Chicago State University - Crisis Looming

When I tell my Black friends that I watched the show “227” as a kid, they laugh. Why would a White kid who grew up in the burbs watch 227? It’s a good question. What I remember is that I was entertained, and I liked how the series was based in 1950’s Chicago. The characters were dynamic and the relationships were energizing. Jackee and Pearl were hilarious. It was a fun show to watch. The astute person who created the 227 series is Christine Houston, and she’s a Media Arts professor at Chicago State University (CSU). She’s also an alumna of CSU – the university which has been getting national headlines lately, because the Illinois budget crisis has put a halt to its endowment.

Chicago State University was founded over one hundred years ago in 1867. It’s a historically Black university in the Land of Lincoln, and has a mission of serving low-income families in Chicago’s urban areas. The school helps young Black Chicagoans seize great opportunities for academic, personal, and professional growth. Such opportunities are not bounteous for urban Blacks, so why is CSU forced to lay off 900 employees in an attempt to keep its classroom doors open? Why is Chicago at risk of losing this historic and important institution of higher education?

Illinois is in a serious budget crisis. A crisis of any kind brings out the best and worst in us. Crisis isn’t bad in and of itself – it’s a part of life. But what can be “bad” is the way we respond to crisis. Bruce Rauner and Michael Madigan, Illinois’ top politicians, are choosing to respond to the CSU crisis with neglect. Yes, neglect is a response…a bad response. Rauner and Madigan do acknowledge the money trouble at CSU, but they will not meet to discuss a solution. It’s not a priority for them. The state gives CSU $36 million annually for operations, so it may be that these chief politicians want those funds used differently. Perhaps they don’t believe the return on investment with CSU is worth it. Hopefully they’ll change their minds soon, because the students and professors are very concerned. In fact, one of the “good” responses from this crisis has been the students rallying for more state funding. The CSU students are proactively taking charge. They do not want to lose their school. They are fighting for what’s right.

Who would have thought a deciding factor for choosing a college program would be state politics? If the Illinois General Assembly does not approve endowment for CSU, the school will not be able to operate. If the school cannot pay for faculty and student services, the school loses its accreditation. If the school loses accreditation, the validity of the students’ credits becomes void, and it’ll then be difficult for CSU students to transfer their earned credits into other accredited universities. That situation would be a hot mess.

227 included stories of overcoming modest crisis in old-school Chicago. Professor Christine Houston did a great job creating 227, but could she have imagined a show about ambitious college students being ruined by a state budget crisis and the state politicians who cannot agree on a viable solution? If this wasn’t a real dilemma for the students and alumni of Chicago State University, I would say it would make for an impressive sitcom about academia and bad politics. Let’s hope that this urban academic crisis brings more awareness to the need for equal and affordable opportunities in higher education.

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