Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Management Action Committee: Chicago State's Four-Headed President

Earlier today, I speculated on the reason for the Board’s declaration of “financial exigency,” and the potential benefits to administrators other than the university President. I will expand on that discussion and offer my interpretation of why the Board did what it did, with a look at the deleterious effects on the university.

The President of the University has the following responsibilities, enumerated in the Board’s General Regulations and further detailed in his contract:

“The President is the chief executive officer of the university. The President is responsible to the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University for the execution of Board policies and for the management and direction of university operations. The President shall have full authority and responsibility within the framework of the policies and regulations determined by the Board for the organization, management, direction, and supervision of the university and shall be held accountable by the Board for the effective administration and management of the institution. In the discharge of these responsibilities, the President shall consult with the Board of Trustees and with such constituencies as are appropriate. The President shall be employed by and serve at the pleasure of the Board unless the contract of employment specifies otherwise”

So, the President is responsible “for the management and direction of university operations,” s/he “shall have full authority and responsibility . . . for the management, direction and supervision of the university” and “shall be held accountable . . . for the effective administration and management of the institution.” Other senior administrators ultimately work for the President and answer to him for their performance. In this structure, the President possesses sufficient authority to adequately discharge his responsibilities.

In contrast, the Resolution creates a four-headed executive structure which effectively renders the President one of four co-Presidents at Chicago State. Here’s the pertinent language: [the] Committee, chaired by President Thomas J. Calhoun, Jr., will review and decide all employment actions, including lay-offs, reductions in compensation, terminations, and significant position modifications. NO ACTION WILL OCCUR WITHOUT A MAJORITY VOTE OF THE COMMITTEE.” In this structure, the President has no authority. Put another way, the Provost, Vice President of Administration and Finance, and the Associate Vice President of Human Resources all have an equal vote, thus all have equal authority. Why in the world would any Board want such an unwieldy and ineffective executive structure?

To answer that question, it seems helpful to review the performance of our administration over the past six years. At least two holdovers from that administration now are “co-Presidents.” During their time at Chicago State, we saw our enrollment decline by nearly 40 percent, while our graduation rate, 15 percent in 2009, dropped to 11 percent this year. In any viable institution, performance like that would get you fired. Not here. At Chicago State, for at least one of those administrators, it resulted in promotion and huge salary increases. These two persons contributed materially to the influx of crony hires that has so damaged the school and one made a series of disastrous decisions on the academic side that accelerated the exodus of students from the university.

Lurking in the background is the former Chicago State President Wayne Watson. Fully responsible for the devastation wrought on the school since 2009, Watson populated his administrative ranks with unqualified friends, lovers, political allies, and other assorted hacks. Lying and misrepresenting credentials presented no difficulties for these people as Watson sheltered and protected them as long as they offered their unstinting loyalty. Although well aware that the majority of the campus community wishes Watson gone from the premises, the Board fell all over itself to grant him a gratuitous title and other undeserved perks when he finally “retired.” Watson, it seems, still has a vested interest in the operations of this school and the continued employment of his cronies. Apparently, Watson still has significant political influence with the Board.

In my estimation, the presence of these holdovers, their former patron, and a complicit Board produced this absurd executive structure, which has made any significant personnel changes impossible. After all, if the President decides that one of his senior administrators needs to go, are the other three members going to allow that to happen (provided the senior administration in question was a friend)? Would they vote for their own firing? Would they allow one of their other friends blighting the university with their presence in a high-salaried position to be fired? What do you think?

So the four-headed President further damages the university by insuring that some of the persons who helped put is into this position are able to shape the direction of our response to this financial crisis. I believe that the Board’s declaration of Financial exigency had more to do with protecting the positions of people whose performance has earned them a pink slip, than with protecting the university. Watching the implementation of the university’s response to the budget situation has been painful to say the least. Being one of the victims of this new chapter of administration incompetence and inhumanity is excruciating; unnecessary torture.

A legitimate university executive structure would give senior administrators the ability to make recommendations to the President who would then make the final decisions. That the Board chose to create this ridiculous design demonstrates their reticence to give President Calhoun the authority to do his job properly. You have people making executive decisions who have no business doing so, with predictable results.

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