Below is Dr. Sheldon Liebman’s letter which was submitted to the Board of Trustees Thursday morning. His speech was about a third the size since we were told that requests to address the Board has a 2-minute limit. Signed onto the petition also submitted that day were 43 full-time faculty and more than a dozen adjuncts & 1708 employees from the main campus + 15 full-time employees from the Humboldt Park branch; pretty good for two days’ work by just a handful of us.
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.
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.
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 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.