06/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Chicago State University Prez is Right: There Is No Free Lunch for Icons

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell has deployed 'friendship journalism' with her spin on Haki Madhubuti's exit from Chicago State University.

Mitchell's April 1 column, "Infighting, Injustice at Chicago State," and her follow-up April 4 column, "Where's the Support for Madhubuti?" must be addressed.

Before writing another word, let me declare, I know all parties involved and I have great respect for them.

Dr. Wayne Watson, the President of Chicago State University, and I were Vice Chancellors at City Colleges together. He is my friend.

Haki Madhubuti is a man of great intellect and a prolific writer. Throughout the years, I have sought his professional advice and I have referred many to his publishing firm, Third World Press. I have participated in his annual Gwendolyn Brooks Conference for Black Literature and Creative Writing, and I have sat in audiences to hear his lectures. I admire his work.

Watson and Madhubuti have appeared on the cover of this paper and The N'Digo Foundation has honored both esteemed men for their achievements in the field of education.

In her first column, Mitchell revealed that Madhubuti wrote an open letter critical of Watson--a letter that I also received, read and responded to some time ago. Madhubuti said, "I can't work with him. I am not going to stand here and let him use this university like he used the City Colleges."

What does that mean?

During his tenure at City Colleges, Watson built a model, modern institution of higher learning--Kennedy King College--to transform the disenfranchised neighborhood of Englewood. He installed programs that put young people to work. He achieved the longest record of accreditation that City Colleges has ever received. And Watson left Chicago's community college system with elevated academic standards and a $60 million surplus in the budget. Not bad, I would say.

Watson assumed the post of president at Chicago State University in October 2009, marking the first time in Illinois history that an educator who was the chancellor of the community college system ascended to the state university level.

Cleaning House at CSU

The process of moving Chicago State University forward has begun. All state universities and colleges are experiencing budget cuts, and Watson found it necessary to assess all paid staff and reduce the payroll. Watson's assessment found that Haki Madhubuti had been receiving full-time pay for teaching just one course per year.

In most universities on the planet, teaching one, three-hour course per year is not considered teaching full-time. Watson asked Madhubuti to carry a full-teaching load, which is 12 hours, or four courses. Besides, few occupy Madhubuti's space and others who are also CSU Distinguished Professors carried full teaching loads. Watson asked for work documentation for a full-time salary; he required accountability.

Madhubuti's salary was not reduced; his workload was increased to represent a full-teaching course load. And Madhubuti was not fired; instead, he chose a public resignation through the press -- at his annual conference, which was fully supported by the Chicago State University.

What's so wrong with teaching a full course load?

Madhubuti's 26 years at Chicago State positioned him and Watson at odds--I would have thought that Watson and Madhubuti would have made a perfect team to take Chicago State University to that next level--and this entire matter suggests a power play.
But Watson is the president with a board of directors and taxpayers to answer to, so he must maintain his proven record as the tough, no-nonsense, accountable and responsible administrator.

Mitchell argues that Madhubuti's status as a 'cultural icon' should shield him from the extra work. That's her opinion, but it's essential that the facts are not lost.

Chicago State University is not a villa for cultural icons; it's an institution of higher learning.

The best thing any distinguished professor/cultural icon could do is roll up his sleeves and engage students. In doing so, he would join the ranks of distinguished professors who have taught and authored books -- like Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Charles Hamilton, Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins and the likes of the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, Dr. St. Clair Drake, and Dr. Edward Franklin Frazier.

One More Lesson

Haki Madhubuti is highly regarded in his community, but now support for him is not there, because Madhubuti and Mitchell are wrong.

Think about it--who would publicly support Madhubuti in this year of economic hard times, when most are working 40-plus hours per week if they are lucky to have a job?

So, when you read about Madhubuti--someone making a dynamic salary for teaching a single three hour course, while running several charter schools, earning a hefty purse as a paid guest speaker (lecturing to more students outside of Chicago State University than he does at Chicago State) and running a publishing business, it's hard to protest Watson's demand for a full-time workload at Chicago State. So let's cancel the pity-party.

Mitchell may be in for a bit of a business lesson, as well.

While Watson was at City Colleges, the Chairman of his board was Mr. James Tyree. He and Watson worked in conjunction at the City Colleges. And this is the same James Tyree who now owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

Instead of, "Where's the Support of Madhubuti?" The more appropriate question is, how did Professor Haki Madhubuti and the previous Chicago State University presidents justify a professor, (icon or not) earning a full-time salary for teaching just one course per year?

Mitchell notes in her column, "it is painful to watch two powerful Black men fight publicly."

This is not a story about two black powerful men fighting, unless you make it one.

This is a story about right and wrong.