The Search for a New Chancellor

This is the position paper delivered to the consulting firm that is spearheading the search for the new Chancellor and Provost, presented on behalf of Faculty Council, and e-mailed to the HWC faculty and relevant parties. I present it in this public forum because I believe statements like this should be public and accessible.

To the Consultants of AGB Search, LLC, regarding the search for the next Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago:

On behalf of the faculty of Harold Washington College, I would like to thank you for reaching out to us, hosting an open forum for faculty and students to voice their input, and requesting a position paper regarding the selection of a new chancellor.

As you have undoubtedly heard from faculty across the district, the relationship between faculty and administration has grown contentious over the past five years, perhaps irreconcilably so with the current administration. The cause of this strain, as you have also likely heard, has been due to a lack of “shared governance.” That in short, our administration has made major decisions with minimal faculty involvement, and as a result our classes and the education of many of our students have been disrupted. This has occurred despite much protest from the faculty, a protest that was consistently met with a dismissive and disparaging tone from district office. Time after time, we saw our administrators declare large changes without prior consultation with faculty; we saw these actions followed by negative consequences; and when faculty strived to correct these actions, we often felt that administration stonewalled and insulted us. We believe that because of this, we may not be providing the same quality of education as we once did for all of our students, even while some of our data points suggest that we do.

From speaking to my colleagues, there are four specific points that arise again and again in various forms:

1. The new Chancellor should understand and support the concept of shared governance, and be committed to working collaboratively in a meaningful way with faculty. Shared governance is a special form of democracy. We do not vote on many things, certainly not on who our next chancellor will be (exempting the few faculty serving on the hiring committee), or which policies the chancellor enacts. Shared governance is the democracy of encouraging participation and contribution from all members of the community, especially when the views of the members are distinct from and challenge the views of the community’s chief authorities. It is a recognition that no individual has a monopoly on expertise. Faculty may not be experts on managing an institution of this size and complexity, and they may not have a full appreciation for the pressures of resource allocation, logistical demands, and legal pressures. But our faculty consists of experts in a wide number of fields that can inform our decisions and make us stronger. We are all experienced educators, and our ranks include experts on data analysis, social patterns, psychology, the history of Chicago politics and neighborhoods, the struggles of underserved populations within our city, the effects of discrimination, the joys of the various arts, and much more. To have this community of experts, and to draw on this knowledge, is what makes a college a unique and powerful institution. It makes our institution an intellectually and existentially satisfying environment.

2. The new chancellor should understand our student population in all its diversity—or pay attention to those who do understand it—as well as the realities of life as a community college student in Chicago. Many of our students face struggles on a daily basis that many of us cannot appreciate, either because we never experienced them ourselves or it happened at such a different stage of our lives that we cannot appropriately empathize with our current students. There are certainly some individual students who manage to navigate through the trials of life gracefully and successfully, but it is one thing to acknowledge their success and quite another to reasonably expect that all students perform as well. When we consolidate programs into particular institutions, no matter how well the data supports such a change, we cause upheavals in students’ lives and even to communities that we cannot always anticipate.

3. Related to number 2, the faculty overwhelmingly believe that all plans for program consolidation and closure should be halted until we conduct a thorough reexamination of the plans in the spirit of shared governance.

4. Ideally, the chancellor will be a former faculty member who appreciates what effect that various policy or action items will cause in the classroom. However, we also recognize that a critical aspect of a chancellor is the ability to navigate through various political bodies, outside educational institutions, and local business entities. At the very least, if the chancellor is not a former educator, we expect that she or he help choose a provost who is an educator, and places her trust in faculty when we report how various initiatives would affect our students and classrooms.

*      *      *

We do not know what we do not know, and it is a requirement of wisdom to at least know that. In my view, this was the major problem with our current chancellor and her administration. They believed that they knew all that they needed to know, and they did not have a deep view of how their actions and policies affected the critical components of the institution in profound ways. “Data-driven” and “measurable effects” were common phrases we heard uttered by district administrators: “Our data shows that policy x will lead to y.” But measurable data is only a representation of a part of any picture. The science of data is decent at understanding whether policy x will cause more students to earn a degree. But a degree is not an education; it is merely a representation of an education. A great education cannot be seen or measured entirely over the course of a few years or even whether the student receives a degree. A full and deep education is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime, in ways that no administrator can yet anticipate. The faculty and students, with their dozens, hundreds, and thousands of hours in the classroom, observing and participating in the exchange, challenge, and growth of ideas, are the best judges as to whether education “works.” And even for them, there are still more mysteries than answers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need a chancellor who is morally excited about our colleges’ mission as a community college in the city of Chicago. A college education serves to help students earn a job, yes, but a college education is also about cultivating citizens and broadening perspectives in ways our students may not have anticipated. It is about helping people think about their contribution to their community, both socially and politically. It is about teaching people to think critically about their personal experiences and how to express that in such a way that positively affects the views of politicians and policy changes. It is about doing our part to ensure that our small corner of the world is being steered by a community of diverse, independent, and socially-minded individuals.

I have done my best to represent the views of all faculty, but the views in this paper are ultimately mine. We are not always a community of like-minded people. By our very nature, we have focused on different areas of study, have drastically different perspectives, and have accumulated different experiences over prior careers and endeavors that cause us to land on different sides of many issues. I believe this is our strength, and we are strongest when we incorporate all of these perspectives, and weakest when we pretend we have a single voice when we do not.

But there is one thing that the faculty of Harold Washington have near unanimous agreement on: we did not and do not have confidence in our current chancellor. In January of 2016, the faculty of Harold Washington organized a vote of No Confidence in Chancellor Hyman. The results were telling: of the 118 full time faculty, 114 showed up to vote—some making their way in during sabbatical or sickness. Of those, 106 voted “No Confidence,” eight abstained, and no faculty voted in favor of the Chancellor. Whatever our views may be, we are united in the belief that our next chancellor cannot continue the practices of our previous administration. We need someone that is willing to break that mold and be radically different.

Again, thank you for your time. Best wishes in your search, and I am always available for further discussion.

One thought on “The Search for a New Chancellor

  1. Very well written! I hope the search company takes into account all that was stated in this letter!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s