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Temple’s tenure in the Windy City in a tailspin – Ronald J. Temple, chancellor of Chicago, Illinois city colleges


The meeting of the City Colleges of Chicago board here
earlier this month was full of all the pleasantries and light banter of
a typical business meeting.

But while he sat in a room amid his staff, colleagues, and the
board that handpicked him, Dr. Ronald J. Temple, the college’s
chancellor, could not have been more alone.

Temple, the fifty-six-year-old educator who returned to his
hometown four and one-half years ago to a hero’s welcome, had his
career put in a tailspin two days before Christmas when the same board,
in the same room, voted not to renew his contract, which expires in
June 2000.

A board member said soon after the meeting that the system’s
attorneys were discussing a quiet settlement that would end Temple’s
stay as chancellor by the end of the school year.

Just twelve months earlier, Temple had gotten the ultimate
compliment an employee can receive from his bosses — he not only was
awarded his $165,000 salary, fattened even more by a Cost of living
increase, but he also received a $50,000 bonus financed by Chicago’s
business community.

The board’s action — making Temple the third City Colleges
chancellor in a decade to be shown the door — highlights the
complicated demands facing the chancellor of a city college system, as
well as the impatience officials increasingly feel with the problems
plaguing them.

The Criticisms

Temple’s critics on the board now say privately that they believe
Temple, a higher education veteran who previously ran community college
systems in Philadelphia and Detroit, was never really up to the job of
running the nearly 200,000-student Chicago system — which has been
dogged over the years by declining enrollment and an image as the
college of last resort among many Chicago residents.

Temple was too slow to make significant reforms, his critics
contend, and he got into hot water with Mayor Richard M. Daley recently
over the colleges’ failure to work more closely with the city’s public
school system.

City Hall sources here confirm that Daley is displeased with the
City Colleges’ pace of reform and is demanding that the colleges
improve at the same “breakneck” pace as the Chicago public schools.

“We have been disappointed with the time it has taken to arrive at
various decisions,” says James A. Dyson, the board vice chairman.
“Things have not moved as expeditiously as they need to be.”

Some critics also add that Temple treated the City Colleges like
his personal fiefdom, adding a cadre of new central office staff to
fill vacant positions even as the board warned that the colleges’
administration was too bloated.

“He was hiring people like crazy,” says Nonnan Swenson, president
of the Cook County College Teachers Union and one of Temple’s critics.

Swenson claims that the City Colleges’ administrative staff has
swelled to 240 while the number of full-time faculty has been
significantly reduced during Temple’s tenure.

The Defense

Temple disputes his critics’ claims and says that he has suffered
from some of the same problems affecting leaders of troubled education
systems across the country.

He argues that he was moving the City Colleges system forward and
defends against his critics’ complaints by producing a two-inch-thick
binder outlining what he says are his accomplishments.

While he won’t talk about the political rumblings that brought
about his ouster, Temple says that when he arrived here in 1993, he
found a college system with poor morale, a declining enrollment, and
poor public relations.

He says he eliminated programs with low enrollments, beefed up the
colleges’ most promising programs, and set academic standards for
entering students.

He also says he tried to attract Chicago public school students
with personal letters telling graduates they would be welcomed at the
colleges. Those letters propped up enrollment from Chicago public high
school graduates by 37 percent, Temple adds.

“Indecisive is something I’ve never been called before in my
career,” Temple says, responding to his critics. “The record shows that
we have been doing quite a few things.

“It was never just a job for me,” he adds. “It was coming back to the city where I got started.

Temple at least had reason to be surprised by the board’s action. He is well regarded among his colleagues nationally.

Dr. David Pierce, president of the American Association of
Community Colleges and the former chief of the Illinois community
college system, says Temple “is one of the best.”

Says Pierce: “I don’t know anyone who has anything bad to say about him.”

The System

Some have suggested that the problem is with the system and not its
administration. Observers, like Mimi Gilpin, who works with the League
of Women Voters and monitors the system for the organization, wonder if
the colleges will ever live up to their potential.

“If anything, Temple is the fall guy,” Gilpin says. “It is a system
with problems. This system has always been like the Titanic trying to
dodge an iceberg.”

Many of the system’s problems are not unique among community
colleges nationwide. Flat revenues from property taxes and a slow
trickle of state funds have left many with budgetary problems.

And the changing workforce has left many community colleges searching for a new niche.

Critics of the City Colleges board note that Temple’s assertions
that he was moving the system forward are not that different from those
launched by Dr. Nelvia M. Brady, his predecessor, who was fired in 1992
after several years as chancellor.

Brady, the colleges’ first woman and Black chancellor, called the
board racist and sexist when she was removed from the post. Dr.
Salatore G. Rotella, Brady’s predecessor and a well-liked City Colleges
veteran, was given a $330,000 golden parachute in 1988 when the late
Mayor Harold Washington’s appointees forced him out.

Temple apparently didn’t play the game very well either, and his
steering of the large college system apparently was not deft enough for
those observing the swift pace of Chicago schools’ reform. That alone
may have been impetus enough for the board.

City Hall sources confirm that City Colleges board chairman Ronald
J. Gidwitz and other board members have heard complaints about the
colleges’ slow pace of reform.

Daley, along with his former budget director, Paul Vallas, and his
former chief of staff, Gery Chico, have become the darlings of the
national press because of the highly touted reforms of the Chicago
public schools.

“Temple has never been able to merge a relationship with the
Chicago schools,” says Hermene Hartman, a former City Colleges
administrator and publisher of N’Digo, a newspaper that focuses on
African Americans. “Temple and Vallas have never been able to get
together to make it work. Temple has not shown the type of leadership
he needed to in that area and many others.”

Swenson, the union official, believes one of the colleges’ main
problems is that the they have lost their sense of mission. Once
thought of as a stepping-stone to four-year universities such as
Loyola, DePaul, and Northwestern, the number of full-time students
earning credit towards associate’s degrees has declined dramatically,
hurting the system’s reputation.

“Students who are thinking of matriculating at a four-year college
don’t look to City Colleges as much of a stepping-stone anymore,”
Swenson says.

The Anger and the Embarrassments

Still, campus presidents like Dr. Raymond Le Fevour, who heads one
of the schools within the City Colleges System, Wilbur Wright College
on the city’s far west side, are quick to point out that no matter what
happened in the central office, many of City Colleges’ programs have
operated successfully for years and changed the lives of thousands of

And in these days of spiraling college costs, the system still is
one of the best deals in higher education. Courses run about $45 a
credit hour or $1,500 a year, which easily can be paid for by many
students with a federal Pell Grant.

But Le Fevour, who has educated all seven of his children at Wright
College, also admits that the City Colleges system faces unique
challenges. Nearly 40 percent of the students who applied to Wright
College this past fall read below the eighth-grade level.

“The students get angry when they are told they need additional
help,” Le Fevour says. “They get mad at me. They get mad at the public
schools. They say, `How can I graduate and not be ready for college

And other institutional problems have made significant reform even more difficult.

Earlier this month, as news of Temple’s expected short stay
filtered through the fourteen-story central office building, out at the
college campuses, the district’s nearly twenty-year-old computer system
was crashing during registration again.

The computer system, managed for the past several years by
consultants paid $7.5 million to run it, is a symbol of the problems
that just won’t seem to go away.

“Thousands of students were waiting and it was just embarrassing,”
Swenson says of the delays. “The officials over there are always
talking about attracting students and I’m sure many students walked
away furious this week.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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