Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The New Looks Just Like the Old: Chicago State Continues to Throw Money Away on Legal Fees

We have a new Board (sort of ) and a new President, however, much remains the same here at Chicago State University. Specifically, our school continues to pour money into the pockets of contract legal firms for purposes that make sense to hardly anyone. Let me explain.

During the Watson era, legal expenses increased dramatically between January 1, 2010 through June 30, 2015, Chicago State paid nearly $1.5 million in legal fees to outside law firms. Included among these expenses: $230,000 to defend Wayne Watson in the Crowley suit, plus another $100,000 for the appeal; $62,000 for a firm to handle trademark applications; $27,000 for a firm to do research for the “West Side Campus”; $49,000 to a firm to assist with the dissolution of the old and the formation of the new “foundation”; $26,000 to a firm to investigate the behavior of a dissident faculty member; $92,000 to a firm for threatening the faculty blog with a lawsuit for “trademark infringement” or some such nonsense; and close to $200,000 to defend Watson in the Glenn Meeks suit. Let’s look at the scorecard for these legal efforts. The University lost both the Crowley and Meeks suits, the “West Side” Campus is dead, the University now has the tree substituting for the “A” in Chicago State University protected by trademark, the investigation on the dissident faculty member revealed nothing, the faculty blog continues to operate, and the new foundation is frankly a laughingstock. Not much of a return on a substantial investment.

So things have change, right? Not so much. In Watson’s years, the amounts spent for contract legal services went from $45,000 in 2010 to $110,000 in 2011, $244,000 in 2012, $134,000 in 2013, $569,000 in 2014, $397,000 in 2015, and ended at $125,000 in 2016. Since January 1, 2016, Chicago State has actually kept pace with the Watson administration in its zealous efforts to make the university look petty, vindictive, and penurious (at least when it comes to some employees). Here’s what we’re doing now.

The University has paid $196,624.92 to Akerman LLP; whose partner LaKeisha Marsh serves as CSU Board attorney. Their charge? Fuck over the faculty and staff who were laid off in 2016. They settled with 3 of our people for a low ball total of $34,000 and their jobs back. Their actual lost salaries came to around $123,000, a saving to the University of $89,000. There are still 6 former tenured faculty members who have not been rehired as tenured faculty, two of whom are currently teaching as lecturers. The salaries owed these people under the contract come to $289,000. So, the University has spent $196,642.92 to potentially save $378,000, along the way generating nothing but goodwill from non-affected and affected faculty members.

Next we have Fisher Phillips, the firm defending the University (Wayne Watson) in both the Meeks and LaShondra Peebles suits. Since January 1, 2016, the University has paid $214,467.60 to lose the Meeks case and to continue railroading Peebles by pursuing the University’s bogus criminal charges. This brings the total for these two defenses to over $423,000.

Also lined up to get a ladle full from the CSU gravy train is Husch Blackwell, vigorously defending the University’s right to violate the first amendment. Although this matter could have been settled early at minimal cost, Wayne Watson decided to fight to the death to insure that CSU could silence anyone who dared disagree with the little dictator. The price tag to this point stands at $265,000, with $91,338.14 spent since January 1, 2016.

Schiff Hardin, the firm handling the “foundation” business remains a favorite of the administration. They’ve received $80,083.59 since January 1, 2016, bringing their total since April 2015 to over $125,000.

Finally, we have two interesting firms, doing some kind of unspecified contract(?) work. The first, Jackson Lewis, advertising itself as some kind of labor and employment litigators, has received $92,981.22 since March 2017. The second, Neal Gerber and Eisenberg has received $70,233 for who knows what? I will file a new FOIA requesting those contracts and will report on the results.

Since January 1, 2016, Chicago State has spent over $780,000 on fees to outside legal firms, with $486,722.90 coming since January 1, 2017. I think it likely that by the end of the year Chicago State will have spent nearly as much as Wayne Watson threw away in his most profligate year. This looks like business as usual to me folks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Frank, Thomas, and Paul

Anybody here
seen my old friend Frank?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He inspired a lotta people,
But it seems good leaders, they don’t stay…
I just looked around CSU
and he’s gone.

Anybody here,
seen my old friend Thomas?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He inspired a lotta people,
But it seems good leaders, they’re made to leave…
I just looked around CSU
and he’s gone…

In 21 years at CSU there have been three times when I have thought we finally netted someone in the upper administration with the potential to undertake the leadership that CSU has needed to move it from its oft-lamented status as the “diamond in the rough.” These three happen to be men and I would add, men of substance, who exuded intelligence, vision, and capability. I am talking about Frank Pogue, Thomas Calhoun and the third one I met last week, Paul Vallas.

CSU is not lacking in a faculty committed to moving CSU towards all it could be. But it has been badly lacking in leadership from the top for many years. Leadership, true leadership, does not issue mandates from the 3rd floor of the Cook Building such as we endured with the presidency of Wayne Watson. A contentious, venal political hire from the start, he inspired no wide support among the faculty.  Our so-called overseers, the state governor, Board of Trustees, and the Higher Learning Commission permitted him to run CSU like a political ward and become the poster-child of an Illinois patronage pit. We remain saddled with the remnants of Watson’s pillaging and plundering, an execrable and disgraced provost and others whose shelf-life on this campus is well past their “sell by” date.

After Governor Quinn’s interference to save Watson and then the Calhoun debacle last year, I became convinced that the state’s ultimate intention for CSU was that it not be anything more than a southside politically-dominated community college that masquerades as a university. We would continue to be that "diamond in the rough" and any achievement a department or individual faculty made would be in spite of, not because of, its leadership. It is hard to keep one’s spirits up in the situation that persists at CSU. And there has been no Truth and Reconciliation moment over the dirty job the provost and the bogus Management Action Committee did in firing our faculty colleagues. Who has the will to do anything for which a no-confidence president or provost might take credit?

Oh, right. Do it for the students. Yes,  “Students First” all the way at CSU. The words ring hollow when it comes out of the cynical mouths of administrators who have proven that their own interests and egos precede anything done for students. What would you say to the student in my class this semester who was so badly advised at the “advising center” that she is taking four classes here that she had already taken and passed at a community college? When she meekly protested to the adviser she was told that since the A.A. degree had not posted to the transcript, she had to take a freshman course load. They had the transcripts that clearly showed she had taken and passed the classes. By the time she spoke to her department chair, it was past the deadline to add/drop. Her chair told her the courses would count as electives.  If it were me, or my child, I would have raised holy hell with the department and the Academic Affairs Office and possibly dropped out of the university rather than pay for four classes I did not need. But our students do not all have the kind of confidence needed to stand up to posturing authoritative administrators.

Is this what we call “students first?” Students powerless? What could any one of us as faculty do for this student? I was incensed on her behalf yet powerless myself to offer her anything beyond my sympathy and encouragement to be vigilant with the courses she needs. Faculty have protested the failures of the provost’s advising center. We have discussed this formally in the Faculty Senate and made our concerns known. Our concerns continue to be ignored or grudgingly addressed even though our concerns are not disconnected from those of our students. Have we gotten too used to people not knowing how to run a university?

At the monthly Faculty Senate meeting last week I heard CSU’s CAO, Paul Vallas, speak for the first time. He presented a tour de force of ideas, possibilities, connections and a way forward such as I have not heard in a long time here. I left the meeting thinking:

1.     this is leadership I could follow, like Pogue, like Calhoun—it may not be completely possible to do it all as Vallas outlines, but sign me up—I will work hard for this kind of university. Vallas is the type of person with whom I want to work with whom I would work hard. I think he would listen and engage my ideas and let me share in the effort.

2.     is this CSU’s last chance? No one person will “save” CSU. But we blew it with the loss of Calhoun last year. How many chances do we have left?

To my knowledge there is no presidential search under way beyond the Trustees talking about it.  CSU needs leadership that is able to inspire faculty to participate in an agenda that is positive for the university. It needs leadership that is respected, trustworthy, and genuine. We had that in Frank Pogue. We had that in Thomas Calhoun. Paul Vallas spoke of utilizing CSU’s "faculty talent" and the faculty talent that was lost in the firings during the Calhoun coup d’état last year.

There is a bad habit here at CSU of undermining or getting rid of  or ruining leaders who truly show some mettle. Governor Quinn at the urging of Watson pals dismissed the Board of Trustees led by Gary Rozier who finally stood up to Wayne Watson’s fiscal debaucheries. The left-over cronies of Watson, his protégé, Angela Henderson, and other members of that cabal undermined the presidency of Thomas Calhoun before it was a month old and forced him out of office before nine months had passed. At the Senate meeting Paul Vallas alluded to actions already in play to undermine his efforts. HLC spent way too much time focused on Vallas and his appointment and not enough on the rotten core that still holds power. Why was that I wonder?

We have a person of substance and ideas willing to work with us to renew CSU. Paul Vallas has a one-year contract. He will not be a miracle-worker. Are we going to see him undermined or cut off at the knees like Calhoun? This is not the time to opt for complacency. If we blithely think that because the state passed a budget that will keep us afloat for maybe two years (after the mid-term elections), we are mistaken. CSU cannot limp along forever as the diamond in the rough and our quasi-HBCU status will carry us only so far. I for one do not want to see Paul Vallas tread the path off this campus that we saw Frank Pogue and Thomas Calhoun take.


Apologies to Richard Holler and Dion for the clumsy adaptation of their lyrics.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Why Not Bring Thomas Calhoun Back? Plus, the HLC Shows Up Again

In another accreditation dog and pony show, representatives of the HLC and the Chicago State “community” did their dance, reprising previous farces this past Thursday and Friday. Since our financial issues have basically been resolved, the most recent HLC visit focused on “governance” whatever that means to our accrediting body and university administrators.
The clown show included a range of the usual suspects; Frank Horton and his crusade against Paul Vallas, and by extension Rachel Lindsey; the happy, happy, joy, joy pronouncements of a number of university employees; and the faculty and staff expressing concern about a number of issues—concerns for the past eight years that we have articulated consistently to no effect. Some of those nagging issues included questions about why HLC now seems so interested in the internal affairs at Chicago State after years of inaction as the university went into a near-death spiral. Questions about why the university continues to employ a Provost with no support from any campus constituency, and near unanimous opposition from the university faculty. Questions about why the HLC representatives saw fit to interview former interim president Cecil Lucy, someone who never held a permanent position at the university; a spectacularly unqualified nonentity who worked assiduously against the interests of the university by being a key member of the senior administrative staff undermining President Calhoun. After the sound and fury of the past two days, the HLC will make its determination as to Chicago State’s status sometime in November. It will be interesting and instructive to see what they decide.
Since at least February 2016, this university has existed in sort of a limbo. The financial problems created pressure, at least until the school received state appropriations in late April and late June of 2016. The abominable performance of arguably the worst university Board of Trustees in the United States created additional unnecessary chaos by its stupid declaration of “Financial Exigency”; its stupid decision to grant former President Watson unearned perquisites which allowed him to essentially create a shadow administration working against the interests of the properly constituted university leadership; then capped off the whole fiasco by dumping the president and installing Lucy as interim president, apparently based on the understanding that he would do nothing to disturb the status quo. Most important, as the Board betrayed the university and its various constituencies in September 2016, the only voice raised against that action came from the student trustee. A disgraceful chapter in the university’s history, one from which we have yet to recover.
We have been and are now standing at a fork in the road. One fork leads to an uncertain new way of doing things, a commitment to including faculty and staff in the governance of this institution. Not in the way that has been done for years—a cynical effort to provide the imprimatur of legitimacy for some actions in direct contravention of the best interests of students, staff, and faculty—but in a way that actually uses the untapped resources available in the ranks of university employees. The other fork continues us along the path we have been traveling for years; the path of unimaginative and stagnant institutional and academic practices, the path of continued struggles to attract sufficient students to keep our doors open, the path of continued top-down management that has been so ineffective for so many years.
I see some evidence that we are taking tentative steps to start down the path of future uncertainty, but as I have noted in previous posts, before we can commit to the future, we must shed the excess baggage of the past. I consider that proposition to be self-evident. First, we must stabilize the upper management ranks by putting competent people in key positions; people both credible and acceptable to the university community. We are now in our nineteenth month of uproar created by our previous board. Once again, we start yet another search for a new president, hoping she or he will be someone who can unite the university community; someone with a coherent and imaginative vision of what this school could and should look like in a few years. Make no mistake, we must reinvent ourselves if we are to prosper, bringing in another political hack like the fool we had for most of the past 8 years will seal this university’s fate.
One of the constants over the past several years has been the Board’s steadfast refusal to listen to anything the faculty had to say about university governance. Nikki Zollar described our concerns as “noise.” I think the results of that Board animosity are painfully apparent. Our enrollment has dropped more than 4,000 students and we have good faculty and staff either laid off, retiring, or like our students, simply walking away from the place. The band aid of another presidential search will do nothing to stanch the flow of our institutional life blood.
There is, however, a simple solution to this predicament. There is a possible presidential candidate who possesses the qualifications, knowledge, and experience to step right into the job. There is a possible presidential candidate who has the support of every constituent group on this campus. There is a possible presidential candidate with a vision of what this university could become, given imaginative and vigorous leadership. Most important, there is a possible presidential candidate who can bring this campus together and begin the healing process. I speak, of course, of Dr. Thomas J. Calhoun.
I can assure the current Board members that the support for Dr. Calhoun among Chicago State’s faculty and staff has not waned in the year since his disastrous dismissal. Most important, his reinstatement would enable us to immediately begin the work of rebuilding this university. The current university leadership has taken some important steps in the right direction and Dr. Calhoun is an entirely logical choice to continue that important work.
The university’s leadership situation must be stabilized as soon as possible. Dr. Lindsey apparently has no intention of remaining in her position any longer than necessary. We have had interim presidents for almost a full year, and a new search will not yield another candidate for at least another full year. Dr. Calhoun represents a completely viable alternative to the continued uncertainty surrounding this university’s leadership. I can assure the members of our current Board that, on behalf of the faculty and academic professionals at this university, I will continue to advocate for Dr. Calhoun’s return. The previous Board made a terrible mistake in firing our President. We should not have to live with that mistake, let’s fix it. I urge the members of the current Board to take seriously the proposal I have just articulated.








Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Is Another Palace Revolt in the Offing? Rumors Abound

Back in the days of Thomas Calhoun's presidency, a coterie of senior administrators: Patrick Cage, Renee Mitchell, Cecil Lucy, and Angela Henderson prominent among them, reportedly worked assiduously to undermine Dr. Calhoun with a sympathetic Board that included Nikki Zollar, Anthony Young, and Marshall Hatch. Eventually, this sleazy effort succeeded as Zollar, Young, and Hatch led an about-face by the Board which the other members, Joseph Smith, Michael Curtin, James Joyce, and Spencer Leak endorsed. The only person on the Board to speak out against the railroading of the President? The student trustee Paris Griffin. With the appointment of Cecil Lucy to replace Dr. Calhoun, the Board effectively returned Chicago State to the control of Wayne Watson. The results speak for themselves. More scandals, further enrollment declines, and ultimately a university close to extinction.

The anniversary of that disgraceful, back-stabbing Board action is approaching. On September 16, it will be one year since the raucous meeting at which the Board betrayed the University. As we begin another academic year, I am hearing rumors of another attempt by Henderson and her diminished number of cronies to discredit another university president. This time the target is Dr. Rachel Lindsey. Although the new Board includes three new members, two of the participants in that 2016 debacle remain on the Board, Horace Smith and Marshall Hatch. We now have a new student trustee. Once again, I understand that dissident administrators are appealing to the Board, this time possibly through an outside intermediary, to remove Dr. Lindsey and keep Henderson. Will the Board again enable persons whose sole concern is for their own welfare, not the university's? whose performance for years has been abominable and destructive? whose dishonesty has been exposed numerous times? Will the Board enable persons who have no support from any segment of the university (remember the 116-1 no confidence vote last spring against Henderson)? Will the Board again champion the interests of the few over the interests of the many? Will the Board stand up for Chicago State University? We'll see.

My advice to Dr. Lindsey is this: Fire the Provost. Fire her cronies. Pull us out of this mess and give the University a fighting chance.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is the War Against the CSU Faculty Over? Don’t Hold Your Breath. The UPI explains the recent arbitration.

As we enter the third year of crisis at CSU, if you think we have turned a corner, think again. One could be lulled into a false sense of security that our financial struggles have been eased by the injection of money from the state of Illinois budget settlement last month.  Maybe for this year there is a veneer of stability, but we continue to be in a war of attrition with the state. The slow strangulation of our programs and our university has been taking place semester by semester.  With the exodus of a number of faculty this summer through retirement or offers of greener pastures CSU’s academic side lies decimated. I have heard that there are currently no faculty in Bilingual Education. There is only one faculty member in Criminal Justice. God knows what the situation is like in the library, the university’s academic heart and soul.  And these are simply the few things I have heard about.

In the midst of this situation, last week, UPI President, Bob Bionaz, informed the faculty that nine tenured and tenure-track faculty colleagues who were wrongfully terminated last year will not all be back with us any time soon. Many of us hoped that Dr. Lindsey would put her energies toward undoing the damage that Provost Angela Henderson and the Watson-infested Management Action Committee had perpetrated, but no. We return to CSU to find that over the summer our colleagues were forced to endure a humiliating arbitration process by a university hoping to save a few bucks. The university seems determined to fight tooth and nail and spend upwards of $150,000 in lawyer’s fees (and these bills will grow) to prevent having to pay the fired faculty $289,000 in remuneration (the cost, by the way, is close to Angela Henderson’s annual salary).

Of all the assaults on the faculty and academic side of the university that we have endured at the hands of Wayne Watson and his posse the greatest assault came from the political and corrupt Management Action Team. If Dr. Lindsey and the new Board of Trustees do not understand the level of anger and pain many of us hold against the MAC in its decision to fire our colleagues, let me clarify for them. The MAC was fashioned by a Board of Trustees tethered to Wayne Watson and intended to keep the Watson remnants (Provost Angela Henderson, Lawyer Patrick Cage, Human Resources Director Renee Mitchell and a few sundry others of lesser importance) on campus and in power. After massive lay-offs of staff and lower order administrators in the spring of 2016 the MAC accomplished what Watson and Henderson wanted so badly to do—avenge themselves on those departments that were the most vocal opponents of their regime.   Nine faculty members found their academic careers ruined in the summer of 2016 when they were told that “financial exigency” condemned them to termination of employment. The people fired were not the major culprits Watson and Henderson would have liked to have tossed out. Phillip Beverly in Political Science and Bob Bionaz in History were not fired, but colleagues with less seniority in their departments were: one professor in political science and two professors in history. Philosophy and Music were two other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences with vocal critics of the administration. Philosophy lost one faculty member. Music lost three.

I will remind Dr. Lindsey and the new Board of Trustees that prior to this, Wayne Watson had attempted to orchestrate a false sexual harassment charge against Phillip Beverly—see LaShondra Peebles’ statements in her lawsuit and Angela Henderson’s claim of harassment by Willie Preston, a vocal student critic the Watson regime, that forced him into the criminal justice system and into paying ruinous defense fees. Watson and Henderson treated their campus critics like Chicago ward bosses. They meted out brutal punishment to those who opposed them including the use of off-campus thugs to pass flyers out slandering Phillip Beverly and his family before a board meeting; intimidating students trying to get petitions signed; and employing the campus police to arrest student protesters for the flimsiest reasons. The firing of nine faculty members may not seem like a lot people, but the lives Watson and Henderson have scarred or ruined in their time at CSU goes far beyond the number nine.

In case you think it was mere coincidence that those particular departments saw faculty fired, consider what happened to Dr. Thomas Lyons who got on the wrong side of Watson and Henderson by actively supporting Willie Preston. Tom was the director of the HIV/AIDS Policy and Research Institute in Health Science. His presence at Willie's criminal hearing was followed by a campaign on the part of Angela Henderson to close all the Institutes on campus. In January 2015, the HIV/AIDS Policy and Research Institute was abolished without explanation and Tom was demoted at a greatly reduced salary. Tom eventually left the university. Another CSU academic career ruined. Another coincidence?

Bionaz’s letter last week to the CSU faculty shows clearly that CSU was given an infusion of money by the state of ILL in June of 2016 and the argument that financial exigency necessitated the firings last summer withers in face of his evidence. That President Lindsey and the Board of Trustees allowed this matter to go to arbitration indicates that not much has changed for faculty on this campus.

A year has passed and I have not forgotten these colleagues of mine fired by Angela Henderson and the phony Management Action Committee. Far from fading from memory I think of them every time I walk on campus, every time I pass their empty office doors. I refuse to “move forward” as the administration might wish. The fatal flaw at CSU is not wanting to point fingers, not wanting to cast blame, not wanting “to air our dirty laundry in public.”  You move forward when you cast blame when and where it is warranted and those responsible own up to their mistakes and give restitution or are let go. You can move forward when there is an atmosphere of trust and respect. This atmosphere does not exist on this campus and wishing it to be there by not talking about the bloodbath that occurred last year will not make it happen.

I refuse to accept that my fired colleagues, most of whom had more than a decade’s worth of service at CSU, were the unfortunate victims of the times and events of difficult period under Governor Rauner. The option of firing of tenured and tenure-track faculty was chosen by a vindictive and retaliatory administration. I lay this decision directly at the feet of the one person on this campus who was supposed to be the leader of the faculty, the Provost Angela Henderson. 

Why does Angela Henderson deserve her job and faculty members she fired do not?


For those who missed Bob Bionaz’s recounting of the process leading up to the arbitration between the university and the UPI I am including it here.

Robert Bionaz             Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 8:20 AM

Dear Colleagues:
I apologize for the length of this e-mail, but I am going to cover a great deal of ground. I will endeavor to make this as digestible as possible.

As you all likely know, in June 2016, the University laid off 9 faculty members. Subsequent to those layoffs, the union filed a grievance which proceeded through steps 1 and 2 and ultimately to arbitration. Yesterday, the arbitration hearing concluded. What follows is a recap of the events of the past 14 months.

Three weeks after the CSU Board’s February 4, 2016 declaration of “financial exigency” we were all given layoff notices. On June 29, 2016, the administration decided not to recall nine (9) faculty members. According to the letter sent each faculty member, “The University remains in extreme and immediate University-wide financial exigency. . . The decision not to recall you at this time is based upon a careful analysis of trends in program need, enrollment information, and staffing capacity in your discipline.” The term “extreme and immediate” is the important part of this letter. Under our contract, after layoff notice, faculty members are entitled to a one-year terminal contract (24.5). However, this requirement “shall not apply in cases of extreme and immediate financial exigency.” There is no definition of “extreme and immediate financial exigency” anywhere in the contract. The university’s refusal to provide a year’s terminal employment allowed it to cut $590,365, or 57/100ths of 1 percent of its net 2015 expenses of $103,074,597.

The grievance we filed argued two main points: 1) the university had failed to adhere to the contract in its layoff process; 2) the university had violated the contract by failing to provide a terminal contract, since at the time the layoffs occurred, the university, was not in a state of “extreme and immediate financial exigency.” The step 2 hearing board agreed completely with our arguments. Their decision was:) reinstatement of all laid off faculty members; 2) full back pay for all reinstated faculty members. Predictably, the university rejected this decision.

For the 2016-17 schoolyear, the University offered either full- or part-time lecturer positions to 7 of the 9 faculty members who had been laid off. Three accepted, and were paid a total of $157,455 during the year, reducing the university’s actual cost cuts to $432,910. The other four rejected the offers, which would have cost the university an additional $117,618, further reducing the actual cost savings to $315,292.

Earlier in 2016, the administration had paid nearly $1.6 million in severance to terminated administrators, an additional $300,000 to the terminated President, committed to pay another $300,000 to the terminated president, paid another $1.5 million to hire 17 new employees (15 new administrators), and paid out $411,000 in benefits to terminated administrators. So, a university unable to afford $590,000 to pay faculty terminal contracts, could afford $4 million for administrators. On April 25, 2016, the Governor signed legislation appropriating over $20 million to Chicago State for fiscal 2016. On June 30, 2016, the university received another $12.6 million which it could use for 2016 fiscal year expenses. The university with no money had received around $33 million in two separate appropriations.  

Immediately after receiving the administration’s response in mid-November 2016, we filed our demand to arbitrate. At first, the university delayed, but ultimately we settled on an arbitrator and began arbitration on May 12, 2017. Beginning in late April 2017, I had conversations about the layoffs and upcoming arbitration with the new university President, Dr. Rachel Lindsey. I advocated strongly for avoiding arbitration, for attempting to work out an amicable settlement which I argued would both right a wrong and generate considerable goodwill for the new President. Lindsey acknowledged that the layoffs had been done “wrong” and committed to reinstating the three (3) laid-off faculty who had worked as non-tenured lecturers in 2016-17. She said she desired to settle the matter, asked that I give her a justification for recalling the other six (6); which I provided on May 4, 2017. Lindsey also asked if she should go in front of the arbitrator to tell him that the university wanted to “make this right.” At that point, I was cautiously optimistic that we could negotiate a settlement.

The May 12 hearing did not complete the arbitration so it was necessary to set another date. We tentatively agreed on May 31, 2017, as a continuance date. Then, on May 22, 2017, the university fired Patrick Cage, its General Counsel and the man handling the arbitration case. In discussions with the union’s attorney, Cage had talked about the possibility of reinstatement for the three faculty members who worked in 2016-17. That reinstatement would cost the university $31,464 in “back pay.” In the wake of his termination, the university’s position on the layoffs became indeterminate.

That next day, I spoke with President Lindsey. She waffled on her previous commitment and said that maybe it would be best for the university to go to arbitration. I again mentioned the risks I felt were associated with that action. I subsequently discovered that on May 22, the university contracted with the legal firm that employed the CSU Board attorney LaKeisha Marsh. That contract, for “legal services in connection with employment litigation,” was for $90,000, a figure I expect has already been exceeded. Thus, the university was and is obviously willing to spend money to fight the arbitration, a direct contraction of Lindsey’s expressed desire to settle the issue.

Despite my growing sense of betrayal, I continued to advocate for settlement. I spoke with the President by telephone on June 30. She reiterated her belief that it might be best if the university proceeded with the arbitration. We had no additional substantive discussions about the matter.

Ultimately, the arbitration hearings took place August 1-3. Prior to the hearings, the University offered reinstatement to two faculty members. During the hearing, the University agreed to reinstate an Academic Support Professional and another faculty member. All the reinstatements included reduced compensation for the year’s forced absence. The faculty reinstatements did not include two faculty members the President had committed to reinstating on May 2. Two of the three faculty and the Academic Support Professional accepted reinstatement on the University’s terms; a rational decision that, for the most part, ended their ordeal.

That left the other 6 faculty members the university insisted would not be reinstated, although one had been offered a full-time lecturer’s position and the other had the “possibility” of a part-time position. The cost to the university to make these people “whole” by agreeing to pay the contractually-mandated one year’s terminal contract came to $289,638, or ½ of 1 percent of the recent appropriation of better than $58 million. However, the attorneys hired by the university, aided by testimony from the Provost, battled tooth-and-nail to insure that these faculty members got nothing. I will not discuss specific testimony, but I will say that the remaining grievants were demeaned, insulted, and ultimately came out of the proceedings angry and hurt. As for the Provost’s testimony, to call it mendacious would be gracious.

I do not expect a decision on this matter until at least mid-October. Both sides still must submit briefs and the arbitrator must wade through a mountain of evidence. Obviously, I do not know how the arbitrator will rule, although I think we put on as good a case as was possible to present. However, I do know that the university is committed to treating these laid-off faculty members as shabbily as possible. Despite the conciliatory rhetoric, the university’s actions demonstrate that its attitude toward laid-off faculty members, whose only offense seems to be a commitment to the school and its students, is a hearty “fuck you.”

Bob  


Monday, August 14, 2017

As the New Semester Approaches, Why is the Provost Still Here?

As we enter August, Chicago State continues to employ a University Provost with absolutely no support from the University faculty. Why? There seem to be two rationales circulating: 1) that former President Wayne Watson gave her a “five-year contract”; 2) that the Higher Learning Commission’s concerns about Chicago State make it extremely difficult to take action against the Provost, in effect, providing her “cover.” However, looking at relevant documents reveals that neither of those conditions obtain. The Provost continues to have a job because the University has chosen to retain her. I will explain.

The Regulations of the Chicago State Board of Trustees specify employment conditions for various classes of employees at the University. Administrative positions are “at-will,” and the authority to hire employees rests with the University President or her/his designated representative. On December 9, 2014, Renee Mitchell appointed Angela Henderson Provost of Chicago State University, effective December 1, 2014, at an annual salary of $225,000. She has served in that capacity until this date. The memorandum appointing her to the Provost’s position contains no special agreements or any extended terms of employment. Thus, the Provost is an at-will employee who can be discharged at any time, with or without cause.


The former Board’s stupid decision to declare “financial exigency” in February 2016, exposed the University to scrutiny by the Higher Learning Commission. In July of that year, the Commission put the University “on notice” because of its financial uncertainty. In September, the Board fired President Thomas Calhoun and replaced him with an Interim President, Cecil Lucy. In January 2017, the Governor appointed four (4) new Board members. In March, the Commission issued a draft report that recommended removing Chicago State from “notice,” and returning it to normal accreditation status.

In March, things began to go pear-shaped. First, the Board announced that it would install a new Interim President by April 7, 2017, and that Lucy would be demoted back to the position of Interim Vice President of Administration and Finance. In late March, Lucy reportedly met privately with one of the HLC staff people, Dr. Anthea Sweeney. On April 7, 2017, the CSU Board announced the appointments of Dr. Rachel Lindsey as Interim President and Mr. Paul Vallas as the University’s Chief Administrative Officer, a newly created position.

On May 24, 2017, Anthea Sweeney sent a letter to Chicago State asking about its lines of authority and wondering whether the Interim President had the “unfettered authority” over “all other employees of the institution.” Her concerns stemmed from an understanding that according to his job description, Mr. Vallas was able to make “make recommendations to the HR Committee of CSU’s Board on personnel changes and improvements and . . . upon consent of said HR Committee, carry out personnel directives.” Sweeney wrote: “Commission staff perceives within this job description the implication of Board encroachment in day-to-day affairs . . . as well as an ambiguous reporting structure vis-à-vis the Interim President.” Based on the information cited in the letter, these concerns seem entirely appropriate.


On June 29, 2017, the HLC Board voted to extend Chicago State’s “on notice” status. In a letter dated July 10, 2017, the HLC notified the University of this action. The pertinent portion of the communication reads: “the University should submit a brief report that provides any additional details that are available related to the University’s current governance and administration and planning as highlighted in the Staff Analysis, which was provided to the University in May 2017.” Additionally, the HLC asked that the report “include an update on terminations, particularly among executive staff and senior administration. The report may also include any additional information you have about the University’s financial resources in light of the adoption by the Illinois legislature of a budget. This report should be prepared and submitted to the Commission within 30 days of this letter, or no later than August 9, 2017.”


Nowhere in the HLC letters is there any specific reference to the University Provost. There is also no suggestion that the President’s ability to discharge employees should be restricted. In fact, the language about the CAO job duties cited in the May 24, 2017, letter is ambiguous and should be clarified. In reality, Dr. Lindsey has “unfettered authority.” That must be made clear to the HLC. To summarize, there are no internal contractual or external accrediting impediments to the discharge of Chicago State’s Provost.






Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Higher Learning Commmission Wakes Up: Who is it Protecting?

If you thought the recent administrative and Board changes would insulate the University against the kind of sleazy political moves we’ve seen over the past several years, think again. This time, however, it looks like the attack on Chicago State comes from an unexpected source: the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), one of our accrediting bodies.

What is the HLC and what are its principles? First, it describes itself as “an independent corporation that was founded in 1895 as one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States.” Here are some excerpts from its “Guiding Values”: “The responsibility for assuring the quality of an institution rests first with the institution itself”; and, “Continuous improvement is the alternative to stagnation”; and “Integrity means doing what the mission calls for and not doing what it does not call for; governance systems that are freely, independently and rigorously focused on the welfare of the institution and its students; scrupulous avoidance of misleading statements or practices”; and, “The well-being of an institution requires that its governing board place that well-being above the interests of its own members and the interests of any other entity”; and, HLC “holds the governing board of an institution accountable for the key aspects of the institution’s operations. [the Board] . . . must . . . hold itself independent of undue influence from individuals, be they donors, elected officials, supporters of athletics, shareholders, or others with personal or political interests.” How did HLC do over the past several years? As the Watson administration ran the institution into the ground while saddling it with a pack of incompetent cronies and other hacks, HLC stood by and did nothing. In fact, it essentially endorsed the corruption and malfeasance going on at Chicago State.
https://www.hlcommission.org/About-HLC/about-hlc.html
https://www.hlcommission.org/Publications/guiding-values.html

Thanks to the previous Board’s stupid decision in February 2016 to declare “financial exigency,” on July 11, 2016, the HLC put Chicago State “on notice” for its financial instability. The July notice included this: “The Board will review the Assurance Review documents at its June 2017 meeting or thereafter to determine whether the institution has demonstrated that it is no longer at risk for non-compliance.” The accrediting criteria cited in the July 2016 report included 5.A. “The institution’s resource base supports its current educational programs and its plans for maintaining and strengthening their quality in the future”; and 5.C. “The institution engages in systematic and integrated planning.” The HLC concerns about 5.A. stemmed from the state’s budget impasse. Its concerns about 5.C. revolved around the University’s failure to sufficiently clarify “roles among its Management Action Committee, the University Advisory Committee and the University Budget Committee to optimize the decision-making process”; its failure to create a long-term plan for “student recruitment and retention”; and “While the HLC evaluation team expressed strong confidence in the leadership of the University’s new President (Thomas Calhoun),” it noted that “there has been high turnover in recent years, and many key staff members are relatively new.”

https://www.hlcommission.org/Student-Resources/public-disclosure-notices.html


HLC’s action triggered an “Assurance Report” by the University in December 2016, a draft “Assurance Review” report by HLC in March 2017, then a “Staff Report” in May, and finally, a July 10, 2017, letter to the University about its status.

Believing the July 10, 2017 communication to be a public document, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) for a copy of the letter. On July 20, I received a denial of my request from Karen Helland. IBHE claimed that “The HLC has conveyed to me that the information is pre-decisional because the HLC Board has made no final decision regarding Chicago State University. Thus, the letter is subject to confidentiality. Pursuant to Section 7(1)(g) of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the letter is considered confidential and was submitted to IBHE, a third party, under an express promise that it will be kept confidential.” Given the information in this letter, I guess the HLC does not want to do its business in the open. Obviously, I plan to appeal this denial to the Public Access Counselor, we’ll see if the claimed exemption (which deals with the confidentiality of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information”) is a valid basis for denial.

Since the University is already “on notice,” a very public status, why is HLC so concerned about the confidentiality of this letter? Our financial position has clearly improved, the abominable Management Action and University Advisory Committees expired with the end of “financial exigency,” and turnover now results from the new administration’s completely appropriate effort to terminate senior administrators who are responsible for the multiple failures of the past seven years. I am told that we remain “on notice” and must submit another report to HLC in early August. Again, why? Here’s my interpretation: Certain members of the HLC apparently desire to insure that the University remains a political patronage pit. In order to do that, it is necessary to retain a number of Watson holdovers and engage in delaying tactics in an attempt to protect them. The new Board and our current administration represent a threat to that status quo and must be neutralized. Although the July 11, 2016 letter from HLC endorsed President Calhoun’s leadership, as we all know, a concerted back-stabbing effort by senior administrators and Board members ultimately resulted in his firing. The new Board is apparently not going to be receptive to that kind of activity. As a result of the new Board’s concern for the well-being of the University, it seems that playing Russian Roulette with our accreditation is the only remaining way to protect the failed Watson holdovers.

The University’s Board of Trustees failed to place the well-being of the University above the well-being of Watson and his cronies for several years. Now that avenue appears closed, and the HLC is apparently stepping into the breach.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Democratic State Comptroller Susana Mendoza Starts to Release MAP Funds.

Here's something sent out today by the Democratic State Comptroller. Things look a little different when you have a budget. By the way, how exactly was this a win for Bruce Rauner?


Monday, July 10, 2017

Here is Our Appropriation for 2017 and 2018

Based on my rough calculations, CSU will receive nearly $60 million in state appropriations, around $23.6 million for fiscal 2017 and another $35 million for fiscal 2018 (plus around $1 million in grants from the state). Also, the legislature appropriated $401 million for the Monetary Award Program.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Illinois Finally Has a Budget!

The House has just overriden Rauner's veto. After two years, Illinois has a budget.