Sunday, May 1, 2016

Thoughts on graduation day, Or, old wine into new skins, the real implications of financial exigency

It did not take long after the graduation ceremony ended to find out that CSU had begun the process of shutting down. Yes, I know, we are supposed to be telling our remaining students that we will be back in the fall and will be around for another 150 years, but when 300 staff and mid-level administrators are let go, a third of the university’s employees with no promise of return, it feels like ashes in your mouth to say otherwise.

I met one of the victims of the firing slaughter on the way off campus on Thursday after graduation. He was carrying a sack of things he had just cleared out of his office. His perspective: the firings were political, those in charge were all business, any pretense of friendship (as in "the CSU family") was gone; the upper administration and board of trustees were all connected—they have deep-seated connections to each other, they socialize together and have been protecting themselves. Wayne Watson is still making demands and still influencing policies, administrators, and board members…

This conversation underscored what I had been thinking earlier in the afternoon after witnessing the appalling sight of old pols and their flagrant political posturing at the graduation ceremony. I had pointedly stopped attending these events during the presidency of the insufferable Wayne Watson. This year I came; I knew a lot of students graduating, CSU had a new president, and with the way things were going in this state and at this school I thought this might be the last graduation I would ever have the chance to attend. But what a tedious roster of old shameless politically-connected Watson hats trotted out one after the other on that graduation stage:  Angela Henderson, Trustees James Joyce and Nikki Zollar, Jesse Jackson, the Emil Joneses II & III, even ex-Governor Quinn, all of them jawing away... At any second I expected Watson, the grand master puppeteer himself, to come bounding up the stage. The Watsonian grip remains firmly around the neck of CSU even if that particular old pol is officially “retired.” 

Before the undergraduates received their diplomas, Jesse Jackson had left (he got his photo op with the Ed.D. and Masters students), the trustees Zollar and Joyce too abandoned the proceedings well before it was over. By the end, in the front row, on the left side of the dais, sat President Calhoun alone, a row of empty seats next to him. On the opposite side, however, sat Angela Henderson with her staff of associate or assistant or vice provosts (whatever she calls the entourage who dutifully accompany her wherever she goes) and the university deans. A perfect metaphor for this time and place at CSU I thought: President Calhoun, out there by himself.

The day that began with the optimism of commencement exercises for over 700 students, ended for 300 others across campus with bitterness. What a farce we are playing out in these last days of chez nous. And what a diabolical strategy Anthony Young and Nikki Zollar and the rest of the trustees have perpetrated to preserve CSU as a haven of patronage politics. Have you not wondered why CSU is the only university in the state of ILL to have made the extreme declaration of financial exigency? Northeastern University, Eastern, Western, Governors State are all in the same boat, but only CSU took this step. Watching the preening of so many Watsonites at graduation the answer hit me: the trustees and upper administration still want to fulfill Watson’s goal to make Angela Henderson president. Financial exigency means Calhoun can’t bring in anyone new, the board won’t let him, so, the likes of Henderson, Cage, Mitchell, Land, all the rest of the old wine from Watson’s cask are protected.  How long will Calhoun, alone on the dais, continue in this position?

1 comment:

  1. Graduation is about the students!!!
    Not political grandstanding.

    The new president is a fall guy.