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State watchdog says ex-CSU president violated 'integrity' policy

Longtime Chicago State University President Wayne Watson violated a university policy that “expects all employees to act with integrity,” the state Office of the Executive Inspector General concluded after a two-year investigation.

A report issued Friday says Watson, who was at the helm of Chicago State for six years until retiring last month, acted less than honorably during a 2013 battle with CSU trustees pushing for his resignation.

The findings stem from an investigation launched in February 2013 into a letter that Watson sent to the board in the midst of the battle, accusing two trustees of leading the push because he had bucked their efforts to force him to hire or give friends raises.

His letter leveled those accusations at Gary Rozier, then board chairman, as well as at Zaldwaynaka Scott, who at the time was vice chair.

“President Watson’s . . . letter . . . contained numerous allegations of wrongdoing . . . ” the report states. “However investigators learned that the allegations … were not true; . . . the fact that President Watson made such serious allegations that he now admits were untrue, is troubling and suggests President Watson made these claims only in an effort to discredit Mr. Rozier and Ms. Scott, and keep his job,” it concludes.

The report was issued to trustees in September, as CSU finalized a national search for a new president; Watson had announced he’d retire in December. His replacement, Thomas Calhoun, formerly of North Alabama University, took the reins at Chicago State on Jan. 4.

In a response included in the report, Watson’s attorney accuses the inspector general’s of violating Watson’s due process rights by not telling him the investigation into the allegations in Watson’s letter had turned into an investigation of Watson himself.

The inspector general’s description of the events that transpired “is blatantly one-sided and in many cases, incomplete and inaccurate,” attorney Robert Markin wrote.

The report notes that Scott had herself once served as Executive Inspector General, but that the state’s Executive Ethics Commission ruled there was no conflict of interest.

Watson, 69, became CSU president in October 2009, after 30 years at City Colleges of Chicago.

In 2013, rumors flew about an alleged inappropriate relationship with a staff member. Rozier demanded Watson’s resignation. Watson refused, then agreed to resign — and then decided to stay. Soon after, he sent the letter to trustees about Rozier and Scott, both of whom served on the board from November 2009 to March 2013.

The inspector general says the agency was anonymously forwarded the letter, and it began a long investigation that included interviews with Rozier, Scott, Watson and others. Meanwhile, the board terms of Rozier and Scott expired. They were replaced. Watson’s contract was renewed in December 2013.

Rozier and Scott alleged Watson wrote the accusatory letter in retaliation for being asked to resign. In interviews, Watson could provide few if any concrete examples of being pressured for hiring and promotion favors by Rozier and Scott, the report says.

“President Watson’s conduct … went against the expectation that employees act with integrity when representing the university, and raises serious questions and concerns as to his leadership of the university.”

The report was first issued to trustees in September. The board responded with a letter indicating it was engaged in hiring a new president. In October, it sent another letter indicating the board had discussed the report, and “. . . it was the decision of the Board of Trustees that no disciplinary action be taken.”

Reached Friday, CSU Board Chairman Anthony Young said the board believed the investigation was inappropriately conducted.

“The board agreed with his lawyers that there was no due process,” Young said. “We felt there was nothing we could do in terms of the way that investigation was handled, and the way those findings came about.”

Watson Report