Former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones offered a full-throated endorsement Saturday in favor of former CPS CEO Paul Vallas to become the next president of the financially struggling Chicago State University.
“I have known and worked with Paul off and on for 35 years,” Jones said in a statement. “He is a terrific public servant who earned the community’s trust during the six years he led the state’s largest public institution, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), with more than 400,000 students who were mostly minority and many who were living in poverty.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Vallas to a board trustee position at the public South Side university, with Rauner saying he would nominate Vallas to be the board president. Vallas was former Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate when he and Rauner squared off in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
“Chicago State University is on life support,” Jones added. “I urge those with conflicting political agendas to carefully consider the bigger picture. The university needs a crisis manager. CSU’s future – perhaps its very existence as an independent university – hangs in the balance.”
Vallas, known for transforming urban schools districts, previously called CSU’s financial and structural problems a “microcosm” of what he endured as CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001. But he has said he’s confident the university can endure a turnaround.
“Our objective here is to not only preserve Chicago State but to help transform it into the dynamic university that the community needs,” Vallas said in January. “Universities are economic development engines, and there’s absolutely no reason why Chicago State cannot be one.”
In 2007, CSU opened a $47 million, 140,000-square-foot, multi-purpose convocation center that was named after Jones and his late wife, Patricia.
The endorsement from Jones comes days after Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) offered his own statement of support to install Vallas as university president.
“CSU has been plagued with financial mismanagement, administrative scandal and poor academic performance for far too long,” Beale said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Earlier this month, the cash-strapped university had to pay off the balance of a $4.3 million settlement to a former administrator who filed a whistle blower lawsuit against the school nearly seven years ago.
Enrollment at Chicago State has dropped by more than half since 2010, with just 3,600 students currently attending. In the fall, only 86 new, full-time freshmen enrolled.