Leadership Conflict Latest in String of Woes for Chicago State

Tim Goral's picture

In a 1975 commencement address to Chicago State University students, President Gerald Ford praised the South Side campus for overcoming a series of scandals and predicted great things for its future.

"CSU serves the urban needs of a great city. Not long ago, CSU came under heavy attack, but you effectively answered the challenge," he said. "You have proved the critics wrong."

Nearly four decades later, the university's critics again have plenty of material.

The 146-year-old institution has been plagued in recent years by scandal, financial mismanagement and poor graduation rates. Its latest public embarrassment came this past week, as President Wayne Watson refused to leave office despite signing a separation agreement that allowed him to exit without any drama.

The administrative standoff continued Friday, when after a five-hour, closed-door session, the school's Board of Trustees delayed taking action on the matter until March 8. The trustees have indicated they want a change in leadership, while Watson's supporters say he has steadied the university amid turbulent times.

"It's time this place became something other than a laughingstock," Chicago State history professor Bob Bionaz said. "This place has a lot of potential. I would like to see it get a chance."

Founded as a teacher's college in 1867, Chicago State gained a reputation in the mid-20th century as a diploma mill that turned out poorly educated students and employed an apathetic faculty. In the early 1970s, it was beset by allegations of bribery and financial misdeeds.

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