To a nearly deafening chorus of boos and shouts, the Board of Trustees at Chicago State University this morning unanimously voted for longtime college administrator Wayne Watson to be the school’s next president.
The board made its decision after a one-hour closed-door session, but gave no reasons at the public meeting for picking Watson, the chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, over Carol Adams, the secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Rev. Richard Tolliver, who chaired the board’s search committee, read a brief resolution that stated in part, “The Board of Trustees directs its attorney to prepare a contract between the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University and Dr. Wayne Watson..."
Before he could finish, Tolliver was cut off by loud boos from the audience. After Board Chairman Leon Finney pounded his gavel, Tolliver was able to continue.
After the meeting, Finney said the board selected Watson for his “credentials, record of honest and integrity, and professionalism in office.”
Faculty and students have been upset throughout the search process. Two weeks ago, 13 of the 15 members of a faculty advisory committee resigned their positions, citing concerns over how the selection process was being conducted. Last week, the faculty senate lodged a vote of no-confidence in the Board of Trustees and sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn urging him to replace the board. While spokespeople for Quinn confirmed he received the letter, Quinn has not publicly responded to it.
Students and faculty opposed both candidates for a variety reasons, including their status as political insiders and their lack of scholarly writing. Adams is an appointee of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Watson is a longtime administrator who was backed by Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The students saved their most vitriolic anger today for Juwuan Sutton, the student member of the board of trustees who was elected to the post by students last year, and who can cast a vote on board matters. He has attracted scorn for students opposed to the search process because he has appeared unsympathetic to them.
Before the board retired to an hour-long closed-session, Sutton spoke for about one minute about his time on the board.
“Let us always remember to learn from our mistakes while looking forward and moving forward,” Sutton said earlier in the meeting.
An hour later, as the roll call vote worked its way down the line and Sutton voted in favor of Watson, students jumped from their seats and started shouting, “No, no, no.”
When political science professor Phillip Beverly approached the board at the front of the room, Finney signaled for two armed campus police officers to come forward and remove Beverly. The officers approached slowly but backed off and Beverly took a microphone in an effort to quiet the students – while also taking a few jabs at the board.
“These governor-of-Blagojevich trustees have the right, responsibility and power to make the decision they are voting on,” Beverly said. “Please allow them to make that decision and live with the inevitable consequences of it. They have ignored you for the entire process and that’s OK because they don’t have to listen to you.”
A number of students took the microphone with similar sentiments.
“This is a disgrace,” biology major Raven Curling told the board. “It is embarrassing and it is beyond upsetting. You all have no respect for anyone who sits in this room and actually knows what integrity means.”
Afterward, Tolliver said students had the right to protest as they did.
“This is a democratic society,” he said. “In any institution of any magnitude, there are always going to be disappointed (people).”
Watson will begin the job July 1.
When asked repeatedly by reporters what Watson’s salary would be, Board chairman Finney first replied “read it in the paper,” but refused to provide a number. Then, as he got into his car, he said, “I don’t know, man.”
The board will likely vote on Watson’s contract at its May 13 meeting, board attorney Mark Dunn said.
Finney said the next administration needs to be honest, transparent and accountable, but sidestepped questions about why the search process happened largely behind closed doors. He referred several times to a document passed out to reporters two weeks ago that lists the nine steps of the search process. The last step read, “Board meets to make decision in closed session.
Finney credited his own leadership in getting the former president, Elnora Daniel, removed from the post after years of accounting irregularities. A state audit found she had used a business credit card for personal use, though many of the charges were eventually repaid.
“What we have done today, whether the students appreciate it – or for that matter the faculty and staff – is we brought an end to Dr. Daniel’s era and hopefully we will usher in a new era of honesty.”
Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.