EXCLUSIVE: Long-time City Colleges administrator could head district

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • July 10, 2009 @ 3:15 PM

A new name has emerged as a possible front-runner to head the City Colleges of Chicago -- at least for the short term.

Deidra Lewis, who retired from the City Colleges a year ago after a career that spanned more than three decades, is being considered for the chancellor's job.

She worked her way up from a faculty member to a vice chancellor over the course of her 32-year career, and appears to have eclipsed City Clerk Miguel del Valle for the chancellor's job.

The Board of Trustees will select an "interim" chancellor at their meeting on Tuesday, according to the board agenda posted online late Friday. Tuesday's meeting is the last regular meeting before outgoing Chancellor Wayne Watson leaves.

Del Valle has been the odds-on favorite to be chancellor for some time, but he has drawn criticism from City Colleges faculty for his lack of higher education administrative experience. Previously, he served as a state senator and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

In contrast, Lewis is "former faculty -- she’s gone from faculty to vice president, and president to associate vice chancellor,” said Perry Buckley, the president of the Cook County College Teachers Union. “I think it would be a great choice. But this is the first I’ve heard of it.”

Lewis did not return messages left on her cell phone today.

Court records in a pending lawsuit against the city colleges provide some information about Lewis’ background. Lewis, who retired from the City Colleges in June 2008, was deposed last fall in an employment discrimination case; she is not a party in the case.

Lewis started at the City Colleges in 1976, working her way up to eventually become the district’s Executive Vice Chancellor in 2005. In that role, Lewis said in her deposition, she acted as a go-between for the chancellor and the heads of various departments, coordinating activities across many different departments – she was, in essence, Watson’s right-hand woman.

“Many times when they (other vice chancellors) had issues, the Chancellor would ask that they bring the issues to me first,” Lewis said in her deposition.

Lewis frequently met with Watson and with the vice chancellors who worked alongside her. She was sometimes involved in personnel matters, and often took an active role in high-level academic decisions, court records and other City Colleges documents indicate.

Buckley praised Lewis as someone who has been honest, fair and smart.

"If they’re saying it’s going to be Deidra, she’d be wonderful," he said.

The selection process to find a new chancellor has left faculty and students in the dark for months. While Mayor Richard M. Daley and Board Chairman Jim Tyree pledged months ago that there would be a public search process, there have been no meetings, no forums, and no open vetting of potential candidates.

A special faculty committee that has been created in the past to help pick a chancellor was never formed this time around, Buckley says.

The district’s regular board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.

Watson has been chancellor for 11 years. He announced last year that he would step down from the position, and in April he was named the new president of Chicago State University.

Tyree and Ralph Moore, another board member, were both on vacation and did not return calls today.

Kristine Williams, a spokeswoman for del Valle, says he was never approached by the mayor or the City Colleges board for the position. But faculty, students and observers heard his name floated for the chancellor position as early as March.


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.