By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Paul Vallas, the chief administrative officer at Chicago State University (CSU), who was appointed to the position after a campaign that angered Black leaders, is out after he was accused of using the predominately Black school to boost his run for mayor in the 2019 elections.
Vallas started his term in April 2017 after three new Governor Bruce Rauner-backed trustees propelled him forward as chief administrative officer, a newly-created position whose goal was to turn the school’s enrollment and academic problems around. Black political leaders criticized Rauner, saying Vallas had no experience at a university and wasn’t qualified for the role. Tensions escalated as Vallas campaigned openly for the job on radio and television talk shows.
But in a unanimous vote, the Board of Trustees on Monday, January 29, terminated Vallas’ contract, ending a tumultuous term that reportedly never achieved the turnaround goals that he set out to accomplish at CSU.
While Vallas’ supporters said the school’s status quo stifled his ideas and initiatives to improve the school, critics said Vallas’ political ambitions cast doubts about his motives in accepting the high paying job in the first place. It’s the same criticism that dogged Vallas, who resigned as Chicago Public Schools CEO to run against Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2002. Now, with Vallas gone and CSU still struggling, questions remain about the school’s future and who will lead the school when interim president Rachel Lindsey’s $240,000 contract expires in April.
Despite the school’s financial woes, Vallas’ salary was also $200,000 as CSU’s chief administrative officer. His 15-month contract is set to expire in July, but in news reports, Vallas said he planned to resign March 31 to run for mayor. With a reputation as a turnaround champion, Vallas aimed to use the time to wage a campaign to unseat Emanuel, as he struggles to restore his credibility in the Black community following the Laquan McDonald scandal, and the problems facing Chicago.
After learning of his political ambitions, CSU trustees decided that Vallas had to go sooner that he had wanted. The same trustees who propelled Vallas to the position, in the end turned against him, a move that vindicated the school’s status quo, including Cecil Lucy, an experienced college executive who was removed as interim president before Vallas and Lindsey took the helm.
Nicholas Gowen, the board’s vice president, said Vallas never informed him about his plans to leave the post early, or to run for mayor, according to the Chicago Tribune. Gowen told the newspaper that had he known about Vallas’ political ambitions, his vote in hiring Vallas at CSU would have been different.
“I find it unfortunate that he would attempt to use Chicago State University as a platform to run for mayor of the city of Chicago,” he told the Tribune. “It’s not the role of Mr. Vallas to try to use the Chicago State University to try to bolster his bona fides to the Black community.”
Vallas said Simone Edwards, CSU’s vice president of finance, will succeed him, but Marshall Hatch, chairman of the CSU Board of Trustees, said Vallas’ position and office will be eliminated.
Hatch, who kept a low profile while Vallas campaigned for the position said in the Tribune that Vallas and his office were not as effective as the school had hoped.
With Vallas gone, questions remain about the future of CSU. The school’s enrollment has dropped for 15 consecutive semesters. Nearly 3,200 students were enrolled last Fall – about half the amount enrolled in 2010.