South Side leaders call for return of Kennedy-King president Gregory Thomas

He was ousted this week. Ald. Roderick Sawyer said, “We are concerned for a president who has done such spectacular work for our community college ... to be so unceremoniously fired.”

SHARE South Side leaders call for return of Kennedy-King president Gregory Thomas
Rev. Jesse Jackson on Friday, July 15, 2022 called for the reinstatement of Gregory Thomas as president of Kennedy-King College.

Rev. Jesse Jackson on Friday called for the reinstatement of Gregory Thomas as president of Kennedy-King College. Thomas was removed from the post this week.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The president of Kennedy-King College was removed this week, sparking outrage from South Side leaders Friday.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and other South Side leaders called for Gregory Thomas to be reinstated as president of the Englewood school, which is part of the City Colleges of Chicago.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), who found out Thomas’ fate Wednesday afternoon, noted the college had been rated No. 8 in the country among community colleges by Forbes magazine. It also received an unsolicited $5 million donation last year from MacKenzie Scott, the philanthropist ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Thomas has been president of the college since 2018.

“We are concerned for a president who has done such spectacular work for our community college, for someone to be so unceremoniously fired in such a way,” Sawyer said.

It wasn’t clear what, or who, was behind Thomas’ removal. Thomas’ position was not on the agenda for the most recent meeting of the City Colleges board.

A spokeswoman for City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado confirmed Thomas was “no longer with Kennedy-King College” and that Wednesday was his last day of employment but wouldn’t further comment, saying it is a personnel matter.

Katonja Webb Walker, who had been an administrator at Malcolm X College, will serve as interim president at Kennedy-King.

“We are committed to working with the community to ensure the college reaches its full potential and that students are able to take full advantage of its resources,” spokeswoman Veronica Resa said in a written statement. “We will be engaging faculty, staff, students and the community in a search for a permanent president.”

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said that, in meetings this week, City Colleges officials did not provide a good explanation for the decision to fire Thomas.

“They gave us no good reasons why they were removing Dr. Thomas. All they could say was ‘enrollment is down,’ ” Taylor said. “We’re coming out of a global pandemic. Enrollment is down all across the city colleges. Why was Dr. Thomas targeted?”

The move to fire Thomas, who is African American, was a blow to the largely Black community around the Englewood campus and comes years after the city college system removed programs from Kennedy-King that would have provided training in medical technology that could lead to good-paying jobs, Jackson said.

“If there’s to be an investigation, I don’t know know what the investigation would be. There is no charge” against Thomas, Jackson said.

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