NU alumnus chosen as Chicago State president

Grace Johnson

Last week’s announcement that Northwestern alumnus and chair of the School of Education and Social Policy board of advisors Dr. Wayne Watson will be the new president of Chicago State University drew criticism from CSU students and faculty.

The critics claimed they were excluded from the selection process and Watson was chosen because he’s a “political insider.”

“More than likely his political connections are why he was chosen,” said Tasha Brown, a CSU senior. “Politics are everything and he could pull strings for the university.”

Watson, a former NU trustee and a speaker at this year’s NU Martin Luther King Jr. Day proceedings, does have political connections. He was appointed to his current post as chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago in 1998, and is counted as a friend by former State Senate President Emil Jones.

In an interview last Friday, Watson said these political ties are normal.

“The relationship I have with legislators is a fact,” he said. “The president of Northwestern and the president of the University of Chicago have relationships with legislators in Springfield and with the mayor. Does that make them political hacks or insiders? No, and my relationship is no different than theirs.”

Al Cubbage, vice president for university relations at NU, pointed to Watson’s experience at NU and with City Colleges of Chicago.

“Dr. Watson has been involved with setting up greater links between Northwestern and City Colleges through a cooperative broadcast journalism program,” Cubbage said. “He also was an active and engaged member of the board of trustees for several years.”

Watson blamed the media for first attaching the term “political insider” to his name.

“Somebody came up with a catch term that is fallacious and it catches a headline,” he said. “Regrettably, the media looks for sound bites, and either students or faculty members threw them out without anybody challenging them.”

Part of the reason so many students and faculty were angry with the decision was based on how the search process was conducted, they said.

A search advisory committee composed of faculty members rated the initial candidates on a numerical system, but then never verbally discussed their opinions with the CSU Board of Trustees. The board picked the two finalists, and made its decision in an hour-long closed session before announcing its choice without giving a reason.

Brown believes the outcome would have been different if administration, faculty and students had played a bigger role.

Despite the opposition Watson will face as he takes the job on July 1, he said he is optimistic.

“I am going to reach out to my critics,” he said. “I value their input whether they agree or disagree with me. Based on their issues and concerns, I will use that to help rebuild and strengthen the structure of CSU.”

The university has spent the last year under Interim President Dr. Frank Pogue. Its last president resigned June 30 after claims that she used a business credit card for personal use.

Watson said he recognizes there is room for improvement.

“We need to provide our students with an opportunity to excel,” he said. “Opportunity means nothing without support through tutoring, financial aid and student services.”

Watson said his plans as president include the expansion of on-campus student housing, the establishment of a law school and the expansion of CSU’s education program.

“Anytime you have individuals, there are going to be individuals who are frightened and resistant,” Watson said. “I can’t buy into the negativity, I’m buying into the enhancement.”

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