City Colleges Union Chief Slaps Administration Over BGA Probe

A top teacher union official at the City Colleges of Chicago chastised Chancellor Juan Salgado for his “dismissive” response to a BGA investigation that found lowered standards and manipulated data created a misleading record of success.

Follow-Up
Union president Tony Johnston (Cook County Colleges Teachers Union)

A top teacher union official at the City Colleges of Chicago chastised Chancellor Juan Salgado for his “dismissive” response to a Better Government Association investigation that found lowered standards and manipulated data created a misleading record of success.

In an open letter to Salgado sent Nov. 13, union President Tony Johnston (pictured above) demanded sweeping changes in the administration of the seven-campus college system and raised serious questions about City College’s response to the BGA story.

Original Investigation: How City Colleges Creates An Illusion Of Success At The Expense Of Education

“We do not want you to simply defend the mayor’s policies or the policies of the previous administration,” the letter states, referring to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Salgado’s predecessor as chancellor, Cheryl Hyman. “We want to see real, systemic change on behalf of City College students and communities our colleges serve.”

Emanuel frequently boasts of dramatic success under his watch in doubling the number of degrees awarded and graduates at city colleges under a program he has terms as a “Reinvention.” The architect of that program, Hyman, resigned last year following a faculty vote of no confidence.

A copy of Johnston’s letter to Salgado was emailed to the 5,000 members of the Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600, which represents faculty and staff at city colleges and other community colleges in Cook County. The letter was also forwarded to reporters at media outlets across Chicago.

Johnston’s critique was sparked in part by Salgado’s public responses to the BGA investigation, which demonstrated how the college’s Reinvention has made it easier to get a degree but in many cases harder to get an education.

The BGA investigation, which was also published by Crain’s Chicago Business, found that since 2010 City Colleges has watered down its curriculum, violated its own rules on what constitutes a degree, changed the way it counts statistics and bestowed thousands of degrees — sometimes in multiples to the same person — to current and former students who in many cases neither requested nor wanted them.

Johnston’s letter asked pointed questions that were raised in the BGA story and also questioned why the BGA has had to file a lawsuit against City Colleges in order to gain access to public records and documents that would shed more light on those issues.

“More information could help answer questions we all have,” the letter stated.

Salgado for months refused BGA requests to answer questions raised by its investigation. After the story was published on November 1, however, he embarked on a media blitz to criticize the findings, though he never cited any inaccuracies.

City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado. (City Colleges of Chicago)

Just hours after the story first was posted online, Salgado sent an email blast to students and faculty at the college system that termed the report “unfortunate,” complained it created a “completely false” impression of “undeniable” progress at city colleges and that the story was an effort to “tarnish that record of student success.”

In his open letter to Salgado, Johnston wrote faculty and staff also believe in the students at City Colleges but to help students succeed “we must know how our colleges are truly doing, how many students are earning degrees, how well our students transfer or enter the workforce.”

“This is not possible if we are working for an institution that is using dishonest measures to gain political points,” Johnston wrote. “Our students are not numbers and they are not talking points.”

Johnston also condemned the chancellor for appearing to sidestep significant issues raised by the BGA.

“As faculty and staff members at CCC, we are looking for serious leadership that understands the scope of the problems created by the negligent behavior or our previous administration,’’ Johnston wrote. “The concerns raised in the article are serious and do not deserve to be brushed aside as ‘unfortunate’ or as an attempt to ‘tarnish’ our students. That is not a serious response.”

Johnston’s letter also requested Salgado meet with faculty to address the issues raised by the BGA’s investigation.

“You have a responsibility to our students, to the public, and to the CCC faculty and staff to explain the report’s detailed allegations, to acknowledge mistakes, and to move forward together in good faith,’’ the letter stated. “This can only begin, however, with serious consideration, in an open meeting, of the charges and claims made by the BGA.”

A similar letter was sent privately last week to Salgado and City Colleges Provost Mark Potter from Jennifer Alexander, president of the faculty council at city colleges. She asked that both sides begin discussing issues the BGA raised at a previously scheduled meeting on Nov. 29.

Johnston, Alexander and faculty organizations have long criticized the sweeping changes instituted at City Colleges under Reinvention.

The seven campuses have been transformed into quasi-magnet schools, each specializing in its own vocation. In 2015, the administration moved to discourage part-time enrollment by dramatically increasing part-time tuition. Enrollment has plummeted, reaching a 25-year low in 2017.

About the Author
  • David Kidwell

    David Kidwell is the Special Projects Editor at the Better Government Association, where he leads reporting on longer term investigations. Before coming to the BGA, he was an investigative political reporter at the Chicago Tribune where his work examined the public and private worlds of the most powerful public officials in Illinois.