BIRTHDAY BLUES AT CHICAGO STATE UNIVERSITY

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What is now known as Chicago State University started as a teacher training institution in 1867 in Blue Island, Illinois. It found its first permanent home in 1870 under the name Cook County Normal School. The school was acquired by the Chicago Board of Education in 1897, and renamed Chicago Normal School. In 1913, it became Chicago Normal College, and still later Illinois Teachers College: Chicago South. In 1965 control of the school passed into the hands of the State of Illinois. The revamped institution was renamed Illinois Teachers College: Chicago South. In 1967, the school became Chicago State College and it was renamed Chicago State University (CSU) in 1971. Today, CSU is governed by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor of Illinois. Currently, CSU services a very diverse population, mostly minorities, but is struggling with a number of challenges. There have been issues connected with corruption and funding. In fact, it was announced in 2016 that the school was slated to close. So far, however, that has not yet happened.

Unfortunately, in addition to fiscal and other daunting issues, new strife is visiting the institution. The Board of Governors and other African American members of the community are in opposition to Illinois Governor Rauner’s plans to name Paul Vallas as CEO of CSU. Admittedly, the school is still struggling, and this is a problem that needs a permanent solution. However, what would significantly change if Paul Vallas becomes CEO? Would he, alone, solve CSU’s problems? More importantly, what would happen to Cecil Lucy, who has served effectively considering the many challenges that he has faced? Would Vallas be able to magically turn things around and instantaneously ensure the economic viability of this long-standing institution? Would he suddenly find resources that are at present unavailable to Lucy? And would CSU operate with a CEO and a President?

What seems to be happening at Chicago State University is what has happened in the Black community in many institutions time and time again. For whatever reason(s), the community falls short when it comes to supporting its institutions. There is often a disconnection between those institutions and financial and social support needed to sustain them.

Finding answers to CSU’s problems should be uppermost in our minds. CSU has seen many accomplishments, in spite of its problems, and because of this, it deserves to remain viable. Governor Rauner’s plan regarding Vallas, however, is most likely a political one more than one connected with the quality of education that will be offered at CSU. Yes, the school is in crisis, with a four-year graduation rate of 2%, which is unacceptable, but it is also unacceptable that a school poised to celebrate its 150th birthday in 2017 should be at this crossroads. CSU needs all hands on deck if it is to be pulled out of the morass in which it is currently sinking.

There is no doubt that Cecil Lucy knows more about the community that CSU serves than Paul Vallas. And history has shown that Governor Rauner’s decisions regarding institutions that benefit the Black community have often been deleterious. Because of this, we should be cautious about Rauner’s decisions regarding CSU.

Whatever the case, the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University and stakeholders should fight for what they believe would be the solution to the problems facing that venerable institution–they should demonstrate Kujichagulia, self-determination. The advice offered by Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, who has endorsed Lucy, is excellent. He said, “The interim president of the university is doing an exceptional job keeping the doors open, but it is up to us to give him the tools and funding to maintain the rich tradition of this university.” We agree. If Rauner can help connect the fiscal dots between the CSU and provide other pertinent advisement, new leadership would not be needed. If Vallas wants to be in the picture, he should focus on assisting, rather than supplanting, the current leadership. That would be the most expedient strategy. A luta continua.

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