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Panel praises embattled Chicago State University president

Wayne Wats(pictured 2010) is president Chicago State University.  | Sun-Times file photo

Wayne Watson (pictured in 2010) is president of Chicago State University. | Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: April 7, 2013 6:27AM

The commission tasked with accrediting colleges praised the leadership of embattled Chicago State University President Wayne Watson, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Watson, who claims he’s being forced into a sabbatical and then to resign his post by board members, received high marks for managing money and enrollment.

In its past visits in 2004 and 2009, the Higher Learning Commission noted that CSU had numerous problems that since have been addressed.

Watson was hired as president in the wake of a 2009 enrollment crisis. Watson set up a strong leadership team to fix the problem, according to the commission’s report.

“Over the past three years, a new leadership team has been established, led by an energetic and highly visible President, who has the strong support of the Board of Trustees, local legislators and the community that the University serves,” the draft report reads. “Although it is still early in that process, with implementation just beginning, the University has entered a new era, with a strong emphasis on fiscal responsibility, enrollment management, and compliance in all its dimensions.”

Watson’s attorney, Victor P. Henderson, emphasized that commission evaluators came from out of state and were therefore independent.

But board Attorney Langdon D. Neal said in an email that “The HLC report only presents a small snapshot of the state of CSU,” and pointed to recent state’s auditors’ reports and a November Faculty Senate vote of no confidence — taken on the eve of Commission team’s visit.

The Faculty Senate said Watson “demonstrably and consistently failed” most of his performance criteria. He made questionable hires and student enrollment was still down, it said.

CSU’s Board of Trustees announced last week that Watson would take a year sabbatical, then retire. But Watson has since remained at work and wrote a letter to the seven trustees, denouncing them for forcing him out because he refused to make hires requested by board chair Gary Rozier and vice chair Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott.

Rozier could not be reached Tuesday while traveling, board spokesman Dan Regan said. He and the others deny the allegations.

Trustees are scheduled to reconvene on Friday to continue discussing Watson’s employment. After a lengthy special meeting March 1, they took no action.

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