will be recruitment and enrollment and reaching certain goals?”

Henderson: “Defined in their job responsibility?”

Watson: “A part of, yes”

Henderson: “Has been officially this year.”

Watson: “Oh, OK.”

Henderson apparently felt the need to elaborate in a series of truly stunning non-sequiturs. “Well ah, when Dean said that was 2010, I wanted to share that this is not something that just has started, that deans have always been involved, we’ve just been starting to, we, we’ve ah, quantified it a little more as we evaluate deans because, to be honest with you, I say it all the time, we have chairs who have departments and then we have deans and we have associate deans within colleges, so, you know, we have to collaborate with those experts in their areas to insure that when we’re going out and talking about programs that people understand those programs.” Given the sheer amount of bullshit in the preceding comments, one might expect some sharp questions to come from the board. Here’s the response:

Trustee Joyce: “Thank you.”

Moving on to the Enrollment Management report, Cheri Sidney again appeared to provide a substance-free report ostensibly responding to the board’s request for data about strategies and goals for fall 2015. Enrollment Management’s document “identified seven strategies that align to CSU’s plan of how we strategically grow enrollment.” She catalogued the strategies. Tell me which ones mean anything: 1) “manage enrollment capacity and retention” (capacity is currently no problem); 2) “increase first-time, full-time freshmen”; 3) “increase the number of transfer students”; 4) “increase scholarship”; 5) “involve our alums”; 6) “expand our outreach efforts” (more administrative postions necessary?); 7) “and increase our recruiting efforts.” See any data in this boilerplate nonsense?

Perhaps the administrators and board members here at Chicago State are unclear as to what kinds of facts or information constitute data. Here is an example: in fall 2010, Chicago State enrolled 7362 students, in spring 2015, the school enrolled 4818. Those facts can be used to analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions. In contrast, “seven strategies” aligned with an enrollment growth plan do not make the grade as facts or even as useful information for analysis. Rather, these “strategies” are little more than hope for a different outcome from a repetition of the same previously ineffective actions.

However, when your primary job is to obfuscate and escape responsibility for your actions, using subjective measures as a substitute for objective and verifiable facts allows you to make the following claim: “As noted in the enrollment report, we have set an enrollment goal of 5367 students (for fall 2015) which represents an increase of approximately 3 percent, or 156 students.” This goal is based on what exactly? Sidney explained: “the enrollment goal represents the number the university is attempting to enroll for this fall term. The goal is what we call ou, an aspiring goal, This is higher than the flat projection of 5211 which is used to set our FY 16 budget.” Sidney then claimed that the goals were based on a “collaborative and comprehensive analysis of the enrollment, retention and graduation trend data at the university.” Neither her comments before the board nor the Enrollment Management report submitted to the board refers to any trend data, or data of any kind. Surely no one could be taken in by such a parade of rhetorical garbage.

Not exactly. Responding to the enrollment management discussion, one of the trustees had this to say: “First of all, I want to applaud you and your team for doing an excellent job. I appreciate the passion that you have as you deal with trying to grow our enrollment. . . I want to thank you and I think you and your team deserve a round of applause for this plan of action that we have seen . . .” What to say about this? Astonishing comes to mind. The trustee wants to congratulate the “team” for one of the five or six largest enrollment declines of any public university in the United States. If this is success, what does failure look like? No wonder we are in such trouble.

Finally, a few questions. If the board believes Watson’s tripe about “right-sizing” the university, why even have a discussion about enrollment growth? After all, if 4818 (or 4000 or 3000, whatever number Watson decides) is the “right size” for the school, the board should be happy if enrollment continues to decline. After all, aren’t any further drops in enrollment attributable to Watson’s genius? Rather than the 5367 the university “hopes” will enroll in fall 2015, based on inconclusive data, I see the number dropping further, to around 4700. I sincerely hope I am wrong.