Thursday, December 29, 2016

Administrative Failure Writ Large: Chicago State on the Hook for the Crowley Damages

Another story about our completely opaque financial situation appeared recently in the Tribune. The depth of the Watson administration’s failure is again on display. Of course, with our weak new Interim President in place, the people who brought us to the precipice are free to continue their destructive behavior. Some horrific examples sketch the contours of the seemingly never-ending disasters afflicting this university.

First, the enrollment continues to decline. Based on our past history, I expect we will be scrambling to get above 3100 for Spring. This coming semester will be another chapter in what will become the thirteenth consecutive semester of enrollment decreases. We will likely be around 40 percent of the student population that attended in Fall 2010.

Second, the graduation rate is down to depths not seen since around 2007 or 2008. You remember last year’s 11 percent graduation rate? Well, the unofficial numbers I keep for the 2010-16 cohort come in at 13.3 percent, or 68 graduates out of a cohort of 520. Important to remember that all these students matriculated under the Watson regime and spent virtually their entire college careers being helped along by Angela Henderson and her Enrollment Management/Provost incompetents. Only at Chicago State could failure on the scale of the Watson/Henderson train wreck be materially rewarded by a fawning Board of Trustees.

These failures are dwarfed by the news coming out of the James Crowley case. You might remember he won a punitive award for about $2.5 million, with a total award now exceeding $5 million. Add to that the better than $1 million spent by plaintiff and defense attorneys, and the price tag for that Watson retribution is likely approaching $7 million. Remember, however, how the Watson administration shrugged off the decision, after all, we have insurance, right?

Not so fast. A letter sent from attorneys representing the insurance company to Chicago State’s crack legal counsel Patrick Cage makes clear that the insurer is telling the university that it has no intention of paying a punitive damages claim caused by the insured’s willful behavior. The attorneys write “However, in light of the Appellate Decision and the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision not to review it, there are significant coverage issues that Illinois National raises . . .” The letter includes language from the Appellate Court decision (which the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review) that makes clear the culpability of Wayne Watson and his stooges. It deserves to be quoted at length: “[D]efendants make virtually no argument that Watson's actions did not rise to the level of willful and wanton conduct that could warrant the imposition of punitive damages. This is congruent with our view of the evidence, which shows that Watson and his lieutenants were nothing short of reprehensible and that they acted with malice and deceit. Defendants did whatever they could to protect Watson's reputation, and they did it at Crowley's expense, when he sought only to comply with the public's right to know information about the activities of a state university. Rather than acknowledge that Watson inappropriately got involved in university business affairs before he had officially started, CSU instigated a campaign designed to both economically harm Crowley and to inflict psychological distress upon him. Defendants engaged in a lengthy course of manufacturing reasons, through Crowley's legitimate and previously untarnished work with the JCC, to discharge him and subsequently reported Crowley to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) so as to impede his future employment as a lawyer. The ARDC complaint was dismissed as lacking any basis. Likewise, there was evidence suggesting the administration's rooting out of other employee dissenters resulted in their demotion or eventual discharge, too. Defendants' entirely pretextual investigation and the resulting termination letter were clearly calculated to professionally bury Crowley.”

The insurer is invoking a policy provision that provides “dispute resolution.” Nonetheless, it appears certain that the university is not covered by its insurance, as claimed by administration mouthpieces. After all, the reptilian former president’s actions are described perfectly in this passage: “After hearing from many witnesses during the course of a two-week trial, the jury concluded that Defendants’ conduct was ‘willful.’ The trial judge in his Memorandum Opinion and the Appellate Court in its decision found that that the jury’s verdict was supported by numerous examples of ‘reprehensible,’ ‘deceitful,’ and ‘malicious’ conduct . . .”

Yes, “reprehensible,” “deceitful,” and “malicious” accurately describe the behavior of both Watson and his hand-picked senior administrators, abetted by our ridiculous Board of Trustees. In this case, the consequences are probably going to be costly for the university: “As stated in Illinois National’s previous coverage letters, it is well established in Illinois that punitive damages are not insurable when the employer – here, the Board of Trustees – even “indirectly participated in the wrongful conduct of the employee for which punitive damages were assessed.” You have never addressed this point or provided any case law that rebuts it. Here, to impose punitive damages in the first place, the jury had to find complicity by the Board of Trustees. As such, Illinois National maintains its denial as to punitive damages.”

So, this is what total failure looks like. I invite all the major players, Angela Henderson, Patrick Cage, and the rest of the senior administrators to immediately begin exploring other career opportunities. The bill for the past six-plus years is now due and payable.


  1. I am hoping that we (as faculty) can all try to work on improving our image and recruiting students. I would like to see CSU continue to exist long after I have retired. So is there anything we can do to put the University in a positive light?

  2. In order to effect any honest change at an institution it is necessary to cut off its head. Until we do that our sporadic and disorganized, disunified efforts at "improving our image" will fall flat. We had a chance for improving our image with Dr Calhoun at the lead, but the Trustees and the administrative cabal who sought his ouster could not abide him. Six-figure salaried administrators are supposed to do their job and recruit students. Angela Henderson was in charge of enrollment management, why couldn't she increase enrollment? Why wasn't she held responsible? We have been urgently crying out about enrollment for years here. Efforts now are too little and too late. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall.