A little off the top for CSU

By Paul Schmitt

According to famed political science and law professor Dr. Ira Carmen, whenever a void of authority and message is made by any institution, it is filled by demagogues. Could there be a larger void of effective leadership in the state of Illinois than is found in Springfield? For nearly five years now, we’ve suffered through policies as a university that have been called a “tightening of the belt.” We’ve watched tiles fall from the ceilings of Lincoln Hall and some prized faculty members elude our capture. However, as Gov. Rod Blagojevich noted in his visit to campus two years ago, the state is in tough times, and we need everyone to pitch in to help.

Logically, this would have included the University of Illinois as well as the other state schools. However, it seems that not all schools have it as rough as the state’s flagship institution. In fact, there are some pet projects that have managed to be forced through the Illinois General Assembly during these tough times of fiscal panic. While I could be referring to the pattern of projects that Blagojevich initiates by robbing from current commitments (pension funds ring a bell?), I refer to some standing establishments in this case.

Take Chicago State University, for example, a small state school located on the south side of Chicago and represented in the Illinois Senate by Emil Jones, the senate president and political junkyard dog. Jones has been a pillar of responsible governance in the state of Illinois for some time now, having previously served in the Illinois House. For those of you na’ve enough to believe that his influence doesn’t affect us, let me offer a tidbit of information.

Jones, who essentially controls appointment power over the UI’s Board of Trustees, has built a career on what he would call pursuing worthy “civil rights” causes. Jones, a sworn enemy of racism in the state of Illinois and guardian of tolerance and equality, was naturally an opponent of Chief Illiniwek. When asked in 2005 by the Chicago Tribune about his increased pressure on the UI regarding the Chief, he sensitively responded, “I’m going to scalp him.”

Hostility and abuse aside, this classy fellow has done well for Chicago State. As a matter of fact, Jones has done so well for CSU that in the plan for this year’s capital bill, Chicago State University was to get a 2 percent cut from the top of the entire $3.2 billion funding, sparing it the nuisance of sharing funding with the rest of the state schools, like the UI. The amount of $64 million outstages the University’s endowment of $3.7 million.

Additionally, a curious encounter with Chicago State University on the collegiate phenomenon Wikipedia reveals that the brand new, 7,000 seat “Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center” shares a curious trait uncommon in today’s college athletic building projects in that “Chicago State University did not have to raise any money for the project.” It’s not that nepotism isn’t common politics, however, it is ironic that Jones never even attended Chicago State (unless you count his 2004 honorary doctorate in Humane Letters) – talk about constituent services.

To be fair, the University of Illinois doesn’t need the money that badly, especially when considering how much learning and educational value Chicago State brings to the table. Though many biased individuals on this campus might feel that Chicago State’s 2 percent off-the-top funding could be better used here, I point to statistics. For instance, a look at a report from the NCAA in 2000 shows that Chicago State had a 16 percent graduation rate for all students and a matching number for the four-class average (CSU did not respond to a formal request for current numbers). For a point of comparison, UI’s graduation rate reported in 2005 was 81 percent (it’s said that the other 19 percent majored in ‘Kam’s’).

Looking at Jones’ pet project, it’s easy to see why so much emphasis is placed on this institution by the state and its budget – Chicago State’s performance is a symmetric reflection of Jones’ worth as a leader in Springfield. It seems that besides being a cliché for barbers everywhere, “a little off the top” translates into a political litmus test identifying how lost Illinois truly is.