Chicago State University’s new president is looking forward to great things as the dust settles from all the troubling factors that left the South Side institution without state funding, administrative turmoil and teetering on the brink of closure.
“The rumors of CSU’s demise are not true,” said CSU president Zaldwaynaka (“Z”) Scott who was unanimously voted by Chicago State University’s Board of Trustees’ to serve as the school’s12th permanent president and assumed the role on July 1, 2018.
Scott doesn’t shy away from all negative factors in CSU’s past and added that under her leadership, CSU has a renewed focus on growing student enrollment, building the school’s regional and national reputation for scholarship and academic research, improving the resources and opportunities available to the student body, and increasing alumni and community engagement.
Prior to her current role, Scott spent more than 16 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois where she served as Chief of the General Crimes Section. She also served as Illinois’ first Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Governor and Public Universities. In that role, Scott created an independent executive branch state agency from inception, developed the United States’ first statewide ethics training platform for state government employees, and created a protocol for the investigation of claims of misconduct, waste, fraud, and abuse.
Scott’s business and civic involvement spanned 30 years. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Medical Center where she co-chairs the board’s subcommittee on diversity, and Just the Beginning, an organization devoted to improving the diversity pipeline in the legal field. Scott also served as chair of Chicago Housing Authority Board of Trustees and also served on the CSU Board of Trustees.
Additionally, Scott has taught at some of the nation’s most competitive law schools, including Northwestern University School of Law, The University of Chicago Law School and John Marshall Law School. She previously served on the Board of Visitors at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and was Vice Trustee from 2010-13. Scott holds a law degree from Indiana University Maurer School of Law and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
Ready to take on whatever lies ahead for the school, Scott told the Chicago Defender that CSU is recovering from all the challenges the school has faced such as the lack of state funding as a result of the Illinois budget impasse, a 793-day-long budget crisis that lasted from July 1, 2015, to August 31, 2017 and the declining student enrollment.
“We were down to a skeleton crew,” Scott said about the more than 300 CSU employees who were laid off due to the budget impasse. “CSU like other state public institutions faced lack of funding due to the lack of funding from the state. It was a [big] loss to CSU’s operating budget. A lot of our staff was laid off and expenses were cut drastically. Bills couldn’t be paid. Vendors weren’t paid. The economic impact was felt by us and the businesses that we do business with. We faced closing, but we are on the way back.”
CSU typically receives between $35-$37 million from the state for a full year, but received significantly less during the budget crisis.
The staff and other cuts contributed to the university’s accrediting agency placing the school on notice over its financial resources and planning. Administrators also declared financial exigency.
Purchasing, library and advising operations were impacted by the cuts imposed under financial exigency. The cafeteria reportedly was closed and student dormitories were without hot water for weeks, leaving students to shower at the gym, according to published reports.
CSU’s overall student enrollment currently is 2,964 for fall 2018. In 2015 Chicago State enrolled 4,767 students, according to a 2016 Inside Higher Ed news article. Those numbers reflect an almost 52 percent decline from the 2010 level, when the university enrolled 7,362 students.
Chicago State faced a lot of issues even before the Illinois budget crisis with a series of scandals that included controversial hires under the university’s former president, Wayne Watson, a lost lawsuit brought by James Crowley, the school’s general counsel, who reportedly turned whistle-blower, according to the Inside Higher Education article.
A jury reportedly awarded Crowley $2.5 million after he alleged Watson threatened him over the disclosure of public records. Additionally, a state ethics investigation found in 2016, according to the article, that Watson violated university policy by making false allegations against two board members who were trying to push him out of office in 2013.
The school has managed to stay afloat despite all the obstacles.
Chicago State’s closure would be a big loss to the community in terms of jobs and the chance for low-income students to attend a university.
Gov. Bruce Rauner reportedly has said he wants to turn the school around but that it’s difficult and the level of transparency in the past has been atrocious.
The biggest challenge going forward, Scott said, is letting the public know CSU is open.
“There has been so much published that CSU was closing.” Scott said. “Those publications did not bother to circle back to say CSU is fully operational and accredited. I’m excited about the future. We have a new dean of students. My overall focus is on student enrollment, hiring a new counselor. We already have one so the new hire makes two. I’m also focusing on telling our story and making sure the community and our students and elected officials are adequately informed, and that we are engaging our alumni.”
For Scott, promoting the school more is key to CSU’s success.
“We get students from all over the world,” Scott said and we receive all kinds of grants from the National Institutes of Health for health policy, science, chemistry and all kinds of research and innovation. We have student exchange agreements with India and Taiwan and we are opening up for an exchange agreement with Vietnam. We’re doing research all over the world.”
“We are very fortunate to have President Scott as our University leader,” said CSU board chairman, Rev. Dr. Marshall Hatch. “Her visionary leadership will guide Chicago State University as a dynamic educational flagship of academic excellence and opportunity. Her vision also extends to helping create a flourishing surrounding community. Chicago State is indeed on the move.”
A new report card from the University of Southern California’s (USC) Race and Equity Center ranks Chicago State University as tied for #2 in the nation and #1 in Illinois for leading public universities in educating Black undergraduates.
“We are thrilled to be recognized for the important contribution Chicago State University continues to make in giving access to higher education opportunities to minority communities,” Scott said. “Access is the core of our mission, which is why we invest in student support services, programs and academic research opportunities that positively work to develop students beyond the classroom, further shaping their educational experience and outcomes for success.”