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Vallas named a top administrator, not president, at Chicago State

Paul Vallas. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago State University named Paul Vallas its temporary chief administrative officer — not interim president — on Friday, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner for weeks pushing the former Chicago Public Schools CEO as the leading candidate for a crisis-management role at the South Side college.

The board selected Rachel Lindsey, the school’s former dean of the arts and sciences, as interim president.

The board’s decision followed weeks of controversy in which Rauner drew the ire of several black city leaders for promoting Vallas for a leadership position at the university. Others took exception to Vallas’ lack of college administrative experience and Rauner’s perceived interference with the selection process.

But former Illinois state Senate President Emil Jones, a Democrat, and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) seemed to take Rauner’s side, saying Vallas was the ideal candidate for Chicago State president.

Board member Nicholas Gowen said the board acted “independently.”

“We were put in a difficult position, but . . . this board acted independently of the governor,” Gowen said. “We took everyone’s interests into heart.”

Gowen added the board will start a national search for a permanent president as soon as possible.

Said Vallas: “This wasn’t preordained. If it wasn’t preordained, it [board meeting] wouldn’t have lasted four hours. There was a serious discussion.”

In an emailed statement, Rauner’s education secretary, Beth Purvis, didn’t address the board not picking Vallas for president.

“While we are very concerned that it took so long for the board to make these changes, we are hopeful that there is sufficient time to do what is necessary to ensure a strong future for the school,” she said.

Vallas expressed no disappointment at not getting the top job and said he was looking forward to working with Lindsey, who couldn’t be reached for comment.

“She can provide the leadership that the university needs,” Vallas said. “She is the right person for the job, highly respected, has the support of faculty, has all the credentials and knows the university from the top down.

“We gotta hit the ground running, get the finances in order [and ] bring a strong system of accountability,” Vallas said.

Except for board member Nikki Zollar, who cast the lone “no” vote, the entire board approved Lindsey to head the university. Zollar abstained from approving Vallas as CAO. She did not explain either of those actions.

Lindsey’s and Vallas’ salaries, as well as former interim president Cecil Lucy’s new salary as interim finance and administration chief, are all in negotiation, Gowen said.

Kelly Harris, associate professor and coordinator of African-American studies at the school, was optimistic of both “long overdue” appointments.

“Hopefully, we’re moving forward in the right direction and we’re going to support them and try to turn this thing around,” Harris said. “Someone had to be put in the position to make those changes. I don’t think Lucy was willing to make those changes. We had to put people in place that were going to make those changes happen, whether that be Vallas or anybody else.”

Vallas was named to the Chicago State board in January, which drew attention because he was Democrat Pat Quinn’s lieutenant governor pick in the 2014 governor’s race that Rauner won. Vallas resigned his part-time board seat this week, making him eligible for a full-time job at CSU.

Before the board went into closed session for about four hours to discuss leadership changes, members of the public spoke both for and against Vallas.

Michael Johnson — a 2002 CSU alumnus and president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club in Madison, Wis. — said he drove three hours to attend the meeting and publicly express his support for Vallas.

“Paul Vallas is somebody that I respect,” Johnson said. “It was Paul Vallas who encouraged me when I was working in Englewood High School to come to CSU and to get a degree. He is one of the most respected urban school reform leaders in this country. Find a role that he can play. He deserves to be at the table to take the university to the next level.”

Others who spoke expressed opposition to Vallas — or noted that former CSU President Thomas Calhoun should have been given more of a chance to reform the school. Calhoun left Chicago State in September after just nine months on the job and got $600,000 in severance from the university.

“Paul Vallas wrecked Chicago Public Schools,” said Frank Horton, a 1964 CSU alumnus and president of the Chicago State University Educators Scholarship Fund. “I hope you don’t let this Bruce Rauner and his people control you.”

After the meeting, Ald. Beale — who publicly pushed Vallas for the president’s job — said he was pleased with the roles both Lindsey and Vallas were given by the board. “I’m confident this partnership is exactly what is needed to begin the process of rebuilding Chicago State University,” he said.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito