October 18, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
How come Gov. Pat Quinn, in the wake of a clout scandal at the state's premier university, can sweep out the University of Illinois' board of trustees (with two notable exceptions) but can't do the same for our most beleaguered university?
I'm talking about Chicago State University, the mostly African-American school on the Far South Side with a horrifically low 16.2 percent graduation rate.
Many, including my Chicago Sun-Times colleague Laura Washington, have asked that same question. Now a lawsuit, which was filed Friday, pours fresh gasoline on the matter.
The suit, targeting the university and its trustees, was filed by Patricia Arnold, hired in 2008 as the executive director of university relations and marketing, and Stephen Seth Hosick, hired the same year as director of human resources.
They arrived on campus in the wake of a yet another damning audit by Illinois' auditor general, who cited egregious fiscal mismanagement at the school, such as former President Elnora Daniel's absurd, state-funded "leadership seminars" aboard cruise ships with her family in tow.
Daniel resigned, and an interim president, Frank Pogue, was brought in to right the ship as trustees looked for a new president.
Pogue hired Arnold and Hosick. Then all three allegedly ran afoul of Leon Finney, the chairman of the board of trustees.
Arnold's firing, according to the suit, "coincided with the board's awarding of no-bid, short-term public relations and marketing consulting contracts" to two people. One was Hermene Hartman, publisher of N'Digo magazine, a friend of Finney and supporter of Wayne Watson for the presidency. The other was Marilyn Katz, owner of MK Communications, a firm that does a lot of business with the city of Chicago.
Hosick's firing, the suit contends, came when he blew the whistle to "the Executive Inspector General and the Auditor General [about] the Trustees' intricate involvement into the Univer- sity's personnel matters and files, and its demands to approve the hiring of all full-time employees . . ."
Finney, according to Pogue, openly interfered. "Definitely, yes," said Pogue, whose one-year contract ended in August.
Finney declined to comment.
Last spring, the search for a new president was ugly. Members of the search committee -- including faculty -- walked out after Finney and the board narrowed the choice to the two finalists the committee found least attractive: Wayne Watson, the longtime chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, where low graduation rates are also an issue, and Carol Adams, onetime head of the Illinois Department of Human Services, who battled a controversy over using a well-paid state employee as her chauffeur.
Watson got the job. And Adams got a consolation prize: Illinois trade representative to Africa, with a salary of $110,000.
"Does Illinois need Carol Adams or any other person as a trade representative in this economy? No," said Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn's main Democratic primary opponent. "I've called for the closing down of the trade offices to save millions of dollars for the state."
And Hynes adds his voice to the call for Quinn to fill three vacancies out of seven trustee positions on the CSU board immediately.
"You've got to bring in new leadership to address the problems of accreditation, graduation rates, retention rates," he said.
With the February primary fast approaching, is Quinn reluctant to jeopardize African-American support? Is that why he backed down and kept the only two African-American trustees on the U. of I. board. And hasn't jumped in to challenge the CSU board? And gave Adams a job Illinois may no longer be able to afford?
Quinn's press secretary, Bob Reed, says absolutely not. Moreover, the governor is close to filling vacancies.
Let's hope so, because 7,000 or more African-American students are in need of his urgent advocacy.