Friction Brewing At City Colleges of Chicago Over Needs of Spanish Speakers | WBEZ
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Friction Brewing At City Colleges of Chicago Over Needs of Spanish Speakers

A new private community college opening in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is causing tension between leadership and faculty at Chicago’s public community college system over how best to serve Chicago’s growing Spanish-speaking student population.

On Friday, that friction boiled over as about 20 faculty members and supporters protested at the City Colleges monthly board meeting.

The conflict began in June when the non-profit Instituto del Progreso Latino announced it was opening a two-year college for nursing students, specifically Spanish-speaking students who they feel are underserved at other institutions in the city.

At the time City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado, who used to run Instituto, said in a statement to WBEZ that he welcomed the new school.

“The healthcare market has incredible need, and when more entities come to the table to solve for industry demand, communities thrive,” Salgado said. “At City Colleges, we embrace the important role community organizations play in connecting talent to economic opportunity and welcome the chance this creates to prepare more community members for careers in a high-demand field.”

But some City Colleges faculty are upset Salgado didn’t push back against the idea promoted by Instituto and the financial backers of the new college that City Colleges can’t support Latino students.

“We are refuting that,” said Cook County College Teachers Union President Tony Johnston. “We have programs that reach out to these students. Now, could we make them more robust? Do we need more investment in our programs? Certainly. And that’s our main message here.”

Faculty Council President Jennifer Alexander also criticized Salgado for not defending the school’s work with its Latino students, calling his silence a slap in the face.

“We have never discussed even the notion that there’s a particular group of students that we are not serving or not serving well,” Alexander told the board. “Where does this opinion come from? Where’s the data?”

Board members did not respond to the faculty’s complaints, and Chancellor Salgado was not at the meeting. Board Vice Chair Beth Swanson said Salgado was “enjoying some well deserved time with family,” eliciting boos from the crowd of union members.

The City Colleges board did not directly respond to the faculty’s concerns.

In a statement on Friday, spokesperson Katheryn Hayes said, “We embrace healthy competition, and look for ways it can inspire us to take our service to our students all 80,000 of them to the next level. Latino students are our largest demographic and choose City Colleges because of the value we provide to them, their families, and their communities. Since his arrival, Chancellor Salgado has worked to promote the quality and value of a City Colleges education in Chicago communities, including with the Latino community.”

Salgado, who was appointed chancellor a little over a year ago, has largely enjoyed the backing of faculty and administration. But Johnston said Salgado’s public approval of Instituto’s private college changes that relationship a bit.

“It makes our faculty and staff question if he really has our students and programs in mind as his first priority,” Johnston said.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

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