Friday, August 27, 2010

Paging Senator Durbin

by Daniel L. Bennett

Kevin Carey has an interesting post on the Chronicle Brainstorm blog discussing gross mismanagement and fiscal impropriety occurring at the public Chicago State University. He cites a Washington Monthly article by his colleague Ben Miller and Phuong Ly:
state audit found that even as the university suffered budget cuts, [Elnora] Daniel [former President] and other employees had spent lavishly on meals, alcohol, and first-class airfare. Daniel had brought five relatives and a university administrator with her on a nine-day Caribbean cruise for a “leadership conference.” Lax financial oversight allegedly resulted in the university paying more than a quarter of a million dollars for two photocopiers purchased from a company owned by a university employee.

Meanwhile, students contended with broken elevators, dirty classrooms, and ill-equipped labs. As enrollment declined, so did graduation rates. Of the first-time, full-time freshmen who started in 1996, about 18 percent graduated within six years.
Carey concludes by raising an important issue:
Because colleges and universities are unusually well-regarded institutions that serve a noble societal purpose and are run by people with esteemed academic credentials, the public conversation about them tends to discount the possibility of gross incompetence. In reality, universities can be terribly mismanaged just like K-12 schools, fire departments, or huge multinational oil companies. Failure to acknowledge this prevents us from tackling the problems that most need to be solved.
I have a great deal of respect and am a fan of Mr. Carey's work, but I'd like to amend his statement slightly. Colleges and universities are well regarded institutions so long as they are not operated for a profit. Public and non-profit institutions such as Chicago State are essentially given a free pass for the types of economic rent-seeking behavior that the for-profits are accused of regularly and brought to the public shackles for. Zac Bissonnette and I discussed this exact topic recently in an article for Forbes.

Senator Durbin has been one of the leading forces behind the recent movement to reign in the for-profit higher education sector. He is even heading to his home state of Illinois next week to host another scolding of these institutions. Meanwhile, similar misuse of public funding and outright poor performance has been occurring at a state university right up the street.

Paging Senator Durbin...economic profits at the expense of public funds are not limited to those paid out to shareholders and executives at for-profits, they can also be extracted by college administrators through misuse of funds. Public higher education is just as guilty, if not more so, of taking advantage of taxpayer funds as the for-profit institutions that you are attacking.

1 comment:

Felicia said...

For more than 140 years, Chicago State University (CSU) has expanded access to higher education for students from traditionally underrepresented populations. We are proud of the role we play in their career and professional development.

CSU serves a unique and important demographic of students who do not reflect the traditional college student population. Seventy-four percent of our students are transfer students, part-time students, or those pursuing graduate studies. More than half of our undergraduates are over the age of 25. Nearly 70 percent of our students have children, and a large number have full time jobs. In 2008, CSU enrolled nearly one-third of all students of African descent attending Illinois public universities, and 10.5 percent of all degrees awarded to black males attending Illinois public universities were from CSU.

Many of our students start, and then stop their education to earn money or deal with a family issue, and then start back up again. To indicate that only 13 percent of CSU’s students graduate after six years without providing appropriate context is very misleading. The formula used to calculate this statistic is based ONLY on the number of first-time full-time freshmen – a segment that makes up around 10 percent of CSU’s fall-term undergraduate student population.

Chicago State has had a challenging past, but since the arrival of CSU’s new president, Dr. Wayne Watson, last October, we have already begun a significant process redesign and change management effort and are determined to ensure that quality education and responsible, transparent fiscal stewardship are the foundations of everything we do. Some other changes since Dr. Watson’s arrival include extending the hours in our library to midnight, adding hours to the student union and gym, streamlining our registration procedures and placing textbooks on reserve in our library for use by students who can’t afford book fees.

Today’s Chicago State University is about dedicated staff and faculty, committed to providing a supportive, student-focused environment. The success of our university should be judged by our graduates’ academic achievement and lifelong success, rather than outdated metrics that are not designed to take into account the worthy student body we serve.


Felicia Horton
University Relations
Chicago State University