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Public Apology To Jodi S. Cohen, Chicago Tribune Reporter, For Her Work On CSU’s Elnora Daniel

August 7, 2008

In April 2007, I picked on the Chicago Tribune and one of its reporters, Jodi S. Cohen, for a story I though revealed something unseemly about Tribune bias. Knowing what I did, at that time, about the so-called “preferred lender scandal” (then being uncovered by New York’s Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo), I feared that the April 2007 story by Cohen brought a too-specific light on the doings of Chicago State University, a de facto all-black institution on Chicago’s South Side. [Note: I say de facto because CSU does not advertise as an HBCU.] At the time, I felt the preferred lender scandal might be larger in Chicago, and I wondered aloud about only writing on Chicago State’s potential involvement. I even raised the question of racism or racial bias in the story.

Well, even if the preferred lender scandal story should’ve been explored with respect to other large Chicago higher education institutions, I was wrong to imply racism. Why? Because Chicago State’s former president Elnora Daniel was–and is—a self-serving, potential crook. All published evidence points to her having exploited a public institution that caters to minority students for private gain. She did it with regard to the preferred lender scandal, but her exploits went far beyond directing some student loan business to a large African-American-owned bank (Seaway National Bank).

In honor of Jodi Cohen’s work on Daniel’s “inappropriate” activities at Chicago State, I forward another Cohen article for your consideration. The August 7 piece’s title is “Ex-CSU Chief OKs $18,000 Book On…Self,” and here are some excerpts (bolds mine):

– Before leaving Chicago State University, embattled university president Elnora Daniel signed off on spending more than $18,000 to publish a tribute book honoring herself, a glossy coffee table publication featuring pictures of Daniel posing with lawmakers, university staff and her family.
– The 52-page soft-cover book looks like a personal photo album, with minimal text and no photo captions. There are pictures of Daniel at a grant ceremony with President George W. Bush, smiling at U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and accepting state checks from Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, who funneled millions of dollars to Chicago State under Daniel’s leadership.
– The last page features a photo of Daniel and five family members dressed in formal dinner attire and standing next to an elaborate staircase. Daniel’s university-financed family travel was the subject of a stinging state audit that found she spent more than $15,000 to attend a leadership conference aboard a Caribbean cruise ship in August 2006, where she was accompanied by five family members.
The taxpayer-financed book, titled A Retrospective: Ten Years of Vision and Leadership, was mailed to about 400 people, including government officials, university presidents, business executives and donors, according to documents the Tribune obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. About a quarter of the recipients are Chicago State faculty and administrators.
– “I don’t know why they would do that,” said Sen. Ed Maloney (D-Chicago), chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “I don’t understand the point of it, given the fact that she is no longer there.”
Daniel’s presidency began in 1998 and ended June 30 after her contract was not renewed. She had been under fire for questionable spending practices that she defended in part by blaming staff turnover and inadequate training by those responsible for accounting. Daniel will continue to collect her $241,025 salary and other benefits for an additional year, as stipulated in her contract.
– Chicago State spokeswoman Robyn Wheeler said Daniel was unavailable for comment. “It is my understanding that this book, like other university publications, was intended to support our marketing initiatives by informing various constituencies of our accomplishments,” said Wheeler, adding that it was “developed and published under the previous university leadership.”
– But critics questioned the marketing strategy of promoting a former president who left the South Side university under a cloud.
“If it was to market the university, they should have marketed the university, not one individual. They just don’t get it,” said state Rep. David Miller (D- Dolton), chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee in the Illinois House. “It gets to the point where you shrug your shoulders and say, ‘What do you expect?’ ” said Miller, whose picture is in the book. He suggested that it would have been better for Daniel to avoid further attention: “Just leave quietly and that would have helped.” …
– The book project was initiated and spearheaded by Yvette Clayton, director of development at the CSU Foundation, the university’s fundraising arm. In a May e-mail to Daniel’s assistant to discuss how much the university would spend on the project, Clayton acknowledged that excessive spending could be problematic.
– “If we get $10K, I will make it happen. I appreciate your attempt to get more. I don’t want a public outcry but I also think this will provide a positive spin on CSU and Dr. Daniel’s many contributions,” wrote Clayton, who referred all questions to Wheeler.
– The project was paid for with funds from the university president’s account, not from the foundation. Chicago State spent $18,250 on the publication: $5,750 to Chicago-based Jerry Ross Design for art direction, design and consultation, and another $12,500 for printing by the Chicago Press Corp., according to copies of university purchase orders and checks.
– Chicago State Honors College Dean Richard Milo said he thought it was a fitting tribute. “It is an elaborate memento, but I am not saying inappropriate,” Milo said. “There are people at the university who thought and continue to think highly of Dr. Daniel and would much rather she be remembered for the positive things than the few missteps that garnered the university some unwelcome publicity.”


Memo #1 to Dean Milo: By not strongly opposing this, you’re selling out your students.

Memo #2 to Elnora Daniel: What are you going to do with your $241,025 salary this upcoming year? Will you donate a significant portion of it back to Chicago State to prove your love for CSU?

Memo #3 to Jerry Ross Design and the Chicago Press Corp.: Wash your hands of this and make a donation to CSU’s scholarship funds.

And last, but not least:

Memo #4 to Jodi Cohen: Please accept this public apology for questioning your long-running attention to CSU’s Elnora Daniel. She’s a self-serving cheat who betrayed the public’s trust, and you deserve kudos for staying on top of the story. – TL

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