Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What We've Gone Through: An Indictment of Public Officials in Illinois

The recently published Tribune Editorial, “Saving Chicago State,” missed the mark in several important ways. Let’s take a look over the past six-plus years and detail the various scandals and failures of the Watson administration—scandals which in any legitimately run university would have earned the president a pink slip for horrendous performance. The Tribune’s editorial took some of the state’s politicians, Chicago State’s administrators, and the university’s Board to task in the most ineffective manner, ignoring the behavior of a number of individuals responsible for the woeful state of affairs at the university. Along the way, the Tribune ignored its own culpability for failing to take a stand on the ongoing problems at Chicago State—problems it knew about.

As the editorial makes clear, however, students, faculty, and even most of the university’s staff are blameless in this disgrace. We had no input into decisions that have damaged the university. We have little or no access to the Board of Trustees. Despite our entreaties to various politicians, state agencies, the Board, private watchdog groups, even the Governor, people in a position to do something about the deteriorating conditions at Chicago State chose to do nothing. Now, of course, they’re shocked! shocked! to find problems at Chicago State. Here’s a recap of the key events of the past six-plus years. All of these issues appeared on the CSU Faculty blog, and a number even got into the mainstream media. None of these events were sufficient to spur anyone to action.


• Spring 2009: after a sham search, the Board, led by Leon Finney and Richard Tolliver, appoint Wayne Watson President of Chicago State. Faculty and staff do not want either of the two finalists, and the Faculty Senate implores Governor Quinn to step in, fill vacancies on the Board, and restart the search. In contrast to Quinn’s quick action in the “clout scandal” at the University of Illinois, he does nothing. Watson is appointed at a Board meeting to a chorus of boos.
• Soon after his appointment, Watson’s first scandal surfaces as he is unable to assume his duties as President because of retirement complications. He claims he’s “volunteering” until October 1, but makes decisions and performs a number of Presidential duties. He also moves into the mansion. A FOIA request at that time results in an argument with James Crowley about which records are responsive to the FOIA request. Watson fires Crowley in early 2010. Crowley sues. More on this later.
• In July 2009, Maria Moore sued Watson for “retaliatory discharge” at the City Colleges. Moore’s complaint detailed Watson’s ethical violations and his abusive and bullying behavior. More on this later
• October 2009: Watson officially takes over, brings in several cronies to staff key senior administrative positions. Creates a $90,000 position for his girlfriend Cheri Sidney.


• Watson’s first year results in a modest enrollment increase. Leon Finney praises him, citing his “leadership” as the reason for the enrollment gain.
• Watson begins incursions into university curriculum, something he is spectacularly unqualified to do. Mandates a ridiculous “senior thesis,” and decides that all Master’s programs should have a mandatory thesis, an uncommon practice in a number of disciplines.
• In a highly public dispute, Watson drives literary icon Haki Madhubuti from the university. Madhubuti had the temerity to criticize Watson.
• Watson continues to promote his girlfriend into senior administrative positions created just for her.


• March 2011: the first audit report of the Watson regime reveals 41 exceptions, up from 13 the previous year. Watson and his stooges blame the previous administration.
• The university experiences the first of what will eventually be 11 consecutive semesters of enrollment declines.
• June 2011: Watson hires longtime crony and protégé Angele Henderson as the Vice President of Enrollment Management. Henderson has no qualifications for such a position and her application includes false information.
• July 2011: the Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago State allowed ineligible students to receive financial aid. The university will eventually pay a fine. Watson responds that the problem is the previous administration’s.
• Watson creates another new position for his girlfriend, Associate Vice President of Enrollment management at a salary of $110,000. This represents a 22 percent raise in two years.
• Fall 2011, enrollment is down 480 students (6.5 percent) from Fall 2010.
• Fall 2011: Maria Moore case settled in favor of the plaintiff. Moore is awarded more than $700,000 in damages, Watson is culpable. The total cost of the Moore award exceeds $1.175 million, which does not include costs associated with defending Watson.


• February: Watson reportedly gets around $800,000 in severance from City Colleges, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for unused sick leave. Obviously, he was worth it.
• Spring: Sabrina Land drafts and disseminates a “Communications Policy” which prohibits anyone on campus from saying anything to the press or on social media that has not been approved by the administration. Policy generates instant ridicule from around the country and is quickly abandoned.
• In Angela Henderson’s first year as Vice President of Enrollment Management, Fall 2012 enrollment drops to 6107, a 11.3 percent decline. Enrollment is down 17 percent since Fall 2010.
• November: the Faculty Senate votes “no confidence” in Wayne Watson. The vote is 28-2 with 2 abstentions, the Board does not respond.


• In March, Wayne Watson nearly loses his job. Emil Jones and persons from Rainbow Push bring a bunch of political hacks and “community activists” to two Board meetings to defend Watson and demand that he stay on as President. No one talks about his “accomplishments,” either as President or scholar. Instead, they paint him as a victim, his attorney describing his travails as similar to those experienced by Jesus and Martin Luther King. Quinn allows the terms of the Board members most opposed to Watson’s presidency to expire, and appoints new members who support the President. One of the new Board’s first orders of business is to extend Watson’s contract through June 2016.
• July: Despite a proven track record of failure as Vice President of Enrollment Management (see below), Watson names Angela Henderson the Interim Provost. At the time of her appointment, Henderson does not even hold a Ph.D.
• Fall 2013: Enrollment drops another 6.6 percent to 5701. Enrollment is now down 22.6 percent since Fall 2010, and 17.2 percent during Henderson’s tenure as Vice President of Enrollment Management.
• October/November 2013. The blog publishes documentary evidence of Sidney’s falsification of her resume to include educational qualifications she did not possess. Despite evidence of Sidney’s lie, the administration does not discharge her.
• November 2013: The administration makes the first of two attempts to shut down the faculty blog.


• January: the Chicago Tribune reports that Angela Henderson’s dissertation contains material that violates the academic integrity standards of the UIC College of Nursing. In February, the Board “accepts” her degree. The administration hires private counsel to again threaten the faculty blog.
• February: a Circuit Court jury renders its verdict in James Crowley’s retaliatory discharge case. The unanimous decision spanks Wayne Watson and Chicago State by awarding Crowley nearly $2.5 million in damages. Throwing good money after bad, the university decides to appeal the decision, first to the judge who presided over the trial.
• February: the Faculty Senate votes “no confidence” in Wayne Watson and Angela Henderson. The vote is 25-2 with 2 abstentions. The Board does not respond.
• August: Circuit Court Judge McCarthy issues a “scathing” opinion on the Crowley verdict against Watson. He makes clear that Watson and General Counsel Patrick Cage attempted to not only fire Crowley but destroy his career. Calling both of them liars, he affirms the jury’s verdict. The university decides to appeal the decision.
• Summer: A search goes on for a permanent Provost. Reportedly the search firm provides a list of desirable candidates that does not include Interim Provost Angela Henderson.
• November: An anonymous “hearing officer” finds no plagiarism, despite reported “revisions” in Henderson’s dissertation. Immediately after the decision is announced, Watson appoints her the permanent Provost. At this point, the “revised” dissertation still does not appear on the UIC Indigo site. It is not available through ProQuest either.
• Fall: Chicago State’s shrinking enrollment drops to 5211, another 8.6 percent decline. Total enrollment has declined 29.2 percent since it peaked at 7362 in Fall 2010. Watson and his acolytes begin talking about “right-sizing” the university and Watson and his sycophants assure the Board that enrollment will stabilize “around 5000,” then “increase incrementally.”


• February: Watson announces that he will “retire” when his contract expires in June 2016.
• February: Rauner unveils a budget calling for a 30 percent cut in university funding. The Watson administration wrings its hands, prepares no contingency plans, hires and upgrades more administrators, lays off lower paid staff.
• Fall: Enrollment sinks to 4767, down another 8.5 percent from Fall 2014. Total enrollment loss since Fall 2010: 35.2 percent. What happened to the promised enrollment stabilization?
• November/December: The Board chooses a new President, Thomas J. Calhoun, and slaps faculty and staff in the face by recognizing Watson’s failure with the title “President Emeritus,” (“President Horribilis” would be more appropriate). Watson get an office in the library to write his “memoirs.”


• February: Board declares “financial exigency,” although no other at-risk universities in the system do likewise. They tie the new President’s hands with a ridiculous four person “Management Committee.”
• Late February: in the first of a series of blunders, the university lays everyone off on February 26.
• January through present: senior members of the administration reportedly going to individual Board members in an effort to undermine President Calhoun. Board members allow this inappropriate access.
• February-April: majority of administrators do not lift a finger to save the university. Instead, students lead the way.
• Late March: idiotic memorandum tells all employees they must turn in their keys by the end of the first week in April. Surprisingly, press coverage focuses on what this means for the severity of the situation instead of the stupidity of the policy.
• April 22: Legislature funds the university at just over 50 percent of the 2014-15 appropriation. At least two “Chicago State administrators” reportedly lobby legislators for reduced funding from one bill’s original appropriation of $33.5 million.
• April 29: In a ham-handed and brutal process, the university follows the infusion of emergency cash by laying off a reported 300 employees. Most are from the lower salary ranks. Several operations decimated: admissions, teacher certification, financial aid. Almost all high-salaried senior administrators keep their jobs. A number of the layoffs are reportedly due to personal animus on the part of decision makers.
• At the May 6 board meeting, faculty in attendance expressed their displeasure with the unworkable executive management structure and voiced support for President Calhoun. The agenda of a number of administrators is neatly encapsulated by these comments from one of our upper administrators: “Supporters of Wayne and the Board are peddling the narrative that Calhoun is incompetent and only good at giving speeches. They were caught off-guard by the show of support for Calhoun and are trying to figure out how to turn public perception to their side.” So, at this late date, we still have Watson and his minions manipulating events for their own personal gain; actively working against the interests of the university community.

The preceding list is far from exhaustive, containing only the “highlights” of the past few years. Certainly, no media outlet will report on the numerous legitimate issues and scandals that plague this school. Nevertheless, we have created a significant paper trail that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for public figures to claim they did not know what was going on her at Chicago State. Shame on all of them.


  1. Administrators are awarded a pay raise of 18%-22%. The VP of Administration and Finance complains about the impact of the pension cost to the university's finances, ultimately to Gov. Quinn. He is fired the next day and files a whistleblower lawsuit.

    The LaShondra Peebles whistleblower lawsuit reveals the workings of the inner circle, including pressure to backdate contracts (where is the ethics officer, anyway?) and a conspiracy to file false sexual harassment charges against the president of the faculty senate.

  2. Prof. Bionaz, you've been a one man army for truth and justice. I, among many others, truly appreciate your efforts! Thank you .

  3. Prof. Bionaz, you've been a one man army for truth and justice. I, among many others, truly appreciate your efforts! Thank you .

  4. Here was my response to the editorial:

    "The crisis isn't new. Today, as on many disturbing days, the Far South Side school is starved of cash and failing to educate — and graduate — many of its students. The university has cheated young people, many of them from low-income homes, of chances for a college degree and a better life. Many students invest time, talent and money in pursuit of degrees they're unlikely to receive."

    Far from "cheating" these students, Chicago State University has provided the sole potential path to a college degree for many of the city's minority students. We graduate more low-income minority students than Universities that are many times our size (how many such students does UIC graduate?). We not only feed more minority students into graduate and professional programs than any other Illinois University, we have schools as prestigious as the University of Chicago actively poaching our best students (while at the same time, soliciting us to help train their postdocs how to teach and provide them with classroom experience).

    "But you know who has profited from Chicago State's torpor? A lot of shrewd Illinois politicians, that's who."

    No, who has profited have been a series of venal and unqualified Presidents, who have done nothing to raise funds, while funneling money to their cronies, toadies, and personal friends. In the time that I have been at CSU, one President left under a cloud after her financial aid shenanigans almost caused CSU to lose the ability to receive financial aid from the Federal Government (and who then went on to destroy the next University she presided over for similar acts and ultimately spent a year wearing an ankle bracelet). The next spent tens of thousands of dollars on cruises and vanity projects to project her delusions of awesomeness.

    Our previous President (who came in after an interim President who was actually capable, but who left for another position just as things began working) failed upward from seriously damaging the Chicago City Colleges, and continued his predecessors' pattern of demoting and marginalizing competency while rewarding sycophancy and mediocrity, e.g., in installing a Provost (the wife of his lawyer) who lied about her credentials when she was hired and who later plagiarized her dissertation, as well as his girlfriend (in two highly-paid positions for which she was unqualified). He has been sued multiple times, and lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit (the judgment against him of which grows daily while he appeals using state-paid attorneys).

    One OTHER beneficiary is the local search firm who spent tens of thousands of dollars on “national” searches that yielded local and/or lower-level administrators as candidates.

  5. (cont.)

    "CSU's graduation rate has cratered to an abysmal 11 percent: Of the 589 full-time freshmen who started in 2009, only about 65 students graduated within six years. That's down from a shameful 13-to-21-percent range for the last decade. Calhoun says CSU will "analyze our data ... so we can be aware of what's contributing." He says the 11 percent figure doesn't reflect a true picture of the university, because it excludes transfer students. They make up about two-thirds of the student body and graduate at a higher if still weak rate (49 percent in 2015)."

    Through the years, the Tribune has persistently ignored the metric on which graduation rates are based. Your example is the first time that I've seen where they use the actual standard: students who matriculate as freshmen and then complete their degree at CSU. If you transfer into CSU (as MOST of our students do), you don't count. If you do well and transfer to another program, you don't count (which would certainly lower the total, but the Tribune cited no cohorts to compare). I worked on a model for admissions standards in the mid-2000s based on high school GPA and ACT scores. This was adopted for a few years and was starting to result in noticeable improvement in student performance. Then, the previous President came in, and the standards were lowered as enrollment fell. Arguably, a lot of our students would be better served by attending a city of community college first. Our graduation rate for the rest of our students is much higher and competitive with other institutions.

    "Careless spending at Chicago State and in the state Capitol has strained CSU's finances, with the current budget impasse forcing the school to lay off one-third of its workforce. Faculty members were spared so far. About a third of CSU's budget comes from the state, and the school doesn't have a large endowment or deep reserves. As the state's economy and government struggle, CSU is a case study in how growing more Illinois jobs would yield more tax revenue and help ease financial crises."

    While CSU has certainly had its share of financial issues, that is not the source of our existential problem. Not paying bills is a persistent problem (many vendors have blacklisted CSU because Illinois doesn't pay its bills in a timely manner). CSU has only four ways of generating revenue: 1) tuition (which is the greatest share); 2) state funding (which WAS 39% the last time we had a budget); 3) indirect costs from grants; and 4) fundraising.

    Tuition hikes must be approved by the state. When UIC's tuition equals ours (as it now does), then CSU is not going to be receiving the strongest students. We all know about the State's failure to fund the public universities. At CSU, Indirect costs raised from grants vanish into the University's general fund and are haphazardly dribbled back to the departments whose faculty need support (e.g., access to journals) from them. Fundraising at CSU has been hampered by several factors, which include (but are not limited to): no budget for advertising fundraising events, dissolution by the previous President of the CSU Foundation, no significant fundraising by the Presidents, and no significant fundraising or direct contributions from the Board of Trustees. It should be noted that when you jerk around students as much as the CSU administration does, they are not inclined to become life-long givers.

    "How did this happen? For years CSU lagged, even drawing a rebuke in 2009 from officials who accredit universities, yet no one was held accountable."

    Actually, we received a 10-year re-accreditation during that time (which is rare). The "rebuke" was due to the administration not allowing sufficient participation by the faculty in university governance (with the exception of the interim President, this autocratic management style has been true during the entire 20 years that I have been a faculty member).

  6. (cont.)
    "Instead of focusing on academic outcomes, the pols threw money at the school for buildings, labs and equipment."

    "That focus on visible new stuff rather than on improved outcomes pleased some voters but clearly imperiled CSU's future."

    So far as I am aware, "new equipment" in the form of scientific instruments has been funded by grants awarded to the faculty. Classrooms have replaced chalkboards, but modern upgrades to the classrooms have not been fully carried out.

    The money thrown into new buildings at CSU was stupidly spent. About 15 years ago, I served on a committee that was to prioritize the deferred maintenance of the campus (and the entire campus was built in the late 1970s). At that time, the Williams Science Center leaked air, water, and pigeons. We found about $40 million worth of immediate needs. Our report was ignored and the committee disbanded.

    We did not need a new library as much as we needed access to journal subscriptions (you can't write a very good grant without being able to access the literature). And we need a "Convocation Center" even less. But again, we faculty were not consulted. Under President Watson’s command, we established an aquaponics facility. That was a true surprise to me when I heard about it after the fact, as I'm the only CSU faculty member who knows anything about how to maintain fishes in such a facility.

    It is not the responsibility of "the pols" to focus on these outcomes. It is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees for the University (who, in CSU's case, are Gubernatorial appointees and are not elected) and the Illinois Board of Higher Education, whose "16 members are: 10 members appointed by the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate; one member of a public university governing board and one member of a private college or university board of trustees, each appointed by the Governor without the advice and consent of the Senate; the chairman of the Illinois Community College Board; the chairman of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission; and 2 student members selected by the recognized advisory committee of students of the Board of Higher Education, one of whom must be a non traditional undergraduate student who is at least 24 years old and represents the views of non traditional students, such as a person who is employed or is a parent. One of the 10 members appointed by the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, must be a faculty member at an Illinois public university.").

    "A favorite of former Senate President Emil Jones Jr., Chicago State was written into all kinds of pork-laden bills in Springfield. Jones used his leadership role to balance the scales after watching other state schools — especially the University of Illinois — rake in state cash. CSU's $47 million convocation center is named for Jones and his late wife, Patricia, a Chicago State graduate."

    The thing is, "The Emil and Patricia Jones" Roof, or Electrical Switch Gear, or Journal Access Subscription is not sexy. If they had spent the money from the Convocation Center (which is empty most of the time) and the New Academic Library on a STEM Center, it might have made sense (and so might our Pharm D. program). But, that said, the cost of both represented less than $15 to every Illinois taxpayer. Note that the faculty were not involved in any of these decisions.

    "CSU alumni revere their institution as a game-changer for students who often don't boast stellar high school academic credentials, who can't afford more expensive schools, or who also hold jobs and care for children. The alums bristle at the thought of Chicago's South Side without Chicago State."

    As they should. Because unlike the author of the editorial, they know what they are talking about.

    "That's understandable and commendable."

    That's patronizing.

  7. "But Chicago State can't just limp along as it has, a flunk-out factory for too many young people who deserve much better than that."

    No, it can't limp along without State support. And it will certainly fail if the perception takes hold that it will close. In which case, the State will lose a LOT of money. Faculty will retire and/or move out of state. Students will take their tuition dollars to Indiana, Employees will file for unemployment. The State will be on the hook for securing the buildings and state property. The State will have to manage everything from chemical waste to live animals should the persons responsible just decide to walk away (we've all been laid off already).

    "It can't continue to ask taxpayers to fund its failure."

    If EVERY person in the State of Illinois were paying State Income taxes, their contribution to CSU would be $3.12 per year. I'll leave it to the writer to do the arithmetic to whatever proportion of taxpayers you want.

    As far as our being a "flunk-out factory", did the writer attend the last commencement and spend a few hours seeing the hundreds of students graduate?

    "Here's where that difficult conversation about poor performance and strained public resources leads: If CSU's leaders and its backers don't pull CSU out of its nosedive, then South Side pride won't be enough to save it. The unthinkable — folding it into a more successful university, transforming it into a community college or closing it — will become thinkable. Maybe doable.

    Calhoun has had a rocky four-plus months on the job with more turbulence ahead. It's still early in his tenure, but Calhoun's mission, the board's mission, is urgent: Save Chicago State."

    About that eight-member board: Four members finish their terms in January. That's a huge opportunity for Rauner to appoint new trustees, turnaround experts to tackle CSU's entrenched problems. To find innovative financial and academic solutions. To explore why more students — freshmen and transfers — don't graduate. To save Chicago State."

    It will be terrifying to see who Rauner appoints. Because what he wants is to privatize ALL education in the State. And THAT is going to cost everybody. I assure you that he has no interest in appointing anyone who would actively help do anything for CSU other than liquidating it.

    "CSU's success or failure under its new president and reconfigured board will be widely evident. Either graduation and retention rates rise or they don't. Either the university spends more efficiently or it wastes money on bureaucracy; like several other Illinois public universities, CSU never has been accused of having too few well-paid administrators."

    No it sure hasn't. And we faculty have repeatedly and vociferously tried to draw your attention to the contrary.

    "If CSU succeeds — and we profoundly hope it does —"

    No you don't. The Tribune has never missed an opportunity to report bad news without actually finding out the details.

    "Students gain the quality education that they expect and deserve. They graduate. They get good jobs. They raise their families and thrive. Maybe they send their children to a proudly reborn Chicago State University."

    That has actually been going on for a LOOOONNG time. It is too bad that you've never bothered to find out.

    "For Calhoun and everyone else at CSU, this is a crucial pass/fail test. After the years of mismanagement that cheated so many young people, today there's no credit for effort — just for results."

    Watson has NEVER LEFT! He is STILL being paid $199K a year until 1 July. His cronies form three of a four-member group (President Calhoun being the 4th) with a majority rule on decisions. This arrangement is due to the Board of Trustees, who have enabled Watson since he started at CSU (those who didn't were replaced). We need an ELECTED Board.

  8. A few months ago at a Board of Trustee's meeting, I asked Trustee Anthony Young if the fix was in to make sure the school failed.

    Events since then have given me the answer Young refused to give.

    Yes, the fix is in.