Paul Vallas, CSU Board Chairman Discuss Struggling School’s Future

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Following a closed-door meeting Monday that lasted nearly six hours, Chicago State University’s board of trustees announced the delay of a decision on who would lead the beleaguered state university.

On April 7, the board will name a new interim president to replace current interim President Cecil B. Lucy, who will return to his position as interim finance and administration chief.

The board also announced Monday the creation of a new interim position, chief administrative officer, which will also be filled April 7.

Current board member Paul Vallas, who formerly served as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was expected by some to be named CSU president on Monday.

Vallas was appointed to the board in January by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who reportedly wants Vallas to head the school.

The prospect of Vallas, a white man, taking control of a school with a predominantly black student body has led to criticism from some city officials.

Meanwhile, supporters of Vallas have pointed to his out-of-state work with school districts in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Connecticut, as a testament to his ability to turn schools around.

The board voted Monday that Vallas must resign as a board trustee to be considered for either the president or chief administrative officer positions.

Vallas and CSU Board Chairman Marshall Hatch join us to discuss the ongoing search for university leadership and what lies ahead for CSU.


Related stories:

Chicago State University Postpones Decision on Administration Changes

March 27: It was widely expected that Paul Vallas would get a top job at Chicago State University on Monday. But that is not what happened.


New Chicago State Trustees Aim for Struggling School Turnaround

Jan. 17: Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas on his new appointment to the board of beleaguered Chicago State University.


Chicago State Trustees Face Heat After $600,000 Breakup with President

Sept. 16: Chicago State University Trustees voted 6-1 to accept the resignation of President Thomas Calhoun after only nine months on the job, and OK’d a $600,000 severance package for him.


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March 28, 2017 at 02:41PM

Paul Vallas, CSU Board Chairman Discuss Struggling School’s Future

Chicago State braces for leadership change as Vallas may receive new post

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A vocal and divided crowd at Chicago State University‘s board meeting Monday lashed out at trustees, administrators and Gov. Bruce Rauner in anticipation of a leadership change orchestrated by the Republican governor.

The board is expected to decide at today’s emergency meeting whether to temporarily put ex-Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas, appointed to the board by Rauner in January, in charge of operations at the Far South Side public school.

While Rauner’s potential role has not yet been defined, Vallas has pushed for his one-time political opponent to have a more direct role in the university’s administration after determining current leaders have not done enough to address the school’s long history of poor academic achievement, financial mismanagement and leadership missteps.

Whatever his title, the maneuvering 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, attended Monday’s meeting but has not commented publicly.

But the potential leadership change has proved divisive. Vallas’ supporters, including faculty members, argue the university needs a change, while opponents have criticized Rauner for his involvement and for moving to place a white leader at the helm of a predominantly black institution. Vallas is white; Lucy is black.

During public comments to the board, community organizer Michael Muhammad criticized Chicago State’s current leaders and listed the university’s many struggles and controversies in recent years.

“Incompetence, evil and negativity leave a residue,” Muhammad said. “Change is necessary. The old model must die.”

Local activist Eddie Reed was among those who urged the board to consider the racial dynamics at play.

“Race does matter,” Reed said. “This institution is noted across the country as a black university. Therefore, we must do everything we can to put a responsible person who is black in charge of this university.”

Board members will debate the issue in closed session before taking a final vote in public.

The plan to put Vallas in charge began unfolding earlier this month.

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 already had elected the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. as their chairman. As weeks went by with no major reforms underway, state Secretary of Education Beth Purvis summoned Vallas, Hatch, and advisory member Tony Anderson this month and brainstormed a game plan that would put Vallas in a crisis management role, leveraging his political capital on the board to affect such a change.

“Chicago State University is in crisis and requires transformational change in order to improve student success,” 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.”

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 still intends to launch a nationwide search for a permanent president.

Politicians from Springfield to Chicago also jumped into the debate during the past week. A group of Chicago alderman 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 powerful vocal support in his corner, including from former senate leader Emil Jones, who directed so much state money to the 95th and King Drive campus 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. Faculty members have continued to voice their support for Calhoun.

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,” according to the letter. “…(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.”

Whatever the disagreements over university leadership, most agree that Chicago State faces daunting challenges.

The 150-year-old school had only 86 first-time, full-time freshmen this fall, down from almost 200 the year prior. The campus has lost more than half its enrollment in six years.

The graduation rate, which frequently has lagged behind other state schools, fell to 11 percent in 2015.

The university has a long history of financial mismanagement but also has been among the hardest hit in the state’s 20-month-budget standoff. Chicago State has received just $32.7 million in state funding during the budget saga, compared to the $36.3 million the school received in 2015.

To try to cut back, the university slashed its budget by about 30 percent and laid off 40 percent of its staff last year,

But the strained finances have surfaced in other ways. The campus’ aging heating system has malfunctioned several times throughout the year, including in February, when all of the boilers failed at once. The university briefly had to close the campus and pay $1.2 million to rent temporary equipment.

That rental expires this month.

Chicago Tribune’s Grace Wong contributed

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March 27, 2017 at 05:09AM

Chicago State braces for leadership change as Vallas may receive new post

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.

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March 26, 2017 at 09:36AM

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

Emil Jones endorses Paul Vallas to become CSU president

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Former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones offered a full-throated endorsement Saturday in favor of former CPS CEO Paul Vallas to become the next president of the financially struggling Chicago State University.

“I have known and worked with Paul off and on for 35 years,” Jones said in a statement. “He is 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 (CPS), with more than 400,000 students who were mostly minority and many who were living in poverty.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Vallas to a board trustee position at the public South Side university, with Rauner saying he would nominate Vallas to be the board president. Vallas was former Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate when he and Rauner squared off in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

“Chicago State University is on life support,” Jones added. “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.”

Vallas, known for transforming urban schools districts, previously called CSU’s financial and structural problems a “microcosm” of what he endured as CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001. But he has said he’s confident the university can endure a turnaround.

“Our objective here is to not only preserve Chicago State but to help transform it into the dynamic university that the community needs,” Vallas said in January. “Universities are economic development engines, and there’s absolutely no reason why Chicago State cannot be one.”

In 2007, CSU opened a $47 million, 140,000-square-foot, multi-purpose convocation center that was named after Jones and his late wife, Patricia.

The endorsement from Jones comes days after Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) offered his own statement of support to install Vallas as university president.

“CSU has been plagued with financial mismanagement, administrative scandal and poor academic performance for far too long,” Beale said in a statement Tuesday. “We need a president who can reverse those trends and make CSU the institution it once was. This is the only criteria that matters, not whether the new president is male or female, brown, yellow, white or black, Democrat or Republican.”

Earlier this month, the cash-strapped university had to pay off the balance of a $4.3 million settlement to a former administrator who filed a whistle blower lawsuit against the school nearly seven years ago.

Enrollment at Chicago State has dropped by more than half since 2010, with just 3,600 students currently attending. In the fall, only 86 new, full-time freshmen enrolled.

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March 25, 2017 at 10:58AM

Emil Jones endorses Paul Vallas to become CSU president

SRC students show support for MAP funding

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Students on the Canton campus of Spoon River College sign a poster Tuesday to show their support for support for MAP (Monetary Award Program) funding for students at SRC.

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March 25, 2017 at 03:39AM

SRC students show support for MAP funding

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.”

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March 24, 2017 at 08:39AM

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

Highland Community College tuition to go up $12 per credit hour

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FREEPORT — Highland Community College tuition is set to increase again in the fall — this time by twice the amount of this year’s increase.

Highland’s trustees voted, 7-1, on Tuesday to increase tuition $12, or about 9 percent, from $129 to $141 per credit hour. A student with a full 15-credit course load will pay $2,460 per semester, including the $16 per-credit-hour technology fee which was raised by $2 earlier this year and $9 per-credit-hour activity fee; that’s an overall increase of $210. The senior citizen rate will increase from $97 to $106 per credit hour.

For perspective, Highland’s tuition was $99 per credit hour in fall 2011 and has increased each year since.

Highland Board of Trustees Chairman Doug Block said the trustees understand raising tuition is not ideal, but they have to fight decreased state funding somehow.

“There’s a chunk to make up and we haven’t done it yet, to be honest,” Block said. “We’re struggling, just like everyone else.”

Student trustee Staci Hammer was the lone vote against raising tuition. The school needs money to survive, but that burden shouldn’t be placed on the students, she said.

“I had to vote no on the tuition increase because it’s not fair to students to have to make up the funds that the state should be providing, and could be providing, if it weren’t for the messy politics.”

Highland lost about $2.5 million in funding over the last two years due to the state’s budget impasse, said Jill Janssen, the college’s vice president of administrative services. During that same time period, Highland leaders reduced expenses by $500,000 but the college’s fund balances, or savings, have absorbed the rest of the deficit.

The $12 rate increase will generate about $480,000 in new revenue, but it is not enough to balance the college’s budget. The college’s savings will drop to about 8 percent of the college’s annual operating costs

“We would have needed more like $30 and we never seriously considered that, but it was sort of a way to gauge what would be needed,” she said. “That was beyond what would be affordable to our students.”

Despite the deficit, Highland leaders do not plan to cut any programs aside from the wind turbine technician program, which is in its final semester due to a lack of enrollment.

In the past 2 1/2 years, leaders have added six programs and plan to add course offerings, said Tim Hood, Highland’s president.

“Making cuts deeper than we already have would jeopardize the high quality of education you’ll find at Highland as a student,” Hood said.

To cut costs, Highland leaders reduced employee benefits and negotiated to reduce vendors’ rates. This fiscal year, they added two furlough days by requiring all staff to take two days off without pay during the college’s spring break.

Last year, six employees were cut, saving about $351,000. This year, only the wind turbine program leader is expected to be let go, Hood said.

“Most colleges and universities have closed many more programs than one,” Hood said. “It was painful and we lost a very good and dedicated faculty member as a result of that.”

Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of Highland students receive financial aid or take out loans, Hood said.

The tuition hike could mean more students take out loans, but Highland leaders plan to combat that with more scholarship money. Highland offers more than $350,000 in scholarships each year, but leaders want to increase that by 25 percent within the next five years, Hood said.

An endowment from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois will match each dollar donated to the college this year, up to $1 million. So far, more than $400,000 has been received, Hood said.

Scholarships are the only way some students can afford classes, Hammer said.

“When I talked to my fellow students I found that half of them relied almost completely on scholarships to pay for their tuition, while the other half struggled even with the help of financial aid,” Hammer said. 

Derrick Mason: 815-232-0133; derrick.mason@journalstandard.com; @derrickhmason

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March 23, 2017 at 01:01PM

Highland Community College tuition to go up $12 per credit hour