Turning Up the Heat in the Windy City
It’s 8:30 a.m. and Dr. Elnora D. Daniel, president of Chicago State University, is already three hours into her day. She sits in her office, sipping green tea and preparing to face yet another full schedule of meetings and engagements that will continue at a steady pace until well after sundown.
Daniel spends the mid morning in meetings with the staff of Tempo, the student newspaper, as well as with members of her executive council. She then presents welcoming remarks at two different conferences held on campus, including Career Awareness Day.
Compared to the way her days usually begin, Daniel says this morning’s schedule is relatively light. Despite her pre-dawn start and long string of appointments, Daniel, 58, appears to be full of energy, one of the three characteristics she says college presidents need, along with perseverance and courage. Possessing a turbo-charged spirit certainly is an asset for Daniel who, so far, has spent her presidential tenure pursuing an ambitious agenda of institutional improvements in the areas of academics, infrastructure and finance.
Long considered the stepchild of Chicago’s public university system, Chicago State University had historically been allowed to languish, often going without badly needed resources, Daniel says. The university is situated on the South Side of the Windy City and serves a predominantly minority population.
One of Daniel’s first orders of business has been to raise the admissions level, focusing on quality rather than quantity. Some consider the strategy a controversial move for a university that traditionally had more liberal admissions criteria that, according to one university official, were not strictly adhered to. One consequence of “raising the bar,” however, is that the university has seen a 3 percent decline in enrollment.
“I’m not playing a numbers game,” Daniel says. “I’m into providing a quality, value-added education for the young people that come through the doors of this institution. After 31 years of educating minority students, I know that there is a threshold that one must pass in order to be able to achieve a college education.”
Daniel points to test scores as one indicator. The average ACT score of a CSU applicant is 19. (The average national score was 21 last year out of a possible score of 36.) Before Chicago State tightened its standards, many of its students had below-average scores.
“Some of the ACT scores of students admitted were not really scores that would allow them to have the wherewithal to achieve a university education,” Daniel says. “So we have raised the admission level.”
For example, students with ACT scores of 15 had historically been granted admission. However, the school now requires that students score at least a 17 on the ACT or at least 830 on the SAT [the national average SAT score is 1,000] and have a grade-point average of 2.0.
“Faculty are never going to be opposed to raising academic standards,” says Dr. Phillip Beverly, president of CSU’s faculty senate and assistant professor of political science. “But the problem was the process. Enrollment was impacted and there were no policies in place to address that.”
Daniel says she’s not worried about the decline in enrollment, but would like to maintain it at the current level of 8,000 students. In order to minimize attrition, the university has contracted national retention consultants Noel-Levitz to help develop a comprehensive enrollment management plan. Part of that process involves working with students who almost make the grade, Daniel says.
“We say to [under-qualified applicants], ‘We will admit you, but not now. Here’s what you need to do. We found through our assessment that you have weaknesses in these areas. If you go to a community college, take care of these weaknesses and re-present yourself to this university, I will guarantee you admission.'”
But Beverly says there is a risk that as the university raises academic standards and improves academic programs, CSU still will not be able to go after the type of students that they want because of the school’s history of being underfunded, adding that a declining enrollment in an enrollment-driven type of institution is an issue.
Dr. Charles Smith, who was associate vice president for student development during the administration of previous CSU president Dr. Dolores E. Cross and now is vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at Delaware State University, says the declining enrollment is not a negative. He supports Daniel’s statement that many of CSU’s students should have been enrolled at a community college prior to entering the university. Enrollment was approximately 10,000 during Smith’s tenure. But he says the previous administration was also concerned about the quality of the student body and thought scaling it back to approximately 8,000-8,500 would have been more manageable.
Cross says although she had a wonderful experience at Chicago State, she faced many of the same challenges as Daniel — improving the student applicant pool; improving retention rates and communicating the university’s mission to both the corporate and local community.
“The university is not as well known as it should be,” says Cross, who is now president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. “My biggest challenge was to make those in city and state government and the corporate community more aware of CSU.”
Among other things, Cross and her administration were responsible for building the university’s first residence halls and a new student center, as well as for holding the first Friends of CSU Award Dinner in 1995. Last September, the sixth annual dinner raised $1 million, making it the most successful fund-raising event in the school’s history.
“From what I can see, the momentum is still there,” Cross says. “I think [Daniel] has taken the institution to another level.”
Daniel’s plans for improvement don’t stop with the institution’s academic profile either. She is determined to improve the institution’s financial and infrastructure profiles as well. According to university officials:
n Chicago State has had three successive years of balanced budgets in this administration after four successive years of deficits;
n The university has significantly improved its financial audits during the past three years, after several years of unacceptable audits. The Illinois Auditor General’s Synopsis Report on Illinois’ public universities stated that CSU had the second-best improved conditions of all the public universities in the state; and
n The university executed several significant financing and operations initiatives that have resulted in multimillion-dollar savings — $25 million bond refunding that saved $900,000, and an energy conservation initiative that will result in $1 million of guaranteed annual savings for the next 10 years. This initiative will also provide for a significant enhancement in environmental and aesthetic conditions in all of the university’s buildings.
Through state funding, Daniel has been able to put a new computer on every faculty member’s desk and approximately 400 computers have been installed in the university’s two residence halls, with two computers in each room.
In order to do this, Daniel must spend a lot of time in Springfield, Ill., home of the state’s General Assembly, the body that makes the final decisions about the state budget, to lobby on behalf of the university.
“I have to present the university’s budget to the Senate and the House of Representatives and that takes a lot of time … making sure that Chicago State University, within a state that is very much dominated by the University of Illinois, gets its due, gets its piece of the pie, more or less…” Daniel says.
When Daniel was appointed president in 1998, she discovered that the university had not received funds from the General Assembly to be used for capital improvements in 30 years. Now, however, the university has funds from the General Assembly for a $35 million library; a $25 million convocation center; a $10 million renovation of one of the oldest buildings on campus; and $750,000 in planning money for a new child-care center.
Assisting her and the university in this effort is State Senate Minority Leader Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago, a long time supporter of CSU who says he has a soft spot for this university that has often gone without. Daniel says having him as an ally has been significant for what she and her administration have been able to do.
“Chicago State University serves many Black students in Chicago, although it’s not a traditional HBCU,” Jones says. “It’s always been treated like a stepchild. This is my attempt to make up for the shortcomings from the past.”
All the way from Oxford
Chicago State is worlds apart from Oxford, where Daniel grew up — Oxford, N.C., that is.
From the age of 4, Daniel was raised by an aunt and uncle. She says this accounts for her “acting old” all her life. Her aunt, Janie Bell, was a major influence during her youth.
“My aunt was a tremendously strong person,” Daniel recalls. “[She] valued education. Even though born in 1900, she didn’t have probably more than a sixth-grade education. It was so important to her that I would have the opportunities to go further in a career than she had, so she made certain that I had opportunities to study.”
Daniel says she never thought she would end her career as a university president and in fact was interested in medicine early on.
“I’m really a product of the ’60s…there were few doctors who were Black. And so the thought of even becoming a physician was an alien one,” Daniel says. “I thought that I would probably become a school teacher; that’s what my family thought. But I wasn’t really enamored with teaching. I really liked the medical profession, to tell you the truth. And in my hopes of hopes, my fondest hopes, I probably would’ve become a physician had the opportunities been available to me. So I took the second best — I became a nurse.”
Daniel received her nursing degree in 1964 from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where she met the man who would become her husband, Herman Daniel. It was because of her husband that she moved to Hampton, Va., his hometown. The move turned out to play a pivotal role in Daniel’s professional life. She served in various capacities at Hampton University over a 31-year span.
Instructor, assistant, associate and full professor of nursing; department chair, dean, vice president for academic affairs, and finally executive vice president, Daniel had been through all of the ranks at Hampton.
“There’s nothing about the machination of a university that I don’t know,” Daniel says. In her capacity as executive vice president at Hampton, she worked directly with the board of trustees, the faculty, the students and administrators. “The only role that I had not had was that of president.”
Daniel says she had no immediate plans to leave Virginia until the search firm for Chicago State came calling to see if she would be interested in pursuing the presidency. She remembers initially telling them, “Absolutely not. And if anyone wants to know why, it’s too cold up there.”
The search firm told her it would be a wonderful opportunity and asked her to think about it. Daniel finally agreed to go to Chicago for an interview.
“I was very candid and said exactly what I felt because I had no vested interest in this job,” Daniel says. “But the people really resonated with me, and I resonated with them.”
Daniel’s name had been circulated as a presidential candidate at various Virginia universities and she told herself whichever university came calling first, that was where she would go.
But after 31 years at Hampton, the decision to leave was not an easy one.
“It was a very difficult decision, but my husband had retired. And he said, ‘Whatever you want to do,'” Daniel says. “But you know, I said, ‘I’m highly qualified . . . And I can do this job.’ “
One person who spotted Daniel’s talent for leadership early on was Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey.
“She’s a hard worker, team player and she gets results,” says Harvey, who has had at least seven of his administrators over the years go on to become college presidents. Harvey says he offered Daniel his help when she was being considered for Chicago State’s presidency.
“I told her I would help her because I believe in her,” Harvey says. “I believe in her character and her work ethic. She has delivered on many things for me and for Hampton.”
Fighting for what you believe
Dr. Beverly M. John, executive assistant to Daniel, was chair of the sociology department at Hampton before coming to join Daniel at CSU.
“Exceptionally patient, humane and diligent” are the words John uses to describe Daniel.
“It takes a very special human being to be a female and African American with the position of power,” John says. “There are assumptions people make with female leadership that they would not make with male leaders. So to find middle ground that does not compromise principle, to behave in a principled fashion and to still command respect — not everyone can pull that off. She juxtaposes those things with sensitivity, clarity of vision, purpose and power.”
Daniel recognizes and acknowledges the challenges that come along with being a college president and being an African American female president. But one thing is clear, Daniel says: You cannot be meek in this business. A college president must be courageous.
“If I had been a shrinking violet, I think this university would not be in the place that it is now and positioned as it is now,” Daniel says. “You have to have the courage and the tenacity to stand up and fight for what you believe is the best for this institution.”
One of her first scraps as president was with the campus unions. When she arrived, more than two years ago, Daniel had six employee unions to work with. She admits that perhaps she could have been more sensitive to their needs. But never having dealt with unions at Hampton, a private institution, it was all a learning experience.
Beverly of the Faculty Senate agrees that in terms of working with unions, Daniel’s private university training and background might have been a hindrance for her early on. Beverly points out that unlike at private institutions where the administration can often be more authoritarian, a unionized faculty insists that administrators practice shared governance.
“For example, raising the ACT score [for admission]. This was unilaterally changed without faculty input,” Beverly says. “Faculty involvement is [key to faculty]. During my short tenure as faculty senate president, I think she’s beginning to hear that [faculty involvement] in a different way than in the past.”
Beverly adds that Daniel has made great strides in improving the financial health of the university as well as diligently working to improve the technological infrastructure of the school as well.
“They [unions] know that I’m here really for the betterment of the university, whether it’s the faculty, the staff, the engineers, the administrators, the students. I’m here for the betterment of all of them,” Daniel says.
Daniel says the job of a university president can be more difficult for women simply because the corporate world tends to pigeonhole women into certain roles.
“…Another thing, too, that can be more challenging for women, is the way women communicate,” Daniel says. “It’s much less aggressive, much less competitive. It’s more palliative. It’s more handling solutions in an amicable fashion, rather than an in-your-face kind of confrontational approach.
“So I think sometimes when I go into the corporate sector seeking funding for the university that if I were a tall, White male I would sometimes be more successful. It takes you a longer time to accrue from them the things that you want than, say, a male person would. … I think always there’s a glass ceiling still for females and particularly women of African American descent.”
But despite the glass ceiling, Daniel says she has been relatively successful in obtaining resources for the university.
“One of my major characteristics is that of being a persevering person. I never give up,” Daniel says. “I continue to press on no matter what, until I convince people that, indeed, this university is an excellent thing to give to. As you look at the new century that we’re in right now, the majority of individuals, particularly by 2010, going into the work force are going to be minority.”
The joys and burdens of leadership
Becoming a college president is the ultimate goal for many educators who travel up and down the college administrator track. Yet, as with any job, there is an upside and downside.
The upside? “Coming in and feeling like you make a difference,” Daniel says. “The best part of this particular job has been to come in at a point wherein I felt like I could really make a difference. I think if you go into a university where everything is just wonderful — they’ve got all the money they need; they’ve got all the faculty they need; they’ve got all the students they need — I think that would be boring.”
The downside, Daniel says, is the enormous time commitment and having to make final and often tough decisions.
“What I do when I have to make those tough decisions about somebody’s life, is to say, ‘What is the mission of the university? Can this person measure up, or are they a deterrent to the overall achievement to the university mission?’ And once one is comfortable with the fact this person is really not fulfilling the mission or supporting it, then the decision is much less difficult.”
Daniel has successfully recruited several faculty members and administrators who share her mission for the university. She has filled such positions as vice president for administrative and external affairs; director of the Chicago State University Foundation; vice president for planning and sponsored programs; student life director; new deans of the college of business; college of health sciences; graduate studies college; and continuing education.
Sylvius “Sid” Moore Jr., senior vice president of administrative and external affairs, is a member of Daniel’s new administrative team who shares her vision for Chicago State’s future. Moore, who was previously vice president for Institutional Advancement at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, says Daniel is demanding but compassionate, and is always striving for excellence and to instill organizational loyalty and commitment.
“Dr. Daniel has established legitimacy and credibility for Chicago State University with the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Legislature and the governor in ways that the university had not enjoyed in the past,” Moore says. “…The dialogue now focuses on the legitimate needs of the university and how the state can assist in meeting these needs, as opposed to the prior dialogue that focused too often on the university’s operational and programmatic deficiencies.”
Daniel says she is pleased with how the campus community has come together. “The new team and the old team have become an amalgam,” she says. “I think we work well together. Not to say that there’s no dissonance, because there’s always going to be dissonance in any organization. Basically, I think I’ve created a team of very hard-working individuals who are dedicated to this university.”
So, what does the future hold for Daniel and Chicago State?
“I hope the university’s enrollment will have stabilized, that we will have raised the bar a little more in terms of standardized test scores, SAT — 1000,” Daniel says. “I would like to see the campus expanded. A new science center is the next entity on my radar screen to seek funding for. A new college of business facility is the second one. In five years, I’d hope to see a doctoral program in education, clinical psychology and pharmacy and … more emphasis on the trilogy of any good university — research, community service and good teaching.”
While Daniel and her staff are busy implementing various plans and following up on different projects, the CSU community will continue to catch occasional glimpses of Daniel driving herself to events around the 161-acre campus. Even though she has a driver, she finds driving very relaxing. Or they might see her dining with students in the cafeteria to hear their praises and complaints about the university.
Always on the go, Daniel freely admits that she’s a workaholic and needs to find time to take a vacation — soon. That is one thing she hasn’t done since she arrived at Chicago State.
“I’m tenacious, pugnacious really, to the point that if there’s something that I need to get done, I don’t know how to pull back,” Daniel says. “And I need to learn how to use leisure time more appropriately, because I really don’t do that very well.”
Daniel says that ultimately she and her husband will likely go back to Hampton. But it is certain she won’t spend her retirement sitting around staring off into the sunset from her Virginia home, which overlooks the Elizabeth River. She has plans — perhaps to write some memoirs, or a book about college female presidents. For the moment, however, she’s focusing on the here and now.
“The thing that has given me the greatest amount of satisfaction is the fact that I know where the university was when I came in ’98, and I can see where it is now,” Daniel says. “That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of other things that we need to do, but this is certainly a very different university than I’ve seen before. [When] I go outside of the university, and to hear the positive accolades and commendations that are now being given to the university — that, to me, is rewarding as a university president.” n
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com