The following is a statement to the City Colleges of Chicago Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 1 by Sheldon Liebman of Wright College.
Dr. Wolff, Members of the Board, and Chancellor Hyman:
My name is Sheldon Liebman. I’m the chair of the Humanities Department at Wright College. Last year, I was one of Wright’s elected representatives to Faculty Council. This semester, I’m on sabbatical leave, so I have plenty of time to devote to the preservation of an institution that I love. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am here to hand you a petition that, in so many words, asks you to acknowledge the dedication, experience, training, and intelligence of the faculty and staff of the City Colleges of Chicago. We are, of course, not looking for praise. We are looking for action.
Specifically, we are asking you to include us in the decision-making process, from which we have been systematically excluded for two years. Centralization has occurred with little input from us. We have been told that we can’t use our traditional school logos on school signage or school stationery. We now send our graduating students to the UIC Pavilion instead of holding our own graduation ceremony in the neighborhoods we are supposed to serve. And I have in my possession the most bizarre product so far of this administration’s mismanagement, a single-volume schedule intended to be distributed to all 40,000+ credit students in the district to accommodate the very small percentage of students at CCC who attend two or more City Colleges. Fortunately, printing was stopped well before the process was completed. More seriously, centralization has resulted in lots of second-guessing because of the District Office’s policy of micromanaging the individual colleges. Decision making has slowed to a crawl. To anyone who has been in the system for a long time, the vaunted advantages and efficiencies of centralization have yet to materialize.
Curriculum has been developed without much input from us. When the Reinvention Task Forces first met, participants were informed that they had to sign a secrecy agreement and demonstrate their willingness to be transferred to another college. Clearly, this was not an auspicious way to encourage faculty and others to speak their minds. These initial requirements sounded intimidating and potentially punitive, and fortunately they were suspended. We also heard that some ideas presented by faculty were simply rejected out of hand. In short, in many instances the process evidently gave the administration exactly what it wanted—but not necessarily what the faculty, staff, and students needed. I don’t know how College to Careers was implemented at other colleges, but to the faculty and staff at Wright, our new IT program seemed to fall out of the sky. That is, most of us had no idea it was coming because none of us have been in on the planning.
Personnel decisions have also been made without us. Our respected president, along with other presidents in the district, were fired soon after the new administration arrived. It looked to us as if they were being punished for their failure to graduate enough students. The colleges also lost 220 low-level and low-paid workers who were necessary for the flow of operations at each location, while the District added hundreds of highly paid employees, almost all of them brought in from outside, many without much experience in community college work, and none of them directly involved in classroom instruction.
At Wright, we had a tradition of hiring from within. Many years ago, President Lefevre went from the Vice Presidency to the Presidency; Chuck Guengerich went from being Dean to being VP and then President; and Cynthia Cordes went from being Dean to being VP when Chuck became President. The advantages of this policy are many: (1) nobody needs to be trained on the job; (2) senior administrators can be counted on to make informed decisions; and (3) institutional memory is preserved.
This brings me to the latest management gaffe, the request made to our Vice President that she retire early, at the end of the calendar year. Our objection is that she has served the system competently for many years; and, for many of us, she has been the go-to person for advice, support, and guidance. To put it simply, she knows what to do. Our request to you is that you refuse to approve the decision for her premature departure because this will deprive us of a colleague whose contribution to the successful operation of Wright College is invaluable and whose unprepared absence will undoubtedly become problematic. The Wright College community had anticipated the vice president’s retirement to occur in 2014, and we deserve a gradual withdrawal of someone who, with twelve years of honorable service as an administrator, has played an essential part in why the AQIP (Academic Quality Improvement Program) delegates who recently visited Wright called us the “crown jewel of the City Colleges.” The Wright College community should be assured that the VP’s eventual replacement will be someone whom we know to be knowledgeable and trustworthy.
More importantly, this bad decision is a consequence of the same mistake that resulted in many of the bad decisions the new administration has made. Decisions that affect the day-to-day operations of the individual colleges should be made in consultation with the people who are most affected: the faculty and staff. Furthermore, we have the most direct contact with students and are thus in the best position, next to asking them directly, to assess and advocate for their needs. The administration cannot make well-informed organizational, curricular, and personnel decisions without our help. Governance must be shared because the right decision can only be made when the decision makers have all the information they need. We have a lot of information. At Wright, we knew that we didn’t need new carpeting in the library, we needed to have the walls painted. At Wright, we need the technology in our classrooms to be repaired or replaced. At Wright, we know we don’t need 41% of the administrators in the system to be working in District Office. We need smaller classes, a substantial increase in the number of full-time instructors and full-time staff, and a substantial increase in the money spent on direct education instead of marketing and cronyism.
We are not demanding anything. We’re asking you to include us in the governance of the City Colleges so that collectively we can improve our programs and genuinely increase the chances for success of the students we all care so much about. You need our help, and we want to give it to you. Don’t be shy about asking for it.