Friday, February 20, 2015

Just a Bit of Balance

So my distinguished colleague Corday has consistently highlighted the iniquity of the patronage pit that is Chicago State University. Corday has pointed out that one of the key figures in the ascension of CSU to legendary patronage pit status has been former Illinois State Senate President Emil Jones. What has been written is true AND there is always more to the story. 
In the spirit of full disclosure, you loyal readers must know that I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and I view local politics a bit differently than my colleagues who aren’t from Chicago. I expect cronyism, and graft and corruption. I don’t expect high ethical standards from elected officials or their hangers on like CSU’s disgraced president. My colleagues from out of state are amazed at the level of corruption and I experience it as normal for Illinois.
Second, politics in Chicago is never as cut and dried as one would imagine. There are elements of race, ethnicity and class that can never be disaggregated from the larger political context of Chicago and Illinois. The participation of African-Americans in the political process has rarely been one of full and equal actor. Black votes have been taken for granted by the political machine for decades. Black elected officials have often made sacrifices that taken out of context appear suspect but I believe require a deeper inquiry. With that in mind, let’s paint a richer picture of the man portrayed as the Godfather of CSU.
The university’s past president, Elnora Daniel, relied extensively, almost exclusively, on Senator Jones to cover shortfalls because of administrative mismanagement. When the university would come up short it was his leadership behind the scenes, without fanfare that kept CSU afloat.
When Walgreens approached the university about a College of Pharmacy there were many battles
fought in Springfield to keep CSU from getting what would be a jewel for the university. It was Senator Jones who, again, behind the scenes and without fanfare, ensured that CSU’s College of Pharmacy would open. He didn’t concern himself with the academic or programmatic details. He focused on the big picture of how the College of Pharmacy would benefit the university, the community, the city and the state. It is safe to say, that without his efforts, there would be no College of Pharmacy at Chicago State University.
This university had needed a new library for many years. It was Senator Jones who worked tirelessly to ensure that the university got a library. If you check some of the press coverage at the time you will see there were some who thought CSU was getting undeserved largesse as a result of Senator Jones’ efforts. As a member of the community I can assure you we needed a new library. In the digital era, it is unlikely we will ever get another library so this one was critical to our future.
At the same time, the university was trying to get the library built, it was also trying to get a Convocation Center. Previously, CSU relied upon the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Pavilion to conduct its semi-annual commencement exercises. Beyond cost, it was extremely inconvenient for staff, faculty and students to attend. So Senator Jones pulled double duty and ensured that money was available for both projects simultaneously. I can only imagine the political capital that was spent to have both projects brought online. 
Before that the ILSAMP program, which has produced several hundred minority undergraduate and graduate degree awardees in STEM areas since 1993, experienced a funding shortfall in 1999 and it was Senator Jones who provided $500K as a one year bridge until federal funding could be restored.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Emil Jones Foundation made a $200K contribution to the university after he left the Illinois State Senate. His support for this university has usually been done quietly and without fanfare. That had me look at his political persona and I concluded, he is not the kind of politician who is self aggrandizing. He doesn’t call a press conference for every minor performance of his duties. He doesn’t publicly remind beneficiaries of his efforts. In short, he has done what he could, fought the political battles to protect the university and help advance it. He never got caught up in the details, just the big picture of how might he make the university better.
So it was very disturbing to hear that the current president actually considered an offer by a large corporation to rename the Convocation Center that bears his name. I would hope that small token of appreciation wouldn’t be swept away by this failed administration given how much Emil Jones has done for this university for decades, both as an elected official and a private citizen. It smacks of a petulance unbecoming any president but not surprising from this one.
At the end of the day Wayne Watson is still president of this university because Emil Jones did what he has done for decades, namely do what he thought was right for the institution. It turned out to be the wrong choice and I don’t fault him for it. Leaders make decisions. Sometimes they are the wrong ones. It doesn't stop them from making other decisions. All I want from him now is to do the next right thing and help this university rebuild from the damage of an utterly failed president. I would imagine if he were interested, he would do it as he always has, behind the scenes and without fanfare.
Senator Jones, once again, will you step into the breach and help rescue an institution that you have invested so much in?


  1. Sure hope you sent this thoughtful articulate letter directly to Mr.Jones!

  2. A fair point.....let us not forget that, through the efforts of Senator Jones, CSU was the only state university to receive a portion of the state casino money for scholarships. I can't even guess how poorly that money is being used by the administration, but their mismanagement isn't an indictment of Jones' efforts.