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Chicago State University President Wayne Watson Responds to Critics

By Wendell Hutson | November 7, 2013 9:05am
 Four Chicago State University faculty members explained why they do not support its president, Wayne Watson.
Chicago State Faculty Members
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PULLMAN — Four Chicago State University faculty members are speaking out about why they disapprove of the school's decision to extend the contract of president Wayne Watson.

Pancho McFarland, associate professor of sociology; Phillip Beverly, associate professor of political science; Robert Bionaz; associate professor of history; and Ann Kuzdale, associate professor of history, recently sat down with DNAinfo Chicago and discussed some of the reasons they feel it was time for new leadership at Chicago State. The four faculty members combined have worked at the university for more than 60 years.

Bionaz pointed to the university's declining enrollment.

"Between 2010 and 2013 the school has seen a 22 percent reduction in enrollment, which mirrors the drop in enrollment at City Colleges when Wayne Watson was chancellor," Bionaz said. "I think it's fair to say that kind of performance is problematic. As part of his contract he is supposed to increase CSU's enrollment."

According to Chicago State data, 7,362 students were enrolled in 2010 compared to 5,701 students now.

In an emailed statement, Watson said it was not uncommon for a university president to be at odds with some faculty members.

"This is a public university and I fully embrace respectful, factual and appropriate disagreement. Disagreements with faculty members is [sic] something that all university presidents must work through," Watson said. "In some other instances where critiques were more personal in nature, I prefer to avoid personal sniping and would rather my team stay focused on our responsibility to the university and our students."

Kuzdale, who was a member of the university's presidential search committee in 2009, said opponents' problems with Watson were professional, not personal. She said she and other committee members objected to Watson's candidacy before he was hired.

"I do not think that the [search] process that brought Watson to campus was very good," Kuzdale said.

The university's board recently agreed to extend Watson's contract, which was set to expire next year, until 2016.

Spencer Leak Sr., one of the board's newest members, said extending Watson's contract was the right thing to do.

"I felt Dr. Watson deserved an extension and that is why I voted for him," said Leak, president of Leak and Sons Funeral Homes in Grand Crossing. "I am satisfied with his performance up to this point."

The seven-member board voted unanimously at its September meeting to give Watson two more years to head up the four-year public university.

“The board of trustees has carefully reviewed the progress made at Chicago State University from the time Dr. Watson has arrived until now and has decided unanimously that the students of CSU are best served by extending Dr. Watson’s tenure,” board Chairman Anthony Young said.

Beverly, president of the university's faculty senate, said he met with Watson several times to discuss his concerns, but nothing has changed.

"There is literally nothing left to say to someone who doesn't listen," Beverly said. "Ninety-percent of the faculty don't want him here. That came from two separate pollings. One through the faculty senate and the other through our union."

Watson disagreed.

"I have a very good relationship with the vast majority of faculty. A small handful of faculty sometimes express their opinions in a very vocal way about my leadership," Watson said. "I have repeatedly reached out to them and other faculty members to address their concerns wherever possible."

Watson said he meets with them regularly as a way to improve relations with faculty.

"Every semester, we hold a series of faculty town hall meetings to open up dialog and address issues. The most recent town hall meeting was last week," Watson said. "I make it a point to visit one to two departments each week to discuss strategic initiatives and goals with faculty members and to hear their concerns."

McFarland said he had an issue with Watson interfering with faculty hiring, which he said undermined faculty members.

"He picks unqualified people who can't do their jobs. But what is more disturbing is meddling in faculty hiring," McFarland said. "I would expect a [university] president to trust his faculty to hire their own staff without micromanaging the process."

Beverly did, though, agree with Watson's decision to hire Dan Schumacher as athletic director.

"That's been a breath of fresh air. Small schools with prominent athletic programs can get national attention," Beverly said.

Regardless of the opposition, Watson said he planned to continue working toward making the university a top tier academic institution.

"When it is my time to go, whenever that is, I plan to leave a university that is academically competitive, fiscally strong and growing," Watson said. "We are particularly focused on strengthening the academic rigor of the university and hiring diverse faculty that excel in teaching, research and community service."