A call for former CPS Chief Paul Vallas to take over the president’s job at Chicago State University plays into a lingering stereotype about black institutions:
When things go wrong, a white person has to step in to fix it — as if black people can’t run anything successfully.
Of course that’s not true.
You only have to look at the remarkable success of John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments, and Melody Spann Cooper, chairman of Midwest Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WVON, to know that isn’t the case.
Yet the stereotype persists because too often black people are OK with letting white people come to their rescue when the going gets tough.
It’s no different with the mess that is going on at Chicago State.
On Tuesday, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) issued a statement endorsing Vallas for President of the predominantly black university.
“CSU has been plagued with financial mismanagement, administrative scandal, and poor academic performance for far too long. We need a president who can reverse those trends and make CSU the institution it once was. This is the only criteria that matters, not whether the new president is male or female, brown, yellow, white, or black, Democrat or Republican,” Beale said.
The alderman praised Vallas’ accomplishments as head of the Chicago Public Schools as proof that he could lead CSU even though he has no experience running a university.
“I have known Paul for almost 20 years. When he first came in as CEO of CPS, the majority of the contracts went to minorities,” Beale said.
“Under his leadership, he left with a $1 billion surplus, CPS’ bond rating was raised 12 times and the pension was 100 percent funded,” the alderman said.
But Vallas’ opponents have plenty of ammunition aimed in his direction.
A string of unflattering headlines from his tenure in Philadelphia where he was castigated when the school district’s deficit got out of control, and news stories about him being fired as head of Bridgeport, Conn. schools for “lack of proper certification” are being floated throughout the community.
Beale emphatically denies that his bold endorsement of the Gov. Bruce Rauner’s hand-picked choice to lead CSU is politically motivated or indicates his personal support for the embattled governor.
“Anybody who knows me knows better than that. Chicago State is in dire need. The people who are opposing Paul are the same people that have chosen the last three presidents and you see where that has gotten us,” Beale said.
“Right now, Chicago State needs someone with proven leadership. This is a person who has a history of turning this around and moving in the right direction.”
Kamm Howard, a community activist and the legislative commission chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations (N’COBRA) called the push to install Vallas as president of a predominantly black institution (he uses the term “PBI”) a “smack in the face.”
“This is the second year of the ‘International Decade for People of African Descent,’ where people are supposed to be recognizing the plight of people of African descent within their territories,” Howard pointed out.
“For a PBI to be put in the hands of someone non-African is not only going back to the colonial order, but a smack in the face” to what the International Decade is trying to achieve, Howard said.
The objection to Vallas isn’t just about race, Howard added.
“Every institution this guy has been to, black and Hispanic graduation rates fell. Children have not benefitted from his sledgehammer type of administration, and he has no university experience at all,” Howard said.
Despite the opposition, Beale said sometimes “you have to think outside the box.”
“We need a new captain of the ship that has that experience right now,” he told me.
Unfortunately, the effort to save CSU is likely to cause even more divisions in an already fractured community.
Because the choice of Vallas to head up this historically black institution isn’t outside the box at all.Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST