By Chinta Strausberg and Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Hoping to end the revolving door of school administrators, the board of directors of Chicago State University approved Dr. Rachel Lindsey as interim president of the school, and Paul Vallas as the interim chief administrative officer.
While Vallas plans to build a systemwide network aimed at increasing student enrollment, the wait begins for critics who opposed efforts to get him the top job at the predominantly Black school.
The board selected Lindsey as interim president with all in favor, except board member Nikki Zollar, and a similar vote for Paul Vallas with Zollar abstaining. Zollar did not return the Chicago Crusader’s calls requesting comment by press time.
Contracts for Lindsey and Vallas have yet to be finalized. Vallas will report to Lindsey, a longtime, retired CSU educator who was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences— one of the largest colleges at CSU.
The push to hire Vallas received a boost after the board of trustees voted to create the chief administrative officer’s position at its March 27 board meeting. In an interview with the Crusader, Vallas said he wanted the titled position after CSU leaders balked at Gov. Bruce Rauner’s push for making him president in spite of his lack of university experience and advanced college degrees.
While Vallas failed to get the president’s position, his appointment to an executive position has still angered alumni and Black leaders, sources told the Crusader. Some say Vallas blatantly violated the behavior of a university trustee by openly lobbying for a position for which he was not qualified, but was offered a contract anyway. Going forward, there is a concern that Vallas will continue to act as if he is president despite being chief administrative officer.
CSU alumni, faculty and critics are waiting for Vallas’ next move as he aims to turn around the cash-strapped school. Hundreds of CSU employees were laid off last year as the university scrambled to cut costs in the wake of the state’s budget impasse.
In support of Lindsey, Vallas said he would be responsible for CSU’s finance and operations. His duties include budget management and financial accountability, university operations and strategic planning.
His plan is to improve and expand the university’s programs in order to dramatically expand the university’s full-time and part-time student population and to provide the education, occupational training and support services that the community needs.
Vallas aims to transform CSU into an economic engine “that will help drive economic development on the South Side. This will be accomplished by not only improving and expanding education and occupational training programs that are linked to jobs, but by also transforming the university into an economic hub.”
When questioned as to how he would accomplish these goals, Vallas responded, “This will be done by entering into strategic partnerships with other universities, education program providers and businesses; by creating a business incubator, an industrial park, a business service center, a community medical center, and other partnerships—all aimed at increasing student enrollment.”
He also plans on expanding university campus activities through increased overall enrollment, expanded residential enrollment, expansion of campus activities, and events. “The university can become a center for city, state and national activities,” Vallas stated.
When asked about letting out contracts, Vallas said the university contract services would give “primacy” to M/WBE businesses (minority and women-owned businesses).
Despite his critics, Vallas said he is proud of his public service track record, especially with the Chicago Public School (CPS) system. He said he has done what no other school official has done, and that is spending $1.7 billion or 55 percent of all spending going to M/WBEs: 58 percent of the work as measured in hours going to minorities and 51 percent going to city residents. “No one’s ever done that,” Vallas told the Crusader.
With a student population of 3,200, Vallas said he plans on creating and strengthening partnerships with feeder high schools, community colleges and veterans’ organizations, like the NABVETS, to provide a “growing pipeline of students.”
And to capture more working students, Vallas said the university will develop the capacity to offer online programs and courses. He also has plans for even more strategic partnerships with other colleges and universities so that he can offer their programs or share programs that CSU does not offer.
“There is no reason the university cannot be an economic catalyst that drives economic development on the South Side of Chicago and the south suburbs,” said Vallas.