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Presidential Tenures on the Line

February 24, 2011

The Board of Trustees of the City Colleges of Chicago voted Wednesday to change the job description of college president at its seven institutions and encourage new candidates to apply, while telling the incumbents they have to apply if they want to keep their positions.

This is yet another step in Chancellor Cheryl L. Hyman’s ongoing effort to “hold all faculty and management accountable for the success” of the system’s "Reinvention" plan. The new job descriptions for the college presidents include “specific performance measures and goals that these individuals must achieve.” The four goals are:

  • “Increasing the number of students who earn college credentials of value.”
  • “Increasing the rate of transfer to bachelor’s degree programs following CCC graduation.”
  • “Significantly improving outcomes for students requiring remediation.”
  • “Increasing the number and share of ABE/GED/ESL students who advance to and succeed in college-level courses.”

“We have made student success the focus of our reinvention efforts, and going forward, we must measure the performance of our leadership and staff against that goal,” said Chairman Martin Cabrera Jr. in a statement released by the system. “By re-defining the role of our college presidents, we are making it clear that our institution, including the Board and senior leadership, has clearly defined goals that increase accountability and ensure CCC is providing value to our students.”

Currently, about 16 percent of City Colleges' students transfer to four-year institutions, and only 4 to 5 percent earn a bachelor’s degree. The system loses more than half of its degree-seeking students before they complete their first 15 credit hours. Improving these measures is among the overall goals of the Reinvention plan.

Wednesday, the Board of Trustees also approved the hiring of two professional firms to conduct a national search for candidates. Ron Schofield, system spokesman, identified the Hollins Group, Inc. and the LaSalle Network as the search firms. The board, according to a system-released statement, “anticipates naming its president selections as early as May.”

Only one of the system’s seven presidents is exempt from having to reapply for his job: Donald J. Laackman, president of Harold Washington College. Hyman told Inside Higher Ed in an interview that Laackman, who was only named president of Harold Washington last Monday, would not have to reapply for his job because he was hired within the framework of the new job description.

The presidents of the system's other six colleges — Richard J. Daley, Kennedy King, Malcolm X, Olive Harvey, Truman and Wright Colleges — did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday evening following the announcement.

Hyman, however, said she had called all of the presidents personally to inform them of the change in their job status before the announcement. She is adamant that no president has been fired because of the board decision, and that all will continue to serve in the near term.

“Nobody has been fired,” said Hyman, noting that presidents are at-will employees of the board. “They’re still coming in here every day. We have told the presidents of these colleges that they can reapply.”

Hyman said she was not sure what kinds of applicants would apply for the presidencies or whether the candidates would have academic backgrounds, adding that “we just want to ensure that we have the absolute best leadership in place.”

Hyman herself has a nontraditional background for a college executive. She was formerly vice president of operations strategy and business intelligence at ComEd, the largest electric utility in Illinois. Laackman, the new president of Harold Washington, did not come from academe either. He was previously a principal at Civic Consulting Alliance, managing its workforce and education program areas. He also served as managing director at Accenture, a leading "consulting, technology, and outsourcing" firm.

Not everyone is pleased with the trustees' vote — and the faculty union fears that more people without traditional academic backgrounds may end up as presidents.

Perry J. Buckley, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600, the American Federation of Teachers union that represents City Colleges of Chicago faculty members, said “you would be hard-pressed to find faculty in our union who think that this is a good idea.” He said faculty members are generally concerned about the move to bring more CEO-type leaders into higher education, given that such individuals may not value faculty input as much as those with longstanding careers in academe.

“There seems to be a push to run education on a business model,” Buckley said. “And the common theme of everything that’s happened in the past year or so is that more of the decisions that are academic and directly affect classroom teaching and students are really slowly being taken away from faculty and given to administration.… If you’re going to change the structure of the college president, and make them more of a CEO and involved less with academics and more in the managing of the school, then who is going to be the chief person for all things academic?”

Buckley did offer one potential compromise.

“I would not be opposed to them going out and making presidents be CEOs of colleges, if they gave back to us [the faculty] the academics and the departments,” he said. “That’d be fine with me.”

 

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