Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Night of the Long Knives: The Purge of Chicago State University

What can one call the events of Friday, April 29, 2016? A bloodbath? A massacre? A slaughter? A date which will live in infamy (my apologies to FDR)? However one describes yesterday’s bloodletting, a number of things stand out. Perhaps most important, our administration again demonstrated a callous disregard for both the hundreds of men and women whose employment at Chicago State ended yesterday and for the few employees left behind to clean up the abattoir. After weeks of steadfastly refusing to answer basic questions about how much money we needed to save or how many employees we needed to layoff, the senior administrators in charge of steering the university through this crisis concluded that more than 300 employees must be sacrificed, resulting in a purported salary saving of $2 million per month, or $24 million per year. The university apparently notified many surviving employees at the eleventh hour, with some notifications reportedly still to come. Unconscionable.

As detailed in the news media, the stupendous number of employees either laid off or terminated represents better than one-third of the university’s total employee complement. In reality, the actual percentage is higher. If the number is 300 (doubtful since news reports claimed that “more than 300 employees” were laid off), that actually figures out to at least 54.5 percent of the non-instructional staff at Chicago State, and at least 37.2 percent of the school’s full-time employees.

So the numbers are grim. As recently as January 2014, the university employed 670 persons in non-instructional positions. In February 2016, that number stood at 550. After yesterday, the university employs fewer than 250 persons in those same positions, a 63 percent reduction in staff in just over two years. In January 2014, payroll expense for those 670 persons came to $36.9 million. By February 2016, payroll had been reduced to $32.8 million. Given the claims in the media, are we to believe that the university has now reduced the payroll for non-instructional staff to around $9 million a year? Are we to believe that the majority of those cuts were to high-salaried administrators? If they were not, there is simply no way the university could save $2 million a month in salaries. A more accurate figure might be in the neighborhood of $1.2 or $1.3 million per month, certainly a significant reduction in salary expense.

Any reported salary reduction includes a caveat, however. According to Board regulations, terminated administrators are entitled to notice (severance) based on the number of years of university service. With termination notices to administrators being issued February 26, fired administrators would not begin to drop off the payroll until May 26. The next wave of administrators would be paid until August 26, and the most senior administrators (in terms of service) would continue to draw a salary until February 26, 2017. Thus, the full salary saving for the university will not occur until February of next year.

One segment of the recent story on the layoffs contains this: “Then, in a process that began Thursday and will likely continue through the weekend, some employees were ‘recalled,’ or told that their jobs were safe for now. Employees who didn't get notified should understand that their jobs were cut, Calhoun said.” This paragraph nicely encapsulates the problems with the implementation of these layoffs and terminations. For several weeks, the administration’s lack of any plan to address staff reductions or the bigger question of financial exigency has been apparent. Given the tenuous nature of university funding for fiscal 2016, why did our administrators do nothing (other than wring their hands and complain about the possibility of cuts) until early this year? Despite the dissimulation of our administrators, no plan existed to address any of the contingencies created by the budget crisis. Even when it became obvious last Friday that the university would get only a fraction of its funding for fiscal 2016, the “process” of implementing the layoffs and terminations “began Thursday.” Why? Why was this done at the last minute? What the hell was everyone doing?

Finally, our senior administrators put the cherry of inhumanity atop the sundae of misery created by their lack of preparation and empathy. Even though all affected employees are real people who have served this university faithfully for years, they were not entitled to any notification other than their original February 26 layoff notice. Employees not being “recalled” were just to assume their layoff or termination, based on the “understand[ing] that their jobs were cut.” Unbelievable that this university would do that to its employees, particularly after several reminders from faculty and staff that staff reductions should be done humanely, that even though the university could rely upon the original notice, it should not do so. Obviously, those entreaties fell on deaf ears. Personally, I found out about the scope of the layoffs and terminations from a Tribune reporter who called me at home asking for my thoughts on the staff reductions. Please let’s not have any more bullshit about the “Chicago State family.”

Generally, I avoid writing things in anger. However, in this situation, I cannot imagine any other emotion being appropriate. Of course, the faculty’s turn comes next. You can be sure that the same tender mercies shown the non-instructional staff will be lavished on us when the time comes. As many of you know, we have senior administrators who have no love for Chicago State’s faculty. We have a Contract Administrator whose position is always that the administration can do whatever it wants, that it never violates the contract. In fact as we have already seen, the administration violates the contract while it chants the mantra of “we will comply with the contract.” I guess financial exigency makes all things possible. We will clearly fight back and I assume that the next few weeks will be extremely contentious.

The question then becomes will we hang together or hang separately? To my tenured faculty colleagues who make it a point to find their voices to criticize the “tone” of our dissident critiques while remaining silent in the face of various administrative scandals and excesses; to those tenured colleagues who “just want to teach our students” or are otherwise too busy to involve themselves in any kind of opposition; to those tenured colleagues who are unable to see anything but issues that personally affect them, I say this: it’s time to realize where your interests lie and act upon that realization. It is truly time to take seriously the responsibilities of tenure and fight for the continued existence of this university. In my estimation, to do otherwise at this point consigns Chicago State to oblivion.


  1. I too have always tried to be tactful in dealing with the administration but everything you have said is absolutely on point.

  2. I hope we are not fighting to save CSU for the rapacious politicians and community leaders and the recipients of Watson's patronage notably Angela Henderson, Patrick Cage, Renee Mitchell who still run the school. The only plan the university administration and the corrupt Board leaders Anthony Young and Nikki Zollar were concerned with last year while funding slipped away was to figure out a way to keep Wayne Watson in power and on campus. In that they succeeded. But the attitude most clearly is to hell with the rest of us. CSU will open in the fall, but it will be a ghost town.

  3. And, the conductor of this symphony, Pat Quinn, had the audacity to not only appear, but also speak at OUR commencement. Does no one have shame?

  4. How are administrators going to know what severance package they have? Do they have to go through that whole process of calling the dysfunctional HR at CSU? I'm sure most people laid off would rather not have any dealings with CSU at this time

  5. All they have to do is read the Board regulations. Here is the relevant section (page 25): Termination With and Without Notice.

    (1) The President shall be employed by and serve at the pleasure of the Board unless contract of employment specifies otherwise. The President shall receive written notice of termination, signed by the Chair of the Board, as follows:
    (a) in the first or second year of employment as President, not later than six months prior to the termination date specified in the notice;
    (b) in the third or subsequent years of employment as President, not later than twelve months prior to the termination date specified in the notice.
    (2) All other employees shall be employed by the Board University and serve at the pleasure of the President and shall receive written notice of termination signed by the President (except employees whose appointment is supported by grants or contract funds) as follows:
    (a) in the first year of employment at the University, not later than three months prior to the termination date specified in the notice;
    (b) in the second through fifth year of employment at the University, not later than six months prior to the termination date specified in the notice; and
    (c) in the sixth or subsequent year of employment at the University, not later than twelve months prior to the termination date specified in the notice.

  6. Chicago State University: A Wayne Watson Joint.