The academic world, especially in Illinois, is abuzz about an article in the Washington Monthly by Ben Miller and Phuong Ly about “drop-out factory” colleges that highlights Chicago State University, which boasts a pitiful 13% graduation rate. Miller and Ly carefully debunk Chicago State’s defensive statements about serving the urban poor by citing examples of urban public universities which do a much better job with the very same demographic groups.
Chicago State is a prime example of how politics and patronage do not mix with higher education. It has been a political and patronage playground for Illinois, Chicago, and in particular African American power brokers for decades, who have deeply embarrassed their own community and failed their own young people by their incompetent leadership. I’ll leave it to the newspapers to name names, as they have been doing for quite some time.
Institutional racism has many ways it can bar the door for a racial groups to progress. One structure of institutional racism is the acceptance of lower standards of performance in leadership and in education for the sake of symbolic self-determination and the spoils system. Symbolic self-determination without performance is useless. If an evil genius were to seek a way to hurt African Americans, that evil genius would not have to do anything more than put Chicago and Illinois politicians and certain community power brokers in charge of an institution of higher education such as Chicago State.
One especially poignant part of the Washington Monthly story was how the lack of knowledge on the part of Chicago State staff misinformed a student about an opportunity for which they thought he was not eligible. Politicians, unions, and state personnel officials have an obligation to provide staff to public higher education institutions who can actually do the job, and not just vote the right way, serve in a political army, pay their dues, and perpetuate a hopelessly under-resourced personnel bureaucracy that consistently delivers unqualified employees to the public workplace.
Social justice is based more on performance and competence than it is on symbolism and representation, or even the exercise of social or political power. Simple justice demands that students be given the services and education for which they are paying.
It’s time for the public sector to demand of the personnel bureaucracy and the unions what the construction and automobile industries have substantially addressed in certain sectors–all parties working together to bring qualified personnel to the workplace.
It’s also time for the politicians and power brokers to step aside at Chicago State, and let educators educate the way they know how.
© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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