05/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey, Chicago State University: Watson's a Winner

The presidency of Chicago State University is currently under consideration.

The university, which began in 1867 as a teacher training school housed inside a railroad freight car in Blue Island, has a long history of change. Regrettably, even with more than 140 years of change to its credit, the university has yet to reach its full maturity and potential.

Certainly, this stagnation isn't due to a lack of financial support.

To wit, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones has been the angel for Chicago State. During his tenure, Jones made certain that Chicago State received its fair share of the state's higher education funding in order to provide a state-of-the-art facility for its students.

Chicago State's library is recognized as one of America's most progressive library facilities; it features the Automated Storage and Retrieval System called ROVER (Retrieval Online Via Electronic Robot) that can retrieve five books in 2.5 minutes.

At $8,000 per semester, Chicago State's tuition is reasonable compared to surrounding colleges. Speaking of surrounding colleges, student enrollment has increased at most of the state's public colleges; conversely, Chicago State University's enrollment has dipped 33 percent. Chicago State University's student enrollment peaked at 10,000 students in l994; today, the institution limps along with fewer than 7,000 students.

So what's the problem?

Clearly, the problem at Chicago State is leadership, and hence, the reason the board is searching for a new president.

A recent Chicago Tribune article highlighted the outrage surrounding the notion that the finalists, Carol Adams (currently the secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services) and Wayne Watson (Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago), were political insiders. This is a blatant miscasting of both individuals.

In their current positions, it is necessary to relate to politicians and the political structure for funding and development initiatives. But to make these two candidates appear as though they are sitting on the laps of politicians or wining and dining with them is incorrect.

Wayne Watson holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and retires from the City Colleges in June. The City Colleges, District No. 508, consists of seven independent colleges: Richard J. Daley College, Harold Washington College, Harry S. Truman College, Kennedy-King College, Malcolm X College, Olive-Harvey College and Wilbur Wright College. The system serves more than 115,000 students annually and is the second-largest community college system in America.

Watson's track record at City Colleges speaks loudly to his experience and qualifications for the presidency. He is more than viable. He is proven.

A third-generation Englewood resident, Watson was determined to build Kennedy-King College in Englewood in order to empower the citizens with educational programs that would lead directly to the job force. Kennedy-King College was well conceived and executed, and architecturally speaking, the authors of City by Design--Chicago: An Architectural Perspective of the Chicago Area (2008, Panache Partners) cited it as an example of ideal functionality for a modern community college.

Watson was responsible for the $300 million capital development plan, not only for Kennedy-King, but also to include the other six colleges in the district.

The manifestation of the 40-acre campus consisting of six state-of-the-art buildings for arts and sciences, library, applied sciences, athletics, student services, day care, theater, CCC Center for Distance Learning, WKKC-FM radio, WYCC TV-20 and the Washburne Culinary Institute is the pinnacle of his career.

After the grand opening of Kennedy-King College, enrollment in the last two semesters has increased by a whopping 60 percent.

In 2004, Watson negotiated a landmark agreement with the Cook County College Teachers Union that established a 15-credit hour workweek as the average academic teaching load. His stellar negotiation skills were also demonstrated; the five-year labor agreement was reached one year in advance. Overall, Watson has raised the performance standards and, most recently, implemented foreign language studies as an educational requirement.

Watson has been successful in legislative funding, globalization and the expansion of the Afro American and Latino Studies Program into all seven of the community colleges.

And for the first time in the City Colleges' 97-year history, all seven colleges concurrently hold 10-year accreditation status ­-- the highest level --from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

It has been a long time since Chicago State University has had a native Chicagoan as its president. The past five presidents, over the past 34 years, have not been from the Chicago area or even the State of Illinois. Benjamin Alexander of Georgia served from 1974 to 1982; George Ayers of Massachusetts served from 1982 to 1989; Dolores Cross of Newark, New Jersey, served from 1990 to 1997; Elnora Daniel of Oxford, North Carolina, served from 1998 to 2008. The current interim president is Frank Pogue of Delaware.

It should be noted that a few of these "outsiders" resigned under less than stellar circumstances.

The Chicago State University presidency is ideal for Wayne Watson. Education is his passion. He will bring the school to new heights with student enrollment, a wonderful facility and a good team. I hope for the students' sake that he is the choice. His skill set is perfect, his commitment is sincere and his accomplishments speak for themselves. And perhaps, just perhaps, this experienced veteran educator will take Chicago State University to greatness.

It is a mischaracterization to label him as a political hack. Is Ron Huberman a political hack? Is Arne Duncan a political hack? Was Paul Vallas a political hack?

Just asking.