In the first of two stories chronicling the controversial appointment of a new president to lead Chicago State University, faculty members, shut out of a ‘less than transparent’ selection process, call on the governor of Illinois to intervene.
Chicago State University’s newly appointed president Dr. Wayne Watson doesn’t officially assume his post until Aug. 1, however some CSU faculty already have a to-do list for him when he arrives on campus, which includes making a public apology for impugning their teaching abilities and producing documents outlining his views on shared governance. Not exactly a typical faculty wish list, but members of the CSU community say it has been far from a typical presidential search.
Following the 10-year tenure of CSU’s last president Dr. Elnora Daniel, who stepped down in June 2008 following allegations of mismanagement and questionable spending, faculty say the university needs particularly strong leadership and were hopeful that the presidential search would yield such candidates.
Instead, say several faculty members, the two finalists, Watson, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago since 1998, and Dr. Carol Adams, who is currently secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services and was formerly executive director of the undergraduate and graduate Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, are “local political insiders” and turned out to be the same two applicants whose names were floated more than a year ago to be the next president.
Dr. Phillip Beverly, associate professor of political science and an outspoken critic of the presidential search, calls the search “perfunctory at best” adding, “I don’t think either one is qualified to run a doctoral-granting institution; I’ll be very candid about that.”
Furthermore, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC), made up of faculty, administrators, staff and two students, say they were shut out of the selection process by the board of trustees and were not allowed to perform their most basic of duties, which were outlined by the board.
“We never saw all the portfolios of the 34, 35 people who applied,” says Dr. Ann Kuzdale, associate professor of history, who served on PSAC. “We only saw 12 portfolios, so they (board of trustees) were streamlining the search, tailoring it, I guess, to their own agenda. That’s the interpretation that we could only come from.”
Via a March 24th e-mail, PSAC was made aware of the two presidential finalists the same time as the rest of the campus community.
Feeling marginalized, PSAC members, following the April on-campus interviews of Watson and Adams, would set in motion a series of events, starting with the resignations of PSAC members, that turned up the heat on the search process as well as attracted the attention of the Chicago local media.
Because of the controversy surrounding the search process, by April 13th and 14th, the dates of the campus interviews of Adams and Watson respectively, there was significant interest among the CSU community to meet the two finalists. There were standing-room only crowds.
Business professor Dr. Ernst Coupet, who also served on PSAC, says he thought Adams handled herself well during her interview. “But she didn’t appear to have as her vita indicated, a lot of academic experience and it kind of showed. The questions that were posed to her, she handled them OK. She handled them as a good interviewee would handle them.”
With respect to Watson, says Coupet, “he appeared to be a bit combative during the interview; he was rather antagonistic when questions were asked of him. I was really disappointed in the way that he handled himself in that particular interview.” Watson did not respond to a request for comment.
Beverly says he was there for “95 percent” of both of their all-day interviews and got a very good understanding about both finalists.
“Carol Adams showed up to her on-campus visit very prepared, but didn’t know enough, as far as I was concerned, about the institution. But she at least showed a willingness to engage with the campus community.
“[Watson] showed up unprepared for that visit and seemed to be dismayed at the fact that he was challenged on being unprepared,” Beverly says.
Kuzdale says one of the differences she noticed between Adams and Watson is that by the end of Adams’ interview “she got it.”
“She understood that faculty, students, administrators were upset with the (search) process and in some respects with her credentials,” says Kuzdale. “Wayne Watson never got to that point. He was combative throughout the day. He wasn’t answering questions directly. What bothered me most about both of them, frankly, is that they didn’t seem to know Chicago State. They probably knew the vague statistics about it, they didn’t know much else though.”
Faculty were also concerned about the no-confidence vote Watson received in 2005 by City Colleges faculty after a three-week strike. He announced last August that he would retire this summer.
In response to the negative reactions expressed during the campus interviews and frustrated with and disappointed by the search process, some PSAC members prepared to resign.
Kuzdale says they weren’t going to resign had the board at its April 17th meeting been willing to talk to them about either redoing the search or modifying the search, such as bringing in another candidate.
“Instead on that day, before they even said anything to us, they handed us a memo from their lawyer,” she says. “The memo basically restated that the board of trustees has the right to do whatever it wants, and I’m summarizing, and does not have to listen to any recommendations that the search advisory committee gives them and certainly doesn’t have to dispense with the search. So when we got that memo, we knew they were not going to budge.”
In a letter to the board of trustees dated April 17th, 14 of the 15 PSAC members tendered their resignations, stating among other things that:
· It never had an opportunity to review the résumés of the entire candidate pool for CSU president; and
· Were not allowed to provide input into the selection of the 12 quarter finalists.
“We feel it would be inappropriate to legitimize a less than transparent or participatory process by recommending either of the two finalists for the position of Chicago State University president,” stated the PSAC members in the letter. To their knowledge, they say there was no response from the board. Board chair Leon Finney did not respond to a request for comment.
Days after the resignation of PSAC members, CSU’s Faculty Senate, in an unprecedented move, unanimously called on Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to remove the university’s trustees, (which were appointed by former governors), before they could appoint a new president.
Editor’s note: Read tomorrow’s e-alert for part II of this story.
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