Gov. Bruce Rauner’s controversial pick to lead the beleaguered Chicago State University was sidelined on Friday by the university’s board of trustees, who instead appointed Rachel Lindsey as interim president. Paul Vallas will instead serve as chief administrative officer.
The board announced their appointment of Lindsey, a former dean of arts and science at the university, after spending more than four hours in a closed-door meeting.
Rauner named Vallas to the board in January to help reverse the university’s financial and academic freefall. But Vallas’ appointment was delayed last month after some community and faculty members complained that Rauner shouldn’t be so involved and that Vallas, who is white, shouldn’t be leading an institution that has historically served African-Americans.
During Friday’s board of trustees meeting, outgoing Interim President Cecil Lucy called for people to come together to support the university, which suffers from low enrollment and financial shortfalls.
Last year, the university’s graduation rate was an abysmal 11 percent. Because the university serves mostly poor students who get financial aid, it has been hit hard during the state’s nearly two year budget impasse, which has tied up money for student financial aid.
Darren Martin, president of the student body, said during the board meeting that students were split on who should be appointed as interim president. But he implored the board of trustees to send a signal to students that graduation will still take place in a few weeks despite the leadership change.
Several faculty members spoke imploring the board to “do what is right for students” without expressing whether they thought Vallas was a good pick.
The strongest criticism came from alumni Frank Horton, who called the choice of Vallas “disgusting.” Horton joined others who said that Vallas should not be in a leadership position at a university that is has a majority black student body.
Other speakers at the meeting wanted Thomas Calhoun, the interim president who abruptly left in September, to be reinstated.
Also on Friday, trustees accepted Vallas’ resignation from the board, hours before they decided who would be appointed to leadership roles.
Vallas served as chief of Chicago Public Schools in the late 1990s through 2001. Vallas is known for having a brash brand of leading that is impressive to some, but offensive to others.
Vallas rose to prominence in 2001 when Mayor Richard M. Daley promoted him from city budget director to head of Chicago Public Schools. He used that position to leverage superintendent roles in New Orleans; Philadelphia; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Haiti.
During his time in Philadelphia and New Orleans, he crossed paths with Gary Solomon, the head of the principal training company at the heart of the bribery scandal that brought down CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that Vallas hired one of Solomon’s companies to do some work in New Orleans.