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Chicago State Provost: Famed Black Poet Not Singled Out for Retaliation

In a public response to the resignation of one of Chicago State University’s most celebrated faculty members, the university provost reiterated the position that the administration has not singled out acclaimed poet and activist Haki R. Madhubuti for retaliation by requiring him to increase his teaching load.

 Chicago State provost and senior vice president Sandra Westbrooks, in a letter published in the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, wrote, Madhubuti would be entitled to earn “his full salary and retains his director emeritus status of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center” in the coming academic year.  

 “We respect the contributions of Mr. Madhubuti to the Gwendolyn Brooks Center among other achievements, but our recent actions at Chicago State are not about him or any individual on this campus,” Westbrooks wrote. “Mr. Madhubuti was asked to do what we expect of every faculty member on this campus — teach students.”

 Madhubuti last week issued a statement to attendees at an annual literary conference he organizes that announced his resignation from Chicago State. The Chicago Sun-Times reported over the weekend that Madhubuti claimed the university “removed him from the paid staff of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center he founded and reduced him to volunteer status with the master’s program in creative writing that he co-founded.”

 “This is a difficult time for me. Because of circumstances beyond my control, I have been forced to seek early retirement,” Madhubuti said in the resignation statement.  

 A Chicago State educator for 26 years, Madhubuti said he had been informed that by fall 2010 he would no longer have director emeritus status of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing. He also explained that he would be in the unjustified position as an university distinguished professor of having to teach four courses each semester. Madhubuti founded the center in 1990 and established the annual Gwendolyn Brooks Conference for Black Literature and Creative Writing.      

 Madhubuti, the founder of Third World Press, said on Tuesday he intends to soon notify university officials of the day his resignation will take effect. He attributed the resignation in part to harassment and unfair treatment by administrators operating under the direction of university president Wayne Watson.  

 “This goes back to when I criticized the process — which I called undemocratic and anti-intellectual — that installed Watson as president,” Madhubuti said. “Since taking over last year, Watson has cultivated a climate of fear and intimidation on the campus.”  

 The poet, who counts notable writers and activists such as the late Gwendolyn Brooks as mentors, said university officials earlier this year had unexpectedly assigned him an additional course after the semester had gotten underway and were planning to dock his pay after Madhubuti refused to teach the extra course.

 During discussions over this semester’s course dispute, administrators repeatedly questioned Madhubuti as to when he planned to retire, making it appear to the scholar that they wanted him gone from Chicago State, Madhubuti said. The mandated move from teaching two courses this semester to four courses by the fall proved upsetting to the veteran educator, who has argued that as an university distinguished professor he was exempt from taking on a full teaching load.    

 Last week, in response to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell’s April 1 column on Watson and Madhubuti, Watson issued a statement defending recent personnel decisions relating to Madhubuti.

 “I have respect for the work of Haki Madhubuti and his contributions to the Gwendolyn Brooks Center on campus, among other achievements, but this isn’t about him, or any individual on this campus. It’s about realigning the priorities and services of a vital institution with limited resources … going back to the basics like spending more time in the classroom directly benefiting our students, which is the core mission of the University,” Watson wrote.

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