Wayne D. Watson, Ph.D., president of Chicago State University, sat down with the Chicago Defender editorial board to discuss recent reports of his departure from the university and the circumstances surrounding that supposed departure.
To recap, the Chicago Tribune reported on February 26 that Dr. Watson would be stepping down three-and-a-half years into his five-year contract with CSU. Watson was reported to be receiving his full salary of $250,000 during the sabbatical, at the end of which he would officially resign his position. Sandra Westbrook, Ph.D., university provost, was to take his place immediately.
Rather, Watson has remained in place and in a statement to faculty and staff stated, “I have not resigned as CSU’s president and no date is set for the sabbatical to begin, if approved.”
In his time with the Defender, Watson emphasized the progress that the university has made on his watch, thanking his team for their hard work. He spoke of financial accountability, outreach to the community and a reset as it relates to the integrity of the university. He detailed a number of his administration’s noteworthy accomplishments—realized in just three years—among them:
- Renewed accreditation for Chicago State’s College of Education
- Accreditation for the College of Pharmacy’s doctoral program, which ranks 11th in the nation for the total number of diverse students graduated
- A nursing program that graduates one of every five nurses in the state of Illinois
- Increased accessibility to tutoring from 8:00 a.m. to noon, seven days per week in every course offered by the university
- Maintaining NCAA Division I status.
Accreditation has been a continuing focus and priority for the University and President Watson. He told the Defender that he was “very pleased” with the report forthcoming from the Higher Learning Commission, and that while he cannot yet reveal the final results, they are “very favorable to the university.”
The HLC is an independent corporation that accredits degree-granting, post-secondary educational institutions in this region. An official announcement of CSU’s results is due in April.
The strong support of the Board of Trustees is worth noting since reports have both the faculty and board at the heart of Watson’s “sabbatical.” When asked about this he says he cannot answer where the reports of his stepping down come from and that the newspaper accounts were very much a surprise to him. He goes on to state that changes in the tenure policy requiring more academic rigor to attain tenure, plus post tenure evaluations are necessary to maintain the integrity of the staff, and that faculty he has spoken with understand the need for the change.
“We’ve changed the working conditions, the environment and the culture,” Watson opined, “and people are not always happy with that.”
Student enrollment has been a topic of discussion and Watson readily admits that enrollment is 16 percent lower than the 7,000 students CSU boasted when he took office. The difference, he states, is that students not adhering to university policy or department of education policy as it regards to academic standards are no longer on the rolls. This is a reflection of both changes in admissions policy and expelling students that were not performing at minimum criteria. Graduation rates have increased from lows in the teens, to over 21 percent and transfer student graduation rates are over 50 percent.
Watson is adamant that CSU has come a long way from threats of losing its accreditation, to now.
“Chicago State University is one of the best examples of shared governance, of pulling together faculty, staff and administration,” he said. When asked about his further goals for the university, he touts an exhaustive laundry list including opening a West Side campus with support from trustee Anthony Young, state Senator Kimberly Lightford (who has secured state funding of $40 million) and West Side legislators.
Other objectives include expanding the university’s online curriculum offerings, major recruitment efforts on the Southwest Side of Chicago and southwest suburbs to bring more diversity to the campus, appealing to key Hispanic demographics and instituting an MBA program, an advisory board for which has already been set.
“This administration should be celebrated,” Watson concludes, “and I want our students to know that I am here for them.”
After three years at the helm of CSU, Watson says a sabbatical sounds good and would allow him time to do some writing, conduct research and clear his thoughts. But, he says sabbaticals should have clear agreements about timing and should be undertaken with integrity.