Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

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Chicago State University‘s new interim president started work this week, the third leadership shift for the Far South Side university in 18 months.

Rachel W. Lindsey, a longtime former dean of Chicago State’s College of Arts and Sciences, took over the presidency Monday, about a week after the board approved her hiring. Her contract, obtained by the Tribune through a public records request, promises a $240,000 salary and stipulates she will serve as interim president at least until April 16, 2018.

Lindsey’s contract requires that she provide trustees with a list of goals within three weeks, detailing her plans and recommendations for academic programs, university finances, strategic planning and community relations. She will receive a performance review every six months, evaluating her progress in improving Chicago State’s financial status, graduation rate, enrollment, educational programs, relationships with faculty, fundraising, media relations and public image — with the concession that she may not have time to make gains in all those areas as a temporary leader.

“Your appointment comes at a critical time in the university’s history, and the board is confident that you will make an important contribution to the future development and success of the university,” the contract states.

Lindsey and her assistant did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Lindsey’s salary would seem to indicate the cash-strapped school will shoulder considerably more in administrative costs to pay her and ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas as the Far South Side university attempts a comprehensive leadership shift.

Vallas, who was appointed to the Chicago State board in January, was tapped for a newly created position as the university’s chief administrative officer. When he will begin work remains unclear. A spokesman said Vallas is eager to get going but contract negotiations were ongoing.

“The board has issued what appears to be a final draft of the contract so we’re all hopeful he can start soon,” spokesman Sam Hamer said Thursday.

The former interim president, Cecil B. Lucy, will return to his previous position as interim vice president of finance and administration. It is not known what his salary will be, but documents show he was making $140,000 as finance chief before moving to the $260,000 interim president post.

Lindsey’s move into the top administrative seat came at the heels of months of tumult and politicized wrangling over the direction of the 150-year-old school.

Thomas J. Calhoun was hired in late 2015 amid much fanfare to replace Wayne Watson, whose six-year tenure was riddled with controversy. Calhoun took over in January 2016, with a five-year contract paying him $300,000 a year.

But he unexpectedly resigned in September after nine months, taking a $600,000 severance. His departure proved controversial, as he was well liked among students and faculty who accused other school leaders of undermining Calhoun’s authority. Many of his supporters routinely have appealed the board to reinstate Calhoun.

Lucy immediately was appointed interim president.

The leadership shuffle began anew early this year.

Gov. Bruce Rauner brought in four new board members — Vallas, Nicholas Gowen, Tiffany Harper and Kam Buckner — and created an eight-member advisory group in January. Rauner said he expected the group to spark a dramatic reversal for a university struggling with strained finances, falling enrollment, failing infrastructure and sluggish academic performance. At the time, Rauner signaled he wanted the board to install Vallas as the chairman.

But the board already had impaneled its newest officers, putting the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. in charge and Horace Smith as vice chair. In the first meeting with the new board in March, the group chose Vallas as its secretary.

Rauner’s office grew impatient with the board after a few weeks, saying they weren’t moving fast enough to initiate the kinds of ambitious changes he expected. Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis then helped orchestrate a plan that would put Vallas at the head of the administration in some sort of crisis management role.

The move struck a nerve and divided opinions. Chicago State’s faculty union and even former Senate President Emil Jones publicly backed Vallas, while several Chicago and Cook County politicians supported Lucy and blasted Rauner for attempting to put a white man in charge of a predominantly black institution. Vallas is white; Lucy is black.

Board members, pushing back against the appearance that Rauner was pulling the strings, opted for a different course. After nearly six hours of closed-session discussions March 27, trustees announced they would pick a new interim president and hire someone for a new position of chief administrative officer in April. Lucy would step down and return to his old job as finance chief.

Vallas was not promised either position at the time and trustees demanded he resign from the board to be considered for either job. Vallas did quit the board in advance of the April 7 meeting, where trustees tapped him and Lindsey for the open posts.

Lindsey began teaching educational psychology and child development at Chicago State in 1976, according to her university bio. She served as the arts and sciences dean for almost 20 years before retiring in 2011. She also taught at Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola University.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Michigan and her masters and doctorate in educational psychology from University of Chicago, according to her bio.

Despite the topsy turvy path, several vocal critics of university leaders said they were pleased to have Lindsey in charge.

“I think she’s really level-headed and she’ll do very well,” faculty union president Robert Bionaz said. “I think she knows the university really well. She understands academics. She’s gotten tenure. You’ve actually done the job, you’ve gone up through the ranks. I think the qualifications are there.”

Board members have said they plan to hire a search firm to do a nationwide recruitment for a permanent president, something likely to take several months. Gowen and Harper will lead that committee.

Trustees will inform Lindsey by March 16, 2018 if they want to extend her contract.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

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April 21, 2017 at 02:06AM

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Chicago State University interim president takes office with $240,000 salary

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