Saturday, January 23, 2016

What Do We Know?

So loyal readers, it is time to play the game, What We Know & What We Don’t Know. Today’s category is the imminent closing of Chicago State University. Here’s what we know so far.

We know Governor Bruce Rauner has no intention of supporting CSU’s continued existence. Two missives published by his Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs, Rich Goldberg point to the unmistakable conclusion that CSU is only a pawn in Rauner’s plan for state domination. He has been remarkably transparent in his vision to destroy unions, reduce standards of living, ruin the business climate and demolish educational opportunities for everyone in this state. I don’t believe Rauner has given any thought to closing CSU for any other reason than it advances his “reform agenda.” 
That his tone has been so blatantly racist isn’t surprising either. I am sure Goldberg will issue some statement that the statistics about white student graduation rates were taken out of context and that the governor has two Black friends, he gives money to a local homeless guy and in Trumpesque fashion make some pronouncement about the love Black people have for him. That said, don’t believe for a minute that Rauner will lose one second of sleep on March 1st, when CSU is shuttered.

We also know that Speaker Madigan has at least one questionable member in his caucus, namely Representative Ken Dunkin, who dutifully stood on stage with Rauner this past Tuesday at the announcement of the creation of the Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship (ADME) program. By his own admission, Dunkin does not work for Speaker Madigan. Nor does it appear that he works for anyone but himself. Obsequiously supporting the Governor while remaining mute on the subject of Chicago State University seems to be par for the course with other local current and former politicians as well. That none of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus have expressed any utterance of outrage at the prospect of a nearly 150 year old institution closing its doors for reasons beyond its control is appalling.

We know that the disgraced, failed ex-president won’t go away like any decent, disgraced ex-president would. Trying to insinuate himself in this crisis only exacerbates the crisis for the university. Dr. Calhoun doesn’t have enough minutes in the day without having to waste one minute on what Baldy knows or thinks he knows. What we do know is that Baldy’s incompetence is partially to blame for the current predicament. A 40% decline in enrollment and no appreciable fund raising along with a cavalcade of scandal made the university a soft target and now it is in a position where it can’t defend itself better. We know that Pat Quinn’s gutless support of Baldy is partly to blame for the university’s current predicament as well.

We know that unions including University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100 are more than deeply concerned and are working diligently to stave off what could constitute the worst public  education catastrophe in state history. We know that UPI 4100, Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers have this university in the middle of their radar screens.
We know that at Day 211 of this crisis not much time is left to act to save the university and it doesn’t appear that the cavalry is going to arrive or has even been dispatched.

What we don’t know is far more troubling. As this is an unprecedented event, a manmade disaster, without the loss of life, there is no plan to close the university. The following are issues that must be addressed in the closing of the university, if there is any expectation of reopening or serving students. I divided them into academic, administrative and physical plant

First, the physical plant must be secured. That includes winterizing all of the buildings and facilities. All university vehicles should be prepped for storage. All offices must be emptied of personal possessions as a re-entry date is undetermined. All windows must be checked to ensure they are sealed. Will the electricity and water be cut off to all buildings? If so the pipes must be drained of water to avoid rupture from freezing. An inventory of state property should be conducted to account for what might come up missing after the closure. How will the Aquaponics Facility be secured? Will the fish stock be destroyed, sold, transferred? After all buildings have been prepared, buildings must be sealed and doors chained with signs prohibiting entry. As the university would be shuttered, where does liability for injury transfer to? If kids from the neighborhood ride their bikes on campus and get injured, who is responsible?

Second, with no funding, the university would be unable to provide security in the form of its police department. With no patrols on campus would the Chicago Police Department or the Illinois State Police take over policing of the now vacant campus?

Third, what happens to the ongoing capital projects including Rauner’s Ravine, the Robinson University Center and the now abandoned Child Care Center? Will the ravine be finished and restored to its pre-construction state? Will the interior of the RUC be renovated after the building has been closed for ten years? How much will all of that cost? And of course, the much ballyhooed Child Care Center is likely never to be constructed.

Finally, one facility on campus that is likely to suffer irreparable damage is the Library. Libraries, because of their holdings are climate controlled facilities. Many of the documents in the archives  and other special collections are especially sensitive to temperature and humidity changes.  With no electricity, hot or cold water, or ventilation, many of the materials would need to be moved to appropriate facilities for storage of an indeterminate length. The identification of those materials would likely take some time. And with only 35 days left, it is unlikely that task would be accomplished on time. It is unknown who would cover the cost of the storage of these valuable library materials. Would it be the Governor’s office, the Illinois State Library, or Central Management Services?

In terms of academic impacts of suddenly closing the university, consider the following.
Two critical areas that would be affected by the closing of the university are accreditation and degree conferral. 

There are at least two criteria that the university would be in violation of in terms of its accreditation. Criterion 2.C.3 states
    “2.C. The governing board of the institution is sufficiently autonomous to        make decisions in the best interest of the institution and to assure its integrity.
         3. The governing board preserves its independence from undue influence on the part of donors, elected officials, ownership interests, or other external parties when such influence would not be in the best interest of the institution
It appears that the Board would not be sufficiently autonomous to make said decisions especially in the context of Criterion 5.A.1 which states;
    "5.A. The institution’s resource base supports its current educational programs and its plans for maintaining and strengthening their quality in the future.
        1. The institution has the fiscal and human resources and physical and technological infrastructure sufficient to support its operations wherever and however programs are delivered.”
Would the Higher Learning Commission view the state’s political battle as a situation that endangers autonomy and the institution’s financial resources to the point that the university is ineligible for continued accreditation? Have assurances been garnered in writing protecting the institution against future consequences as a result of the budget crisis? Would this ineligibility be extended to other public institutions in Illinois as well who are equally situated financially? 

Secondly, there are students planning on graduating in May 2016. With the university closed they will obviously not matriculate. What recourse do those students have and does the institution have any obligation to ensure that their degrees are conferred? The economic impact on those students could be significant as they may become ineligible for appointment or promotion because of the lack of a degree. What about the College of Pharmacy students due to graduate and pursuing licensure? Would their last semester be waived to allow them to practice without completing the Pharm.D.?

In the area of administrative planning for closure, the university is utterly unprepared, as it should be, to close its doors mid-semester.

First, I have serious concerns about student Financial Aid. Would the university or its students be required to re-pay the federal government for any financial aid received for Spring 2016? Would students receive or be entitled to a refund of tuition and fees from the university? If students had to repay the federal financial aid they received and couldn’t would they be prohibited from receiving federal financial aid in the future? If so, that would likely preclude them from attending college anywhere. Would they likewise be prohibited from receiving financial aid because they didn’t make Satisfactory Academic Progress during the spring semester because of the closure? Are the answers to these questions available in writing and not just some bureaucrat's imagination?

Second, how are new admissions to be processed? Will students admitted be informed that they are un-admitted? Should the admissions process even continue with no resolution of this crisis in sight? Should the Division of Enrollment Management shut down before March 1st as a cost saving measure, as no new students are likely going to attend in the Fall semester?

Third, what is the impact on the university relative to federal grants? Will the federal government extend the timing of the grants because of a delay in the work of the grants? Will the university need to repay indirect cost monies already paid to the university from federal grants? Will more money be provided to move experiments and labs already in use as the buildings will be need to be shuttered.? With no money to pay insurance premiums, the university couldn’t afford to grant entry to faculty and staff research personnel to continue their research.
Fourth, how would employee status be impacted? Would the pension clock stop running for university personnel in the SURS? Would time be lost and employees need to work longer to make up the lost time? What about civil service seniority? Has that been communicated to all the affected employees? How much money would be lost by employees who had planned to retire by June 30th? Would employees be eligible for unemployment compensation? Is the state prepared to handle approximately 900 former state employees all filing for unemployment benefits? Are there to be layoffs, terminations or both? What is the plan for recalling laid off employees? What is the plan for replacing recalled employees who have found other employment? Would job searches need to be conducted? How would the Human Resources enterprise be re-constituted after a potentially lengthy shut down? Would union contracts be voided? If so, how would the university defend itself in ensuing litigation that is bound to follow the university’s shut down?

What about vendor contracts? Would any vendor in their right mind ever extend credit to the university knowing that it was as financially unstable as it is given the political behavior of the governor? Would the university be able to purchase any of the goods and services needed to operate this complex organization both in preparing to shut it down and to ostensibly re-open it at some unknown future date?

What would happen to our international students? My understanding of federal immigration law is that their student visas are no longer valid when they are not in school. Is this considered an inter-session period when they would be allowed to remain legally in the country?. I believe with the university closed with no re-opening date those students could be subject to deportation by the Department of Homeland Security. I would imagine that Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, the Indian Consul General in Chicago, would be very dismayed by dozens of his fellow citizens subject to that type of sanction generated by events beyond their control.

What is the plan for the dormitory residents and our student athletes? Would the athletes lose eligibility or be inadvertently punished by going to another university? Would we be tossed out of the Western Athletic Conference having invested the past few years in building a Division 1 program? Have we missed critical dates to ensure that student athletes can continue their educational pursuits elsewhere? Are dormitory residents going to receive refunds on their room and board?

Another group that must be considered in this Rauner driven fiasco is the bond holders of the bonds issued by the university to build the Student Union and dormitory. I would imagine that with no revenue from the dormitories, the bond holders wouldn’t be paid and CSU’s credit rating for future bond issues would be downgraded so low that the university couldn’t issue bonds beyond junk status. That downgrade on the credit rating would be devastating for future borrowing needs.

Another critical area of the university’s operations is its Information Technology Division. What will the university do with those resources? Will the university web server go off line making the university invisible to the world? With no admissions function, it doesn’t make sense to have a website for potential students when there will be no classes for potential students to attend? Will students staff and faculty have access to university email accounts or will the email server be taken off line? If not, how will they be contacted in the event of the university reopening? Will the telephone services of the university be shut down, meaning voicemail for staff and faculty will be unavailable? Will there be a recorded message stating the university is now closed by the incompetence of Bruce Rauner? How will the administrative computing system, known as Banner, be maintained and updated? Will the physical server be taken off line and put in secure storage and will the data be backed up on some media or in the cloud to be recovered once the university reopens? Can servers just be taken off line with little or no preparation time?

And what of the human costs, much of it not able to be monetized? How will former employees, especially those earning less than $50K per year pay their mortgages and feed their families? What is the psychological toll of a ridiculous personal battle between Rauner and the Democratic super-majority on soon to be former employees?

The cost of closing the university is likely to be far greater than keeping it open. The alleged financial genius of the governor is not on display here nor in most of the other decisions he has made regarding the budget. This crisis will cost the state more than any savings garnered. The degradation of the business climate, the systematic destruction of the state’s educational infrastructure and the potential catastrophe in human terms is unconscionable.

It doesn’t appear that Rauner or his staff have given any consideration to the logistics of closing down the first public university in the country. And the expected deflection that the university should have a plan to close mid-semester is laughable and shows the sheer idiocy of Rauner’s position and knowledge. With 35 days left, I believe it is logistically impossible to close Chicago State University without it significantly exceeding the $42 million that the university should be receiving from the state anyway.

Perhaps a little more consideration of what actually needs to be done and less racist and inaccurate statements from political cut outs like Rich Goldberg could move this process along. 

Hey Bruce, whaddya think, less petulant posturing and more thoughtful governance?


  1. A big issue would be medical insurance, even if we stay open with deferred paychecks.