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Ex-Chicago State University Board Chairman Defends Hiring of Wayne Watson

By Wendell Hutson | March 17, 2013 8:23am | Updated on March 18, 2013 2:46pm
 The Rev. Leon Finney (l.) was chairman of the Board of Trustees at Chicago State University in 2009 when it hired Wayne Watson as president.
The Rev. Leon Finney (l.) was chairman of the Board of Trustees at Chicago State University in 2009 when it hired Wayne Watson as president.
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CHATHAM — Despite Chicago State University's board finding that its president, Wayne Watson, might have violated school policy, the Rev. Leon Finney said he has no regrets about making the decision to hire him four years ago.

Finney, pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church on the South Side and a longtime political insider in the city, was chairman of the Board of Trustees for Chicago State from 2008 to 2010. The board hired Watson in 2009 despite huge opposition from students and faculty.

"It was I, along with other board members, who chose Watson over other candidates like Dr. Carol Adams," the president and chief executive officer for the DuSable Museum of African American History, Finney said. "We have to stand by that."

Finney believes "Watson is doing his very best given the school's condition when he first became president in 2009," he said.

He said based on what the board knew about Watson, the longtime chancellor at City Colleges of Chicago before he was hired at Chicago State, he was the best candidate.

But he acknowledged the decision wasn't popular on campus.

"I had to push his candidacy through," he said.

Finney claimed the faculty opposed the appointment because "The faculty made it clear they wanted one of their own elevated to the position."

But many faculty and campus leaders thought the school should have opened the process to national candidates.

The faculty even took the unprecedented step of sending Gov. Pat Quinn a letter asking him to remove the trustees and bar them from appointing a president. Quinn declined to do so.

The faculty still opposes Watson, and issued a no-confidence vote in his leadership last year.

Watson could not be reached for comment.

Jerry Thomas, a spokesman for Watson, said faculty changes Watson began making three years ago could be one cause of the faculty's discontent.

But a longtime member of the science faculty, who asked not to be named, said Watson did little to change the culture of patronage at the school. He said more staff should have been consulted in hiring decisions under Watson, and he questioned some of the qualifications of those given jobs.

"This place is full of patronage, and while a lot of it was here before Dr. Watson started, he has done nothing to remove these people, and instead has added to it," the faculty member said.

According to the faculty member, Watson should give more recognition to others who work hard on campus.

Thomas did not respond to follow-up questions about the faculty member's claims.

But Philip Cronce, interim dean of the school's Honors College, said Watson cares deeply about the school and inherited a lot of ingrained problems.

"I would go have a beer with Dr. Watson anytime. I know he is trying hard to improve things," Cronce said. 

Dan Regan, a spokesman for the Board of Trustees, said at a March 8 meeting the board concluded that "There is merit to the claim that the university’s policy was not complied with." He would not disclose the policy Watson is alleged to have violated.

But the board is giving Watson a chance to respond before taking action, no later than June 30.

"The board is considering appropriate action, if any, as it relates to the claim of violation of university policy," said Regan. "Dr. Watson has the right to review and refute this claim. [But] until such time that Dr. Watson is afforded the opportunity to respond, no determination will be made by the Board relating to this claim."

Previously, Regan said a one-year sabbatical Watson requested had been approved by the board on March 4 and that Sandra Westbrooks, the school's provost, would serve as interim president with the expectation that Watson would retire upon the completion of his sabbatical.

However, Thomas said the sabbatical is now off the table and Watson would remain on the job.

When asked about the status of Watson's sabbatical, Regan declined to comment.

One provision Finney said was included in Watson's five-year, $250,000 contract, which began October 2009, was to help improve the school's image.

Finney said he was concerned by the back and forth finger-pointing between Watson and the board.

"Negotiations should not be handled through the media. There should not be press releases sent out giving the media updates until both sides have agreed on where they are in the process," he said.

"But every time he [Watson] is mentioned negatively in the press, it puts the school in a negative position," Finney said.