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

LETTER: Black Hawk College at crossroads

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Editor, Register-Mail: As another election approaches on April 4, one of the most crucial races for our area is the Black Hawk College Board of Trustees race. There are two seats open and three candidates.

For nearly two years, BHC administration has been cutting staff, faculty, programs and courses. It stands to reason that the lack of state funding means the board of trustees has to make some tough decisions. But, the trend so far has been short-sighted and has halted any chance of enrollment increases.

We need board members who will listen to ideas and concerns from students, staff and all local residents. We need board members with the tenacity to turn things around. We need board members with a vision of growth for the entire college.

I know Steve Spivey and Jon Looney are the two best candidates for the BHC Board. Both have positive ties and experiences with the college and feel the entire district needs to be moving in a different direction.

Steve Spivey served as chair of the board at Black Hawk and provided exemplary leadership when the college was strong, stable and growing. He operates Spivey Angus Farms near New Windsor and is chair of the Black Hawk College East Campus Foundation.

For several years, Jon Looney was the director of Information Technology for Black Hawk College, so he understands the college and its campuses from the ground up. Jon has a real passion for student success and believes in fostering student learning from the first day on campus until graduation.

Black Hawk College is at a crossroads: the college can continue declining, or it can rebound to increased enrollment and greater opportunities for all our residents. By electing Steve Spivey and Jon Looney, voters will be adding experienced, energetic, and knowledgeable leadership onto the college board.

Be sure to vote for Steve Spivey and Jon Looney on April 4. — Eldon R. Aupperle, professor emeritus, Black Hawk College, Toulon

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March 27, 2017 at 05:20PM

LETTER: Black Hawk College at crossroads

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

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

@rhodes_dawn

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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.

drhodes@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

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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

Bill would create Campus Free Speech Act

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BLOOMINGTON — Legislation co-sponsored by state Rep. Dan Brady would create a Campus Free Speech Act requiring public colleges and universities in Illinois to adopt policies on free expression to protect the free speech rights of invited speakers.

The measure, House Bill 2939, was introduced last month by state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, and is based on — but not identical to — a model bill developed by a conservative research organization, the Goldwater Institute. About a half dozen other states are considering similar bills.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday before the House Higher Education Committee.

Brady, a Bloomington Republican, said he became chief co-sponsor because he agrees with the intent of “protecting our free speech and ability to express that message.”

“I think for all of our universities to be responsible for having on their books a protocol and policy for freedom of speech is a good thing,” Brady said.

The model legislation was developed in the wake of several incidents on campuses across the country in which protesters disrupted talks by controversial speakers or invitations to such speakers were withdrawn. 

The legislation also was inspired by situations in which colleges limited the ability of students to protest or distribute literature.

One such incident occurred in 2015 at the College of DuPage, where students handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution were confronted by a security officer because they had not obtained a permit from officials.

Breen said, “This is something that continues to come up nationally and within my own district,” which includes the College of DuPage.

Although Breen based his initial bill on the Goldwater Institute’s model, he is filing an amendment to revise parts of it after consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Among other things, the changes would remove references to sanctions for infringing on the rights of others to listen or engage in free expression. The original bill stated that a student infringing on such rights would be suspended for a minimum of one year for a second offense and included financial damages of at least $1,000.

Illinois State University spokesman Eric Jome said ISU has policies and practices that cover most of what’s in the bill.

Although Schroeder Plaza on the north side of the quad tends to be the site of many demonstrations because of its openness and visible location, ISU doesn’t have specific “speech zones,” said Jome.

The student conduct code states that “students are free to assemble and to express their free speech in a peaceful and orderly manner” but that disrupting or obstructing activities or inciting others to do so is a violation of the code.

Jome noted that ISU President Larry Dietz has talked about being “respectful of other people’s opinion and people’s right to express themselves.”

But Jonathan Butcher, education director of the Goldwater Institute, said that hasn’t been the case everywhere.

Butcher, who helped develop the model legislation, said there have been a number of incidents where protesters have “tried to silence others. This is the crux of it.”

He cited a case earlier this month at Middlebury College in Vermont where chanting demonstrators prevented a controversial speaker from delivering a talk.

“You can yell when it’s your turn,” Butcher said, but civil society depends on the ability of people to express themselves.

Butcher said the Goldwater Institute is a Phoenix-based research institution, founded in 1988, that works to protect individual liberties and constitutional rights. Butcher categorized it as “conservative.”

Butcher said universities should be places where you “can have debate about uncomfortable things” and it is wrong “when you forcibly stop someone else from speaking.”

He said, “We need to educate students on what it means to protect the First Amendment.”

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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March 25, 2017 at 02:02AM

Bill would create Campus Free Speech Act