At City Colleges, search for new leader surprises some

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • July 15, 2009 @ 7:00 AM

The City Colleges of Chicago board, expected by many to appoint a mayoral favorite as chancellor, instead announced yesterday it would conduct a lengthy and open search for a new leader. 

The move came as a surprise after weeks of speculation that City Clerk Miguel del Valle would snag the job.

“What many people were fearing, that we would show up today and be given a chancellor that we’d never heard of, that didn’t happen,” says Perry Buckley, the president of the Cook County College Teachers Union.

Mayor Richard M. Daley and Board Chairman Jim Tyree said in March that the public would be involved in picking the next chancellor. But until yesterday, there was no indication that such a public process would actually happen, and faculty and students grew increasingly concerned that no one was soliciting their opinions.

“I think for whatever reason, they now are going to go through a legitimate search,” Buckey says.

Antony Chungath, the new student member of the board, will be one of the people on the search committee, which comprises all eight members of the board.

“This is going a long way and it’s a great advantage to the students, so we can express our views and what we’re looking for in a chancellor,” Chungath says.

Tyree says the board decided it needed to take more time – even though it had 11 months of notice from when Chancellor Wayne Watson said last August that he would step down.

“What I’m saying, if your question is, ‘Why is it seemingly so disjointed, we just wasted a year,’ — I don’t look at it that way,” Tyree says. “I think we had a plan that made a lot of sense. The plan was always to try to figure out how we could use the resources that we had.”

He pointed specifically to Deidra Lewis, who retired last year after 32 years with the City Colleges and who will now serve six months as interim chancellor.

“In Deidra was an exceptional resource, and I think (she) fits perfectly in the interim role,” Tyree says.

Lewis grew up in New Jersey before attending Roosevelt University in 1975

The next year, she joined the City Colleges, working first with disadvantaged students.

In 1981, Lewis earned her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She worked her way up to become a dean at Malcolm X College before moving on to associate and executive vice chancellor positions in the district’s main office, according to information provided by the City Colleges.

At yesterday’s meeting, she joked, “I was 12” when she first joined the district.

She said Tyree called her about a month ago to see if she would return.

“While I have missed all of you, I do so love retirement,” Lewis said. “However, my love for this district and the students we serve has compelled me to travel this road one more time.”

But Buckley suggested that politics may have played a role, comparing the process of picking a new chancellor to negotiating a union contract, the bulk of which happens far from the bargaining table.

“Most of the posturing for who’s going to be in these jobs happens away from the table,” Buckley says. “Something I think may have happened, but I have no clue what happened.”

Tuesday’s action marked a change in tone, not just for Tyree but for other members of the board as well.

In March, Tyree said Daley was “evaluating” candidates. And Tyree said yesterday that Daley would continue to have a role.

“We will listen to the mayor’s input and he will be a very strong advisor in everything that we do,” Tyree said.

But two members of the board, James Dyson and Terry Newman, both indicated at Tuesday’s meeting that the board needed to look inside the City Colleges for the next chancellor.

“To bring someone in from outside (to run) this district … it has yet to be successful,” Dyson said.

Those acknowledgements are important ones, Buckley says.

“It’s very good (hearing that) coming from a board member,” he says. “We’ve twice gone outside and both times it was horrible.”

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.