Less than 24 hours after Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hosted a rally at Chicago State University, all 900 employees of the university received layoff notices. The layoffs appear to be the final blow in the nearly 8 month battle between Chicago State (as well as other predominantly-Black public colleges) and Illinois politicians. But while many have directed their anger over the budget impasse at Springfield, primarily towards Republican governor Bruce Rauner, one thing is certain: Chicago itself did not do enough to save CSU.
Officials at Chicago State University say the state budget impasse could force the school, which has been open for nearly 150 years, to shut down.
The school, more than other public universities, relies heavily on state funding, with 30 percent of its budget comes from state funding.
Chicago State’s student body is 80 percent African-American, many of them low income students.
“With a majority of students on financial aid, CSU is a lifeline for students whose social and economic mobility are too often stifled,” Shari Runner, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, said in a statement. “The looming closure of CSU reinforces unacceptable inequities in our schools and continues to shortchange children of color.”
Runner added that “right now, our legislators are failing us on all counts” and questioned if students at Chicago State “are being used as pawns in a high-stakes prolonged political chess match.”
The state’s budget impasse has lasted roughly seven months so far and there is concern that with the March primary the stalemate could continue through the November election. School officials predict the university will run out of money in March.
The city of Chicago’s lack of regard for many of its own primarily-Black and Latino public schools may explain its silence concerning Chicago State’s impending fate. Last summer, parents and community members in the south side of Chicago staged a 34-day hunger strike to force Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to reopen Walter H. Dyett High School on their terms. And while Mayor Emanuel has stayed relatively mum on Chicago State, his involvement in the closing of nearly 50 of the city’s public schools have convinced many to believe that the mayor could not care less about the fate of Black students.
One such person is Cosette Hampton, a third-year student at the University of Chicago and BYP100 organizer. Hampton views the lack of budgetary support for both Chicago State and CPS as “mirror situations”, especially since many CPS teachers hold degrees from the university. With in-state and out-of-state tuition hovering around just $11,000 and $20,000 per academic year, respectively, Chicago State remains one of the most affordable higher education institutions in the entire city, a selling point for Black and Latino students with financial hardships.
In her eyes, it is no coincidence that the only primarily-Black college in Chicago, known for encouraging it students to be unapologetically Black with its rich African American studies department and open adoption of the Black national anthem, is being forced to close its doors.
But for Charles Alexander Preston and Paris Griffin, two CSU students who have spearheaded many of the organized efforts to save their university, the silence from Black pastors and community leaders is one of the most enraging aspects of the possibility of seeing Chicago State closed. Griffin names two individuals, Pastor James Meeks and Rev. Corey Brooks, as just a few of the community leaders who have “let her down” the most.
The two south side pastors, who are known for speaking out against gun violence in Chicago, endorsed and campaigned for then — Mr. Rauner in the 2014 gubernatorial race, and received political appointments to statewide positions shortly after his election. It is this type of action, coupled with their deafening silence as one of the south side’s most integral institutions faces closure, that leads Griffin to feel profound disappointment in the leadership of the Black church.
“During the Civil Rights Movement they led us, but the pastors of today have left us”, Griffin says.
Preston, who echoed Griffin’s statements, states that he “doesn’t see the same type of care and concern for institutions like Chicago State” as [he does] when “we protest explicit violence, be it police brutality or intra-communal.”
Preston refers to Chicago State as a “second-chance school”, home to former drug abusers and ex-offenders who seized the affordable education offered by the university to turn their lives around for the better.
But those narratives, he claims, get lost in the statistics.
Both had hoped that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who was quick to capitalize on Chicago State’s publicity to host a large campaign rally last week, would seize the opportunity to share those narratives with the crowd and mobilize them into taking action. Instead, he gave little more than surface-level acknowledgement of the university’s dire situation. And while the event was jam-packed, not a plate was passed to support the very institution they were gathered in.
So much for intersectional Democratic Socialism.
Griffin interprets Sanders’ actions, or lack thereof, as a way of telling CSU students that “you matter, but you don’t really matter that much.”
While some legislators, specifically State Representative Ken Dunkin, have moved to use funds from the Roseland community’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to keep CSU open, the tactic might actually perpetuate more suffering for those who live in the surrounding neighborhood. Both Preston and Griffin warn against it, claiming that diverting funds from an already cash-strapped neighborhood creates a situation in which no one wins.
Yet the blame extends even further—to us. Every Chicagoan who has ever so much as uttered the phrase “black-on-black crime” while disregarding the very real and very life-altering situation that the entire CSU community faces, is complicit in this educational injustice. And according to Preston, so is every person who has chosen to prioritize the 2016 election over Chicago State.
“Institutions like Chicago State have lasted longer than election cycles, before Black Lives Matter and before the Civil Rights Movement. Why aren’t we doing to enough to preserve them?”, he questions.
When Chicago’s Black youth are constantly being told that “getting an education” is the key to overcoming systemic poverty and rampant violence, but are deprived of accessible and affordable educational opportunities, who is to blame for the continuation of these cycles? All of us.