Leadership & Governance

Presidents of Chicago's City Colleges Will Have to Reapply for Their Jobs

February 23, 2011

All but one of the sitting presidents of the City Colleges of Chicago will be forced to reapply for their jobs if they want to try to keep them, and they must commit to achieving higher student-success rates if they are reappointed, according to a policy the system's Board of Trustees approved on Wednesday.

Donald J. Laackman, the recently named president of the system's Harold Washington College, is the lone campus chief considered exempt from the reapplication process, college officials said. Trustees approved Mr. Laackman's appointment on Wednesday, and he will not have to reapply because he was hired under the new presidential job description, said Ron Schofield, a college spokesman.

Other current presidents of the community colleges have been encouraged to apply for reconsideration in a fast-tracked national search. But the board's decision suggests that a revamping of leadership could be part of a far-reaching plan to improve student outcomes across the institution.

"I have an obligation to ensure to all of City Colleges' stakeholders I did everything I can to ensure we have the absolute best leadership in place," Cheryl L. Hyman, the system's chancellor, told The Chronicle on Wednesday.

Named chancellor last March, Ms. Hyman is pushing a "Reinvention Initiative" that seeks to improve student performance across the system. Just 7 percent of City College students who require remediation go on to earn a degree, college officials say, and 54 percent of all students leave the college before completing 15 credits.

The trustees also voted Wednesday to redefine the job description for presidents, tying campus leaders' duties to specific performance measures. Those areas include:

  • Increasing the number of students who earn "college credentials of value."
  • Increasing transfer rates to bachelor's-degree programs.
  • Improving outcomes for students who require remediation.
  • Improving success in college-level courses for students enrolled in adult basic education, English as a Second Language, and General Educational Development certificate programs.

The job description for presidents had not been modified for a long time and no longer matched the institution's goals, Ms. Hyman said. "It had very little to nothing in there about students and student outcomes, and I think that's where we need to be," she said.

Whether presidents are replaced or retained, they will be given concrete benchmarks for outcomes, Ms. Hyman said. When asked directly whether that necessarily implies that presidents would be dismissed for failing to meet those benchmarks, Ms. Hyman said, "I can't tell you what that implies."

Presidents of the campuses could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon. Ms. Hyman said she had spoken with each of them about the plan and received "not much of a reaction at all."

Presidential selections could be made as early as May, and Ms. Hyman said she was committed to a "very fair and very transparent" selection process that will involve input from faculty, staff, and students.

Correction (2/24, 1:25 p.m.): An earlier version of this article stated that the presidents of all seven City Colleges campuses would have to reapply for their jobs. The system clarified on Thursday that the just-hired president of the system's Harold Washington College, Donald J. Laackman, would not have to reapply because he had been appointed after the new job requirements were in force. The article has been changed to reflect that distinction.