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.