Paul Vallas listens as the board of trustees of Chicago State University makesrecommendations during special meeting on Monday, March 27, 2017. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
Former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas has resigned from the Chicago State University board of trustees to apply for a top leadership position in the university’s administration, the Tribune has learned.
Vallas’ resignation comes ahead of an emergency board meeting Friday where university trustees are expected to fill two top administrative posts with the hope that sweeping change will help turn around the troubled school. The board has said it plans to name a new interim president and interim chief administrative officer, a newly created position.
Vallas, one of four trustees appointed to the board in January by Gov. Bruce Rauner, submitted his resignation April 3, according to the letter obtained by the Tribune. He resigned with the intention of pursuing the administrative officer position, according to a source not authorized to speak on the record. Vallas could not be considered for that job while still on the board.
The Far South Side public university has been plagued by financial, academic and leadership issues for years. Enrollment at the school has fallen by half since 2010, and the graduation rate has dropped to 11 percent. Hundreds of employees were laid off last year amid a financial crisis brought on in part by the state budget impasse.
The board last met in special session March 27 to discuss leadership changes, and it was expected that Vallas would take on a top administrative role at that time. But trustee Nicholas Gowen, also a Rauner appointee, said hiring Vallas directly from the board could create a conflict of interest.
Trustees instead announced they would meet again Friday to decide who would fill the positions, and Vallas resigned from the board in the interim.
Gowen said the board is considering several people for the two positions, and that Vallas had made a presentation during a closed session of the board’s meeting last week to promote his qualifications, then recused himself from the group’s discussions.
Reached by the Tribune on Thursday, Vallas declined to comment. Board Chair Marshall Hatch could not be reached for comment.
Chicago State professor Robert Bionaz, the faculty union president, said Vallas has "skills that we could use," but said he didn’t know whether he would be a good fit for the chief administrative officer job as he hasn’t seen anything officially describing the position.
"He’s got obviously some fundraising abilities. He’s certainly done some management, some turnaround work," Bionaz said. "But like I said, without knowing exactly what the job description is, I don’t know what the relationship would be with someone they might make the president, the board, or any of that."
Once the appointments are made, the current interim president, Cecil B. Lucy, is expected to return to his previous post as interim finance and administration chief. He has been interim president since September, when Thomas Calhoun Jr. resigned after just nine months on the job, taking a $600,000 severance with him.
The plan to put Vallas in charge began unfolding last month. Rauner in January appointed him, Gowen, attorney Tiffany Harper and business owner Kam Buckner to the board to promote change. He also created an eight-member advisory panel, putting the group on notice that he expected aggressive moves to resolve myriad problems at the university.
Rauner made clear that he wanted Vallas to lead the board, but trustees already had elected the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr. as their chairman in December.
Last month, state Education Secretary Beth Purvis summoned Vallas, Hatch and advisory member Tony Anderson to brainstorm a plan to put Vallas in a so-called crisis management role, leveraging Rauner’s political capital on the board to effect that change.
But the move also drew fire from some politicians across the state. A group of Chicago aldermen and county commissioners — who said they supported Lucy’s continued leadership — accused the governor of overstepping his authority.