Havoc, confusion, chaos, power plays, conflict are words to describe the state of affairs at Chicago State University. The drama played out Friday, March 1, in a special board meeting, when the board was scheduled to terminate Dr. Wayne Watson. The public meeting opened to a crowd of students, community activists, professors, politicians and the like. They went into a five-hour behind closed doors meeting. They came out to state they took no action, and the regular meeting took place on Friday, March 8.
In question is Dr. Wayne Watson’s contract, which ends in 2014. The board wants him out. Why? The truth of the matter, the 14th President of Chicago State, Dr. Wayne Watson, found the South Side institution in shambles. He rose to the occasion and stepped up and his 30 something years of educational executive leadership came forth. Watson was the Chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago for a decade.
I worked with him at City Colleges of Chicago. He can be tough, intense and extremely focused. In a brief three years he dug in his heels working around the clock, clearly on a mission and took the University out of its academic hole. He might have stepped on some toes along the way. But that happens when you are straightening up a mess.
Watson came to Chicago State in 2009, in turmoil and with plenty of heat including press pressure. He found 41 audit findings that required immediate addressing from padded enrollment figures to budget shortfalls. The school has a budget of $141 million.
Chicago State is important to Chicago’s African American community. One of every five African Americans who receive a college degree in the State of Illinois earned it from CSU.
Chicago State University was on the verge of losing its accreditation when Watson assumed the presidency. The High Learning Commission evaluated Chicago State in November and in a soon to be released report, they wrote:
“He has established a strong new leadership team that has engaged the University in mission redefinition and strategic planning. Although it is still early in that process, with implementation just beginning, the University has entered a new era, with a strong emphasis on fiscal responsibility, enrollment management and compliance in all its dimensions. Overriding it all is its continued commitment to teaching and learning for its distinctive student body.”
The report states that the students “could not be more supportive.” And the report states that the board is “beyond routine Board governance activities.”
Some members of the board have reached into day-to-day operations with recommendations for staffing and contracting. This is interference and over reach and Governor Quinn needs to step up with voice to his appointees. Perhaps it is not the President who requires replacing; perhaps it is the entire board itself as former Senator Emile Jones recommends.
Watson has engaged the community taking it to world-class status. He has invited the community on campus with events, activities, and conferences and even opened it as a safe haven for high school athletic competition.
Some of his first steps were to actually clean the campus grounds, to upgrade facilities, to restore the bus stop to the doorstep of the schools, being sensitive to the student travel. Chicago State University is a computer school. The students work, have families and attend school. The success stories are many.
Chicago public education community is under destruction. African American schools on the south and west sides are threatened with closure and await the identification of the schools this month. Years ago rumor had it that Chicago State was being considered as a branch of University of Illinois. The reason being is the consistent mismanagement of the university. Many of Chicago State Presidents have left the premises in scandal. The land is valuable. The school is beautiful. The school is a valuable asset. Former President of the Illinois Senate, Emil Jones made sure the school was funded equally to other state universities, like Southern and U of I.
Why is Watson being challenged, now? This is mid-semester and three of the board members terms have expired and terminate in March? Should such a board be making such critical decisions? The educational reports, further a new era at CSU.
The professional educators state in the evaluation:
“More broadly, this University has undergone considerable, relatively recent, leadership change, and is moving in new directions, as seen in new mission/vision/values statements and related processes. In many ways a new era has begun. This creates challenge to the leadership team’s ability to provide consistent and clear communication that ensures institution integrity.” This is a strong and powerful statement directly addressing the Watson leadership. It admits he turned the school around and has placed it on a successful path”
What more could a president do? A small group of faculty members gave Watson a vote of no confidence. He has invaded their workspace with responsibility and accountability with the establishment of post tenure evaluation. Watson has clearly put students first.
At this time, Governor George Quinn needs to step in to support Watson’s administration. Senator Emil Jones along with others declared and testified his support for Watson. He said, the entire board needs to be excused, not Watson. The Convocation Building has The Jones name. He also said, he gave $200,000 to the Chicago State University Foundation for the purpose of scholarships for students. And if Watson leaves, he might request a return of his dollars, because they might not be put to good use.
Governor Quinn needs to weigh in on the Chicago State matter.