Following years of financial, academic and management struggles, Chicago State University on Monday completed a leadership shift intended to turn around the troubled South Side school.
The university’s new interim president and new chief administrative officer, to be paid a combined $440,000 during the next year, are charged with quickly implementing plans to boost enrollment, repair failing facilities, rally donors and decide the future of academic programs.
Paul Vallas, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, started Monday as the university’s chief administrative officer, a newly created position with a $200,000 annual salary. The university’s new interim president, former Chicago State Dean Rachel Lindsey, started April 17 with a 12-month contract worth $240,000.
Within the next few weeks, both Lindsey and Vallas are expected to submit reports to trustees detailing their performance goals and plans for the university, according to their employment agreements obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act.
“It’s important for everyone involved to make sure we’re all on the right page and make sure we’re moving the university forward quickly,” trustee Nicholas Gowen said. “We’re not expecting miracles. We are expecting a strong set of goals and a clear plan on how to execute those goals.”
Vallas, who has a 15-month contract, was unavailable for comment Monday. He said through personal spokesman Sam Hamer that his initial agenda includes creating an “aggressive game plan to stabilize our enrollment, improve retention, and build the infrastructure necessary to solve the university’s enrollment and retention problems in the long term.”
University spokeswoman Sabrina Land said Lindsey was unavailable for comment.
The university’s board of trustees appointed Lindsey and Vallas to their positions earlier this month after Vallas stepped down from the board, which also is in flux. Trustee Nikki Zollar, the only board member not to approve the hiring of Lindsey and Vallas, has since resigned, Gowen told the Tribune on Monday. She could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Bruce Rauner is now tasked with filling the board positions vacated by Vallas and Zollar, whose term was not due to expire until 2019.
Vallas, who will report to Lindsey and the board, will have day-to-day oversight of several departments, including finance, internal audit and enrollment management. Boosting enrollment is one of his primary tasks, according to his contract. He is to submit a recruitment and retention plan to the board within three weeks, as well as a strategic plan for the entire university within his first 45 days.
Enrollment has declined steeply in the past few years, with only 3,600 students now taking classes, half as many as in 2010. Only 86 first-time, full-time freshmen enrolled last fall, down from 200 the year prior, and faculty have voiced concerns that enrollment this fall will decline even more.
“We have to show people we’re credible as an institution,” faculty union President Robert Bionaz said. “We’ve had 13 consecutive semesters of enrollment decline. This is epic, monumental failure. It’s really put us in a position where people wonder about us, and who can blame them, really?”
As interim president, Lindsey will be responsible for evaluating and reorganizing academic departments, helping to solicit donors and improving relations with the community.
Lindsey, who taught at Chicago State for 35 years and spent almost two decades as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences before retiring in 2011, is the university’s third president in less than 18 months.
Thomas J. Calhoun abruptly resigned in September, only nine months into a five-year contract. Trustees approved $600,000 in severance pay for Calhoun and appointed Cecil B. Lucy, then the interim vice president for administration and finance, to the interim president role.
But in January, Rauner appointed four new board members, including Vallas, and created an eight-member advisory panel, hoping the leadership changes would spur improvements for the public university.
Rauner’s office grew impatient with the board after a few months, saying it was not working quickly enough to make the ambitious changes he expected. Rauner’s education secretary, Beth Purvis, organized a plan that would put Vallas in a top administrative role.
Trustees ultimately went a different route, however, deciding to hire both Lindsey and Vallas.
Bionaz, a longtime critic of the university administration, said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the shake-up and that faculty will be eager to see some improvements.
“I think the most important thing is to bring new ideas,” Bionaz said. “Obviously, some of them are not likely to be realized. But the important thing is you’re making the effort and you’re showing people this is an uphill struggle, but we’re going to try it.”
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April 24, 2017 at 11:21AM