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.