One year ago today, a group of faculty met for dinner with new President Thomas Calhoun. I think it fair to say that at that time, the staff and students of Chicago State felt a sense of hope and optimism that we would begin to repair the damage done by Wayne Watson and his incompetent cronies. Unfortunately, as we now know, the combination of a group of senior administrators concerned solely with their own interests and a horrible Board of Trustees concerned only about taking care of the former president and his friends—even to the point of putting the university’s existence in jeopardy—derailed the Calhoun administration almost before it began. As a result, the university continues to operate under the control of Watson and his sycophants.
The magnitude of the damage done by the Watson administration becomes clearer as the days, weeks, and months pass. Just last week, the university settled a costly lawsuit, giving Chicago State another hefty portion of negative publicity. Of course, we are still on the hook for the damages in the Crowley matter, the full amount of that damage will be clear after an upcoming hearing in the Circuit Court. Since the judge in that matter is James McCarthy, who eviscerated the university in his August 2014 opinion, I would not expect much mercy for the defendants.
Obviously, the university is struggling to retain enough students to remain afloat. I expect the Spring enrollment to come in around 3000, perhaps even fewer. Again, neither our senior administrators nor our Board gives a damn about the students here. Frankly, it’s a wonder that any students remain. Their experience includes waiting for hours in the asinine “advising” center (if they can get an appointment), where they are served by a miniscule number of harried advisers, advising across multiple disciplines and colleges. Then, after putting together a class schedule which frequently balances school, work, and family needs, the university’s academic affairs people slash their courses, sometimes taking the student from full-time to nothing. Then our students have to reconstruct their schedules from scratch. Frequently, the administration cancels courses necessary for graduation, putting our students at risk of timely completion of their studies. To add to their pleasure, they then must address the financial side of their university attendance. No surprise that our enrollment is cratering. Just how bad is it actually? Just how poorly does the Watson administration perform?
The University’s 2015 Fact Book is now available on the CSU website. Its numbers offer a unique look at the trajectory of failure over the past six-plus years.
Gone is the Wayne Watson hagiography. Gone is the self-serving and cynical discussion of “right-sizing” to explain the university’s enrollment woes. Instead, readers are simply confronted with the arithmetical evidence of a university struggling to retain enough students to remain financially and academically viable. Some examples:
Page 6 details the grim enrollment numbers as they declined from 6262 in Spring 2012 to 4767 in Fall 2015. The Fact Book reveals seven straight semesters of overall enrollment drops as well as the decline in first-time students and transfer students, the lifeblood of the university. Remember, these drops occurred before the state’s financial crisis took full effect. Of course, we already know that for Fall 2016, our enrollment dropped to 3578. That represents the twelfth consecutive drop in CSU enrollment from Fall 2010. Who is accountable? Wayne Watson still has an office on campus, now in Douglas Hall we are told, the Provost remains in place with her retinue, although her former kingdom of Enrollment Management has been decimated. Most important, Chicago State has three Associate Provosts and a gaggle of other administrative types “working” for six-figure salaries.
Just who is responsible for the enrollment decline? Watson and his followers harp about the students expelled for poor scholarship in 2011 as a reason for the drop in enrollment. They cite “increased standards,” invoke the bullshit of “right-sizing,” and now, of course, the state’s budget impasse offers a convenient excuse for enrollment decline. However, in a non-dysfunctional system, the kind of failure achieved by Watson and his cronies would be rewarded with termination. Here, however, they are rewarded, promoted, given raises. All the while they oversee the destruction of an urban public university.
Although it is not a particularly fair way to judge Chicago State’s performance, the university’s graduation rate for first-year students continues to cause it grief and continues to generate negative publicity. Last year’s pathetic 11 percent figure represents the worst graduation performance by Chicago State since at least the 1997 first-year cohort. Most important, the 2009-2015 cohort spent almost its entire academic career in an institution run by Watson and his cronies.
You might remember a few years ago, the Watson administration trumpeted its 50 percent increase in Chicago State’s graduation rate. For three years, 2010-11 through 2012-13, Chicago State’s graduation rate exceeded 20 percent, albeit barely. The figures are: 2010-11 (2005 cohort), 20.9 percent; 2011-12 (2006 cohort), 20.9 percent; 2012-13 (2007 cohort), 20.7 percent. Is this performance attributable to the Watson administration? Let’s take a look behind the numbers at how graduation rates emerge.
First, from the 1997 cohort through the 2010 cohort (graduation years 2003, 2016), Chicago State’s overall graduation rate has been 15.6 percent (1005 graduates out of 6423 students matriculating as first-year, full-time students). From 1998 through 2009, admissions decisions were made by employees of the Elnora Daniel administration (the sabbatical year 2007-08 and interim year of Frank Pogue in 2008-09 are included). Beginning with the admits in Fall 2010, personnel working under the direction of Wayne Watson made admissions decisions.
In deciding which cohorts to assign to the Watson administration, I determined that the first full Watson year of 2010-11, should be the point of departure for his administration. I credited the Watson administration with students matriculating after 2006-07 (graduation year 2013), since those students had already spent 4 years at Chicago State by the time the Watson administration took full force. Because the Watson administration arguably still runs the school, first-year cohorts matriculating since 2007-08 are part of my calculations (graduation year 2014).
Compared to the overall 15.6 percent rate, the Watson administration from the 2007 through 2010 cohorts, graduates 15.3 percent of first-year students (289 out of 1883). The rates are: 2007 cohort, 20.7 percent; 2008 cohort, 19.2 percent; 2009 cohort, 11.0 percent; 2010 cohort (unreleased at this time) 13.5 percent. What can we expect in the days and years to come?
First, we will be beaten up again over the 2011cohort’s graduation rate. Based on the numbers I see, we’re going to receive criticism for our graduation rates as long as the Watson regime stays in power. The reason is simple. Students abandon the school in droves after their first year.
Retention statistics are available back to the 2007 first-year cohort. In terms of second-year retention, the Watson administration has performed in 2009-16 slightly worse than prior administrations did in 2007-09. Watson’s administration retained 54.9 first-year students for a second year compared to 56.6 percent second-year retention achieved by the Daniel/Pogue administrations. Alarming, however, is the precipitous drop in students between second and third year, a drop far more pronounced under Watson than his predecessors. For students matriculating in 2007 and 2008, 43 percent returned for a third year. Under Watson from 2009-15 (the 2015 cohort has not reached its third year), the percentage drops to 33.3. Expressed another way, in third year, the Daniel/Pogue lost 24 percent of students who enrolled for their second year, while the Watson administration lost 39.3 percent of second-year students.
The 40-plus percent third-year retention eventually resulted in final graduation rates of 20.7 and 19.2 percent in 2013 and 2014. The 36 percent third-year retention of the 2009 cohort resulted in a final graduation rate of 11.0 percent (2015), while the 32.5 percent third-year retention rate of the 2010 cohort has resulted in a graduation rate of 13.5 percent for 2016. The figures for the succeeding cohorts look similarly grim. For the 2011 cohort, the third-year retention percentage is 34.3 percent. Currently, the graduation rate for that cohort is 10.2 percent, with what I estimate to be 20 additional students likely graduating within the six-year time frame and another 7 long shots. An additional 20 students would bring the rate to 14.8 percent, with 27 more resulting in a 16.5 percent final rate. It seems doubtful that all 27 students (or even 20) will graduate before Summer 2017, so I project that graduation rate to be around 15 percent.
The remaining cohorts in the pipeline look problematic also. The 2012 cohort had a third-retention rate of 30 percent; 2013, 31.3 percent; 2014, 32.1 percent. It looks like we’ll have graduation rates below 15 percent for the near future.
I apologize for all the numbers in this post, but I think for those of us who are drawn to that kind of data, it all spells failure on a monumental scale. These numbers represent nothing less than a betrayal of our students by persons whose interests do not seem to include the welfare of Chicago State University. Obviously, persons in leadership positions should be held accountable for this kind of abominable performance. That, of course, has not been done. At this point, there is no basis for the belief that it will soon be done. Therefore, even at this eleventh hour, we have our senior administrators playing at running a university. It’s really time to stop pretending these people have any legitimacy.