WEST CHESTERFIELD —A national search for the next president of Chicago State University might not be necessary if the university's board looks within the pool of administrators at the four-year institution.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes CSU, said he would welcome an internal candidate for the job.
"We need someone local, preferably an alumnus. I don't think we need to look outside Illinois for the next president," Sawyer said. "There are enough qualified candidates here in Illinois."
The university board announced Monday it had granted a request by President Wayne Watson for a one-year, administrative sabbatical. Upon the completion of his sabbatical, Watson, 67, is expected to retire, school spokesman Dan Regan said.
In the interim, Sandra Westbrooks, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will serve as acting president until a new president is hired. Regan added that during Watson's sabbatical, he would conduct research on leadership strategies and best practices at minority-serving institutions of higher education.
“We are grateful to Dr. Watson for his service to the students and faculty of Chicago State University,” Gary Rozier, chairman of CSU's board, in a statement. “Dr. Watson came to Chicago State at a very challenging time, and through his tireless efforts, helped to build a stronger culture of achievement while maintaining a focus first and foremost on students and their needs.”
When a search for a new president does begin, the university board might not have to look too far.
"If someone makes me an offer I can't refuse, who knows what will happen," said Glenn Meeks, the school's vice president of finance and administration. "It is an opportunity I would certainly consider if presented."
Meeks spent 28 years as director of accounting for the University of Illinois at Chicago before retiring in 2008. He then went to work for Roosevelt University as an administrator before being hired by CSU in November 2009.
"I took a $30,000 pay cut to come to Chicago State," Meeks said. "But money was not my motivating reason for coming here. At the time I lived in the Roseland area and Chicago State represented everything I stood for. That's what attracted me here and that's what has kept me here."
Student reaction about the leadership change were mixed.
"Based on what he had to work with I think Dr. Watson did a good job," said Michelle Stewart, a graduate student who also earned her bachelor's in psychology from CSU in 2004. "I have seen a vast improvement here at the school since the last president was here."
A 2007 audit for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006, raised questions about CSU's budget under former President Elnora Daniels.
The audit criticized the school's accounting procedures on payroll, federal grants, student financial aid, contracts and employee expense accounts. The questionable expenses included money spent by Daniels on first-class airplane tickets, dinners charged without receipts, theater tickets and a cruise.
Dupree Vaughn, 28, a senior communications student, said he has no complaints about Watson or the school.
"It would have been nice if the school would have told us he resigned. I did not know he had left," Vaughn said. "I had no problem with him. The campus is safe, the school is affordable and the staff is helpful."
And Jourdan Facen, 19, a freshman arts and education major, gave the school high marks.
"The education is equal if not better than any school in the city and state," said Facen, who passed up attending Northern Illinois University in her hometown of DeKalb to attend CSU. "I would recommend Chicago State to others because it is a good school where teachers really care about students."