* Well-reasoned, thoughtful and destroys several of Gov. Rauner’s arguments…
January 21, 2015
The Honorable Bruce Rauner
Governor, State of Illinois
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62701
Dear Governor Rauner,
I enjoyed meeting you personally as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and I especially appreciate the expression of support you offered to me regarding Chicago State University. In the spirit of engaging that support, I am writing in response to the memo issued by your Deputy Chief of Staff Mr. Richard Goldberg in hopes of clarifying any misstatements.
The overall tone of the Mr. Goldberg’s memo calls into question the academic integrity of CSU. To that end, I would ask your administration to consider our independent accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and their 2014 decision to grant Chicago State University a full 10-year reaccreditation. I can assure you this reaccreditation is no rubber stamp and did not come easy. A committee of respected higher education experts thoroughly reviewed every aspect of our operations and decided that CSU had earned the highest reaccreditation a university can receive.
Most of the critiques in Mr. Goldberg’s memo have one thing in common; they are based on a mistaken construct that Chicago State University is comparable to more traditional universities. The truth is that CSU serves a unique and diverse population and a simple “apples to apples” comparison to other universities with traditional student bodies paints an inaccurate picture of our impact and our student’s successes.
Unlike other state universities, the majority of students at CSU are transfer students. This is an important fact because the graduation rate numbers quoted in your memo are drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a federally generated metric that does not count transfer students. For example, in the cohort of 6820 students referenced in your memo, only 9% would be counted by IPEDS. Full-time and part-time transfer students make up two-thirds of our student body and are a much more accurate metric by which to measure student progress at CSU. For example, the graduation rate for full-time transfer students in the 2008 cohort referenced in Mr. Goldberg’s memo is 51%. That graduation rate, however, is not reported by the federal system. It is also worth noting that 42% of our students are first-generation college students and 55% come from homes below the poverty level. Experienced educators will tell you that students with this background can and do succeed, but need an increased level of academic support services, and are therefore more expensive to educate.
CSU is an extremely important educational outlet for the south side of Chicago, in large part because it provides an affordable pathway to a degree for the city’s African American communities. It is implied in your memo that CSU is graduating white students at 83%, a much higher number than students of color. This misleading statistic fails to recognize that within the 2008 cohort referenced, six white students began their degree, and five completed. For point of reference, CSU issues on average 800 degrees annually, graduates 1 out of 2 African Americans receiving a bachelor’s degree from a public university in Chicago and 1 out of 6 in Illinois.
Perhaps the most troubling portion of Mr. Goldberg’s memo is that your staff refers to CSU as a university that “rejects reform.” Governor Rauner, nothing could be further from the truth. As I write this letter, I have been President of CSU for less than three weeks. One of the things that attracted me to the position was that I saw a university emerging from a significant transformational change and poised to soar. Over the past five years, CSU made difficult decisions to prioritize academic quality and integrity over pure enrollment numbers. That decision led to several students being dismissed, but helped ensure that our student body is comprised of those ready to succeed in college.
Furthermore, over the past four years CSU has reduced audit findings by 55% and improved both compliance and transparency. Your memo references unaccounted for university property. I would like to highlight that the amount referenced accounts for less than 1% of all university property. Several other issues cited including past lawsuits which are still in appeal and have not been paid by the university to date, claims made in the media by former employees who were terminated, and improperly inflated administrator head counts are all issues in the past. CSU is poised to move forward.
Over the past week your office has raised several concerns, many of them legitimate and worthy of further discussion about the need for reforms. Since January 2015, CSU has cut 10% of its work force and trimmed administrative costs by over 20%. In addition, administrative salaries have been frozen, we have reduced travel, delayed payments to vendors and cut back on purchasing throughout the year. We have also not filled vacancies and consolidated both positions and academic programs. We fully recognize the state of finances in Illinois and we have worked and continue to work to tighten our belts.
I also feel it is important to express that one of my top goals as I enter CSU is to increase the amount of private revenue coming into the university. I know that we cannot simply continue to look to the state for increased funds and must do more on our own to maximize outside investment. Like any university looking to cultivate more revenue, we are in the early stages of a broader effort that we feel will in time result in a reduced reliance on state funds.
As for necessary reforms to areas of spending such as procurement, workers compensation, pensions and cutting costs, we remain ready to work with you and your staff on any proposals that will help create a more efficient, transparent and effective public university system for Illinois students. However, the work of enacting meaningful reform takes time, and time is simply not a luxury the CSU campus community has at the moment. As you have likely seen in the news recently, the lack of state appropriations to both higher education and to the MAP grant program has created a significant shortfall in our operating budget. At the moment, we are struggling to complete the current semester and the fate of multiple public universities after the current semester is uncertain.
On behalf of the students, faculty, alumni and staff of Chicago State University, we stand here today ready to work with you to make meaningful reforms in higher education and we are willing to lead by example. With that said, we cannot enact such reforms if we do not have the ability to function.
Each day I meet students who are working every day to lift themselves out of poverty and get the education they need to build a better life for themselves and their families. These students are the lifeblood of our university and they will be the victims if public universities are allowed to collapse under the weight of financial pressure. I implore you, as a lifelong educator, a minister and a fellow seeker of change to provide the funding CSU and its sister universities need to operate through the fiscal year so that we may be in a better position to help your team achieve real results that will benefit every student and parent in Illinois.
Thomas J. Calhoun Jr., PhD
President, Chicago State University
That white graduation rate debunk is particularly strong.