Black officials to Rauner: We don’t want Vallas at Chicago State

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A group of black city leaders has denounced Gov. Bruce Rauner‘s push for a new leader at Chicago State University ahead of an emergency board of trustees meeting scheduled for Monday.

The governor’s office said earlier in the week Rauner wants Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, to assume some sort of crisis management role at the Far South Side university. The role is meant to be temporary until a new, full-time president can be found. The job has not been clearly defined and does not yet have an official title.

The aldermen and religious leaders who called a press conference on Friday questioned the need for such a role and cast suspicion on the intent behind it.

“I just don’t know what value he adds to this university, that’s my concern,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th. “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?”

Speakers at the media event all said they want an “open and fair process” to choose a new leader that is not limited to just two candidates. Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore said they are looking for someone with university experience and a financial and accounting background who can help the school build relationships. He said he believed the right person for the job was the interim president, Cecil Lucy.

“This has to be an open process, this has to be a search committee,” Moore said. “We are not just going to stand idly by and let someone just pick or appoint who they want to be the president of Chicago State. We believe in the interim director right now, we’ve asked them that he be considered. We hope that on Monday the board will do the right thing.”

Moore also said that the group would prefer the president to be African American because most of Chicago State’s students are minorities.

The proposed Vallas appointment comes during a time of turmoil for the 150-year-old Far South Side campus.

The school, long plagued by financial mismanagement, administrative scandal and poor academic achievement, has struggled throughout Illinois’ 18-month budget impasse, which has halted regular funding for the state’s public universities. The university laid off 40 percent of its staff earlier this year, and a string of infrastructure failures has further jeopardized the campus’ already strained budget.

Lucy was named interim president after the previous president, Thomas Calhoun Jr., stepped down in September after just nine months on the job, taking a $600,000 severance with him.

The board is holding a special board meeting Monday to discuss the leadership issue.

“Chicago State University is in crisis and requires transformational change in order to improve student success,” said Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, in a statement. “While this is a board decision, we believe that Paul Vallas has the skills to implement a strategic plan that will lay a strong foundation for a new president. It is our expectation, the board would launch a comprehensive, nationwide search within six months to recruit and hire the right long-term candidate.”

A few people got into heated discussions with some of the speakers in front of the campus library where the news conference was held. Kim Dulaney, an African-American studies professor who has three degrees from Chicago State, said the group was “misguided,” though well-intentioned.

“We don’t want Vallas as president but we want Vallas here — or somebody here — that’s outside this collective that has been here, to have the authority to review what they’ve done and hold the people accountable. That’s what we want,” Dulaney said. “We don’t want him as a president just like we don’t want Lucy as a president. Neither of the two are qualified.”

Twitter @GraceWong630

gwong@chicagotribune.com

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March 24, 2017 at 08:39AM

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Black officials to Rauner: We don’t want Vallas at Chicago State

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