Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Have We Learned Anything Yet? The Trajectory of a Disaster

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.” Adage attributed to numerous sources

As I noted in a previous post, at the December Board meeting, Cecil Lucy, Anthony Young, and Horace Smith all opined that Chicago State’s problems stemmed from “negative” media reports supplied by unnamed conspirators seeking to damage the university. In later comments, Lucy has suggested that we should “look forward” and not back in order to bring the university out of its current predicament. Of course, “looking forward” also allows the administration to construct a narrative, no matter how ludicrous, that protects the jobs of the Watson cronies who have so damaged the school, and who remain ensconced in their lucrative positions. After all, they are not responsible for any of our problems. At the December Board meeting Lucy said that every administrative decision had been right; really? Let’s see how outside observers feel about Chicago State’s administrative doings.

Yesterday, the Cook County Circuit Court brought the curtain down on the James Crowley lawsuit. In an action that should surprise no one, Judge McCarthy ordered Chicago State to pay a total of $4.3 million dollars to Crowley for the attempt by Wayne Watson and Patrick Cage to personally destroy Crowley; for their bullying, unlawful termination, and Ethics Act violations against an employee whose sole crime was trying to comply with state law. In addition to the damages awarded to Crowley, the university must pay the legal fees of his attorney, likely in the $1 million dollar range, bringing the total to well over $5 million. Since the university has delayed for months paying a judgement it could not avoid, McCarthy also ordered that as long as the university delays payment, Crowley is entitled to better than $20,000 per month in interest. Factoring in the expense for the various private law firms the university hired to defend its morally reprehensible former president and ethically challenged current Chief Legal Counsel, the total cost of this folly should amount to better than $6 million. Even after the school pays the award, legal expenses will continue to rise as Chicago State has now retained yet another private law firm to go after the insurance company that properly denied the university’s claim since the liability resulted from intentional acts by both the President and his legal counsel. Well done everyone. How did we get here?

It is seven years ago today that CSU police walked Crowley off campus and initiated the completely baseless investigation that resulted in his termination on February 19. Crowley filed suit against Wayne Watson and the university later that year. After almost four years, the matter finally went to trial and in February 2014, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Crowley, resulting in an award of almost $3 million. Chicago State appealed the verdict and in August 2014, Judge McCarthy, in a stinging critique of the behavior of Watson and Cage (including the revelation that both had their testimony impeached, ie., lied under oath), sustained the verdict.

The University then appealed and on March 2, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court (Third Division) unanimously affirmed the Circuit Court's verdict in its entirety. Since the university had not gotten a single vote in its favor at either the trial or on appeal, our Board and administrators thought it wise to continue to throw good money after bad with an appeal to the Illinois State Supreme Court. On May 25, 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear the university’s appeal, effectively handing Chicago State its final defeat. In the more than eight months since the Supreme Court’s action, the university has failed to pay the judgement. Thus, yesterday’s final determination by Judge McCarthy.

Let’s take a moment to review some of the commentary included in the Appellate Court decision. It throws fresh light on the Watson administration’s toxic management of this institution, its preference for the personal destruction of its perceived enemies, and the utter ethical bankruptcy of its management practices.

The Appellate Court’s opinion included this: “At the outset of this analysis it is worth noting that in their appellate brief defendants 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.” And more: “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.”

Further, the Appellate Court found that, “[r]ather 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.” The university did this: “[d]efendants engaged in a lengthy course of manufacturing reasons . . . 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.” Finally, the Appellate Court saw clearly the administration tactics of personal destruction: “Likewise, there was evidence suggesting the administration's rooting out of other employee dissenters resulted in their demotion or eventual discharge, too. “ Think of the trumped-up current charges against another whistle-blower, LaShondra Peebles. Think of other valuable employees like Tiffany Hope, Avis Muhammad, and Mary Butler. Think of Joy Hearn, cashiered from the president’s office after years of efficient and loyal service and transferred to Health Sciences.

The Appellate Court suggested that potential liability for ethics violations could easily be avoided and noted Chicago State’s failure to protect its resources by filing suit against Watson for his egregious behavior: “Indeed, ethics violations can be easily avoided by practicing open and honest governance. As such, the punitive damages award in this case should represent the exception rather than the rule. As the trial court noted, if this judgment is to impact taxpayers, it should encourage them to entrust the appropriate individuals with state resources and decision-making authority.“ As for Watson, “while CSU did not file a cross-claim against Watson (who was also sued here individually) in order to limit the financial burden on the university, CSU has not suggested that anything prevented it from doing so.”

So at every level, Chicago State got itself pummeled. You might think this kind of catastrophic loss would spur some introspection. Not so, however, as Sabrina Land’s statements yesterday underscore. The Tribune reported that “she sent a statement maintaining the university's position that the judgment was ‘an unusual and high verdict in an employment case.’” That ship sailed some time ago. Continuing with her pathetic defense of Watson, Cage, and their actions, Land said, "The University continues to express its disappointment with this 2014 verdict. Our highest priority is to focus on productive and important matters such as our students, staff and university operations." A little late for that kind of nonsense. On a number of judicial levels, we’ve been found administratively culpable, just shut up and write the check.

I think the comments by Sabrina Land (who obviously spoke for someone much higher in the administration) tell us much about the current state of administrative affairs at Chicago State. At the expense of the university, the administration is still involved in protecting Wayne Watson and his various cronies. If the university administration’s “priorities” are “students, staff and university operations,” perhaps decisions made in the best interests of Chicago State “students, staff and operations” might be in order.

This latest scandal again exposes the unethical administrative practices at our university. Additionally, it demonstrates that we learn nothing from our missteps, since our first impulse is always to cover things up. Is it any wonder we have no credibility with various media sources? Wayne Watson and Patrick Cage are responsible for this disaster. Watson collects his lavish pension while roaming the grounds of the university and continuing to make his presence known in the Cook building. Of course, Patrick Cage remains at the helm of Chicago State’s legal affairs team.

I can only hope the new members of the Chicago State Board are paying attention to all this. If this university is going to survive, fundamental change must begin at the top. In my estimation, their first priority must be finding an interim president who is not part of the old regime, someone who will come in and clean house at the top of the organization. There have been no consequences for failure here, only holding persons accountable for their inability to perform their jobs will signal our willingness to go in a different direction. Only with new leadership can we convince the public, our students, and staff, that it’s not “business as usual” here at Chicago State.

As an Historian, it’s my business to look backwards. I find that useful in understanding how we came to be where we currently reside and it’s a useful way to identify the kinds of behaviors we should avoid in the future. On a more practical note, I’m sure that all of us were admonished as children to “look both ways” when crossing the street. A failure to do so can have disastrous consequences.

I conclude with the most catastrophic result of the vendetta waged by Cage and Watson: The university could have terminated Crowley without cause and paid him one year's severance based on the Board regulations (as they did with administrators last year to the tune of $1.6 million). This would have cost slightly more than $100,000 with no subsequent legal wrangling. Instead, Watson's and Cage's vindictiveness cost the university better than $6 million. Need I say more?


  1. Where is the OEIG? It should be investigated for its failure to enforce ethics statutes.

    1. Several official complaints, backed up by evidence and depositions, have been filed with the OEIG over the last several years. The office has not elected to act on any of them.

    2. Oh, and one that the OEIG responded to? They turned it over to the CSU "ethics officer"--a crony completely complicit in the wrongdoing--to "investigage." Guess where that went?

  2. Can someone explain the first sentence of the interim president's letter sent this morning?


  3. Why are there no criminal charges filed?