Ex-CPS chief Vallas expected to take the helm at Chicago State University

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Chicago State University trustees will vote on potential leadership changes at a Monday morning meeting, where it is widely expected ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas will be given a top administrative role.

The board is convening for a special session, which was added to the schedule amid a frenetic week of rumors and political wrangling.

What exact responsibilities Vallas could assume are not clear. Nor is it known how any changes in upper administration will affect the job of interim President Cecil B. Lucy, who has led the university since September. But the shift comes as Gov. Bruce Rauner ramps up efforts to engineer a turnaround at the beleaguered Far South Side university by handing direct control over to his political rival-turned-ally.

“Chicago State University is in crisis and requires transformational change in order to improve student success,” Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said 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.”

Lucy has not responded to requests for comment.

Rauner appointed Vallas, attorneys Nicholas Gowen and Tiffany Harper, and business owner Kam Buckner to Chicago State’s board in January. He also created an eight-member advisory panel, putting the group on notice he expected aggressive moves to resolve financial, academic and administrative bungles at the university.

Rauner was clear he wanted Vallas to lead the board, but trustees had already elected the Rev. Marshall Hatch Jr. as their chairman. As weeks went by with no major reforms underway, Purvis met with Vallas, Hatch and advisory member Tony Anderson to brainstorm a game plan that would put Vallas in a crisis management role.

The issue has struck a nerve among politicians from Springfield to Chicago.

Vallas and Purvis both said he would not be president and his job would be temporary. Gowen said no matter the outcome of Monday’s meeting, the board would launch a nationwide search for a permanent president.

Still, a group of Chicago aldermen and county commissioners — who said they supported Lucy to continue — accused 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 a news conference Friday.

“I think it’s a flawed method of doing something,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, chairman of the aldermanic Black Caucus. “They would not do this at any other university in the state.”

Vallas has some vocal support in his corner as well, including from former senate leader Emil Jones, who directed so much state money to the campus at 95th Street and King Drive that it was often called “Emil Jones U.”

“Chicago State University is on life support,” Jones said in a statement. “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.”

The debate over who should lead has opened old wounds for some faculty and students, who felt aggrieved by the controversial ousting of former President Thomas Calhoun Jr.

Calhoun, hired in late 2015 to take over for Wayne Watson, unexpectedly resigned in September after only nine months on the job and received a $600,000 settlement to leave immediately. His departure was unpopular, as Calhoun was well-liked on campus. Faculty members have continued to voice their support for Calhoun.

Lucy, then the university’s chief financial officer, was named as interim president.

Robert Bionaz, head of the faculty union, sent trustees a letter Friday saying a survey showed an overwhelming push for a leadership change, even if that means putting Vallas in charge temporarily.

“I do not think it (is) an exaggeration to say that this university’s fate depends upon the action you take in the next few days,” the letter reads. “(T)he faculty and staff of our local chapter want to see the university reformed and believe that changes in senior management are vital if this university is to survive. Therefore, we will support any board decision that results in such changes.”

Chicago Tribune’s Grace Wong contributed.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

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March 26, 2017 at 09:36AM

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Ex-CPS chief Vallas expected to take the helm at Chicago State University

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