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HBCU: Troubled Chicago HBCU Faces Leadership Fight

Paul Vallas

(From News Wire Services)

Black leaders are pushing back against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner who is pushing to install Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Schools, into a top post at Chicago State University, which hired a new president in September.

According to the Chicago Tribune, several aldermen and religious leaders recently held a press conference to question the intent behind the governor’s push. The governor’s office wants Vallas, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 1995-2001, to assume a temporary-and-vaguely-defined-crisis- management-role at the 150-year-old-HBCU. The job has not been clearly defined and does not yet have an official title.

Whatever his title, the effort to give Vallas more authority calls into question how interim President Cecil B. Lucy, who has led the university since September, fits into the picture. Lucy, the university’s former finance chief, has not commented publicly.

“I just don’t know what value he adds to this university, that’s my concern,” Alderman Roderick Sawyer said at the recent press conference. “I don’t even know what a crisis intervention specialist means. I can understand it, but I would like to see a defined description of what that looks like and what he’s supposed to do. Is he usurping the president’s authority and powers? Is he adding to that? Has he got a specific task in mind?”

Sawyer is one of many politicians from Springfield to Chicago who has jumped into the debate during the past week. And some are accusing the governor of overstepping his authority.
“We are not going to stand idly by and let someone just pick or appoint who they want to be the president of Chicago State,” Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore said at the recent news conference.

But other politicians support Vallas, including former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones. In a recent statement, Jones said, “He’s a terrific public servant who earned the community’s trust during the six years he led the state’s largest public institution, the Chicago Public Schools, with more than 400,000 students who were mostly minority and many who were living in poverty.”

Vallas also has support from South Side Alderman Anthony Beale, who said in recent news reports, “I’ve known Paul for 20 years, and I know his heart. He’s very smart. He can turn that place around. We need to stop the bleeding.”

Still various factions strenuously disagree over placing Vallas at the helm of the HBCU because he ran as the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor two years ago.

“The university has great potential, great assets,” said Vallas, who has developed a reputation as an education turnaround expert after stints at the helm of public school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn. Most recently, Vallas worked in the hurricane-devastated country of Haiti.

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“I believe you can significantly expand the university’s offerings and enrollment,” Vallas said in recent news reports. He said he definitely has some turnaround ideas for the school, where enrollment is just half of what it was in 2010 and has only 86 students its freshman class.

The struggling school’s finances have made headlines in recent years.

But at a board meeting on Dec. 9, trustees declared an end to the school’s financial emergency. And school leaders outlined plans to move the 150-year-old school ahead including advertising in Chicago’s northern suburbs and several nearby states to attract new students. There was talk about purchasing space on billboards and sending direct mailings. Administrators and trustees discussed the idea of creating a football team with an accompanying marching band and cheerleading squad as a potential enrollment booster.

While Vallas said declining state funding has hurt the school, only 30 percent of its revenue comes from the state.

Jones who supports Vallas said, “Chicago State University is on life support. I urge those with conflicting political agendas to carefully consider the bigger picture. The university needs a crisis manager. CSU’s future – perhaps its very existence as an independent university – hangs in the balance.”

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