Monday, January 8, 2018

Only At CSU

So the cliches are lining up to be written about how CSU has started 2018. Today was the first day of class. I was not overly enthusiastic about the beginning of the semester. One reason was the sad realization that enrollment would be well below 3,000 students. Only nine years ago, CSU had an enrollment over 7,000. As enrollment has plummeted, those responsible have been rewarded by keeping their jobs, while those most vulnerable have been fired. Pampered administrators have been rewarded for repeated and ever increasing failure. This failure will fall squarely at the feet of the Board of Trustees and the President who has chosen not to clean house even though that house cleaning is the most obvious task to move the university away from what now seems like its inevitable demise.

To wit, the Williams Science Building, which houses six academic departments and other academic units, was closed today and is likely to be closed for the rest of the week. This closing could likely have been anticipated if two known factors had been considered. First, there was little heat in the building since Thanksgiving. Faculty and staff routinely worked in their coats because they could see their breath in their offices. The second known factor is that extremely low temperatures can cause water pipes to burst. The ancillary to that is that Chicago was in the grips of a polar vortex for the past two weeks with wind chill factors of 20 degrees below zero. A reasonable person could conclude that a building with insufficient heat that experiences an extended polar vortex might be susceptible to damage. Lo and behold, that is exactly what happened in the Williams Science Center. This incident potentially put lab animals, experiments and storage of certain chemicals at risk. Now the building is closed, yet there were no signs on the doors that the building would be closed until whatever date the cleanup would be complete. A closed building means faculty can't access their offices or materials that might be in their offices. This is especially challenging at the beginning of the semester.

For several years, I have spoken, written, shouted about there only being two problems at CSU; 1) no culture of accountability and 2) no culture of open and transparent communication. The less than optimal start of the semester is just one in a long list of incidents over the last decade that exemplify the two problems that plague the university. There is no consequence for not doing your job and when that job isn't done, there isn't communication to let the university community know they will need to make adjustments to their activities. This incident reinforces why strong leadership is necessary. Strong leadership would not tolerate for one more second administrators that have grossly and profoundly failed the university. They would be fired without cause and sent on their way. Any complaints from them should result in a public airing of their failures for all to see. Any administrator who has been part of the failure of this university who actually believes they are doing a good job is obviously delusional and should be removed because delusions like that are dangerous for the functioning of an institution. An absence of self awareness and deficit of emotional intelligence in a leader is devastating to the organization. 

Here we are at the beginning of the year and new semester with the same problems that have plagued the institution for years, namely a lack of leadership willing to make hard choices and senior administrators in so far over their heads in terms of competence that the university can't even muddle through.

The institution is also repeating its ethical mistakes. To wit, why is the law firm of the board counsel slopping away at the public trough? Namely, representing the university in the recent faculty arbitration and in negotiations with the union representing the Building Service Workers? Did the university learn nothing from the now departed general counsel who improperly advised the board while supposedly representing the interests of the university. For those who think that isn't a problem consider this. The BOT hires the president. The general counsel reports to the president but provides legal advice, potentially about the president, to the board. I'm no legal expert but after years of ethics training, I can spot a conflict of interest because conflicts can be actual or perceived in order to be problematic. And here we go again. The board hires a general counsel who then directs work to her firm. If she were a partner in that firm, for example, she would likely be paid for her billable hours and receive an annual bonus or profit sharing thus being paid twice by the tax payers. It is also irregular that negotiations with collective bargaining units would be conducted through the board attorney or her firm and not the Office of Labor and Legal Affairs. Not including the general counsel's office in this process is highly suspect. 

Additionally, asking that Building Service Workers be subjected to scrutiny by a consultant who would tell them how to do their job is ridiculous. Injecting wasteful corporate thinking in the academy is enough evidence that another board counsel should be retained because the current one must have no idea how the university or any university works. And if any of this is untrue, the board and/or its counsel should feel free to refute it with evidence. I have always said that if I get something factually incorrect, then I will correct it. Some readers may not like the tone but the message is the message.

I'm sure, loyal readers, you can see the cliches waiting to burst forth in print. I won't bore you with them. You know what they are. I will say this though, the more things change, the more they don't. After today it feels like a race to see whether the university will close because of a lack of students or because the long neglected physical infrastructure finally collapses.

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