By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
After being on the verge of closing last school year, officials at Chicago State University say though not out of the woods yet, there is reason to be optimistic. Last week the Chicago Crusader spoke exclusively with Board of Trustees member Reverend Marshall Hatch. He said it is important for the Black community to understand the University is still a valuable resource in the community, and he put to rest rumors about a land takeover by the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Hatch also spoke on the need for the University to revive its student newspaper, and other issues challenging the school.
Last week, members from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) visited the South Side campus as part of the accreditation process. Hatch said it was “a routine follow-up visit” to see if the University had satisfactorily addressed some concerns for which Chicago State had been sanctioned, some, financial concerns.
The HLC grants authorization to operate and authorization to grant degrees on the condition that the institution maintain the standards and conditions presented in its application, and which served as the basis for granting the authorization. Accreditation from the HLC is paramount for CSU.
Periodically HLC staff reviews materials provided by each institution, including the institution’s most recent catalog, annual reports on enrollments and degrees granted, reports on faculty salaries, student financial aid and default rates.
In some cases, if the staff determines that more information is needed, the institution may be asked to respond to program review questions. If the responses do not establish that the institution is in compliance with the conditions of approval, the institution may be allowed to provide a plan by which it will achieve compliance, or revocation proceedings may be initiated.
Hatch said HLC investigators were at CSU last week for two or three days.
“I’m confident CSU is in compliance,” Hatch said. “Our financial problems stemmed from the state budget crisis. I think we are in a lot better position than many other state universities because we made some tough choices over the past couple of years to keep ourselves financially afloat. Our original sanctions were taken care of by our contingency plans and it really helped us right our financial ship.”
CSU has had massive layoffs, with employees from administrators, to professors and maintenance workers, all victims. In addition many programs were eliminated. Hatch said at this point the cuts are probably done and CSU is seeking to rebuild. He said one positive sign came this school year as CSU freshman enrollment doubled from the previous year. CSU reports in the fall semester they have 432 new undergraduate students, a 51% increase from the previous year.
“To those who may be unfamiliar with the impact of the recent two-year-long state budget impasse and the fallout for small and mid-size public institutions of higher learning, this number may seem inconsequential. But in light of our overall student enrollment and the reputation damage that Chicago State and other universities endured, a 51% increase is indisputably a sign of progress,” said Chicago State University Interim President Dr. Rachel Lindsey. “It suggests that our program offerings and education history still resonate and that not only are people interested in acquiring a post-secondary education but more importantly, that Chicago State is still a necessary university and a viable choice.”
CSU officials say they did a recruitment blitz and made sure prospective students knew the school was still open for business. CSU has always been a transfer school and should not be looked at in the same light of determining its viability say its alumni and supporters. Many CSU students transfer from other colleges for financial, personal or academic reasons. For other students, it provides a second chance at obtaining a college degree or the first chance for many people who may be entering their first year of college while in their mid-20s or 30s.
“We are incorporating strategies aimed at recruiting long-term students who take their education seriously and who would look forward to graduation and to making CSU their alma mater,” said Dr. Michael Ellison, Vice President of Enrollment Services. “We are adding to that concept an array of tools, opportunities, and incentives that we believe will be attractive to new students.”
One of the biggest decisions perhaps, in the history of the University, will be the selection of the next president. Hatch said there is currently a national search taking place; they hope to have a list of three finalists in the coming months with a new president selected and in place for the fall 2018 semester.
The HLC is also concerned with CSU’s governance and was also looking into that area as part of the accreditation process.
The University has had a lot of turnover in the President’s office in the past 15 years. Hatch said interim President Lindsey is doing a great job of providing stability until the new president is selected. He also said the University is seeking to fill a vacant CFO position.
The University has made a decision to remain in Division I athletics. The athletic department, which like other areas of the University has come under attack for under achieving and paying salaries to coaches who have not performed. Hatch said the University did consider dropping athletics altogether at one point or going to a lower division, but school leaders do not believe that would benefit CSU long term.
“We’re poised to build back our athletics, so there is no truth we are going to gut our athletic department,” Hatch said. “There was that chance two years ago when we were in the midst of our financial crisis but there is absolutely no chance we are going to scale back in that area now. We have a very diverse student athlete population and it is a great recruiting tool for the school. We also believe if given the proper support, the teams can win.”
The women’s volleyball team currently has a record of 7-4 under third year coach Brandon Reeves. They are off to the team’s best start in school history and could eclipse the 12-win mark on the season, which is a school record since being a Division I program. They have already achieved the longest winning streak (six) this season and will be hosting their first in-season tournament this weekend since 2014. Last weekend the women’s tennis team hosted a tournament and finished with a record of 11-2 that included two singles titles.
But one topic with which the Crusader directly confronted Trustee Hatch, that he did not have an answer to, was the concern that the University not having a campus newspaper.
The Crusader asked Hatch why CSU jettisoned its former newspaper TEMPO and how the University could be taken seriously by any prospective student when it does not have a school newspaper.
“It’s a very good question and I really don’t know the answer, but I’m going to raise that question at the next board meeting because those are the things that help build student morale and student leadership,” Hatch said. “It does say a lot about the morale of our student body and it doesn’t allow our student body to dialogue in the issues on the campus or even be informed about what is going on. It’s a doggone good question.”
Many believe TEMPO was scrapped on purpose because CSU administrators did not like the tone of the stories being published. The administration was accused of trying to control the newspaper through its Office of Public Affairs. A former editor and faculty advisor successfully sued the University in March of 2012 for $210,000 in damages after the faculty advisor and student editor were fired for publishing an article that a former public affairs director deemed negative.