Chicago board fires outspoken Temple – Black academic Ronald J. Temple - Higher Education
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Chicago board fires outspoken Temple – Black academic Ronald J. Temple

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by Patrice M. Jones

Chicago

Dr. Ronald J. Temple, buoyed by the support of a group
of African American ministers, recently waded into the murky,
shark-infested waters of Chicago politics. But the chancellor of the
City Colleges of Chicago system discovered his feisty rhetoric was no
match for the vicious bite he received on March 5, when he was fired
outright by the board of trustees.

Temple had decided to take on the politicians after his contract
was not renewed in December. He launched a campaign publicly deriding
his bosses — including Mayor Richard Daley. He suggested that his
superiors were waging a political war to oust Black city leaders and
were exerting unseemly pressure on him to hire their friends.

The City Colleges board, which previously said Temple was welcome
to serve out the remainder of a contract set to expire in June 2000,
swiftly reversed its stance. Board Chairman Ronald Gidwitz said
trustees couldn’t stand to have Temple around anymore after his public
protests. They tapped one of Temple’s subordinates to take over the
chancellor’s post.

“Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, Dr. Temple, by virtue of
his public statements, left the board with no other choice,” Gidwitz
said in a recent interview.

Temple sat quietly last month as the board announced that
fifty-two-year-old Wayne Watson, another African American and a figure
in the inner-circle of Daley’s hand-picked public schools team, would
now sit in the chancellor’s seat.

Just a year earlier, Temple, fifty-six, had earned the ultimate
compliment from his bosses — he was not only awarded his $165,000
salary, but he also received a $50,000 bonus paid for by Chicago’s
business community. Now the board that fired him must pay up again or
face the former chancellor in court. Gidwitz has said trustees still
hope to negotiate a settlement with Temple — who stands to walk away
with a buyout ranging from $500,000 to $700,000, including salary and
benefits.

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Board members had complained that Temple, who had run community
college systems in Philadelphia and Detroit, was never really up to the
job of managing the nearly 200,000-student City Colleges system. They
said he was too slow in making significant reform and that he failed to
establish the politically favorable alliances that Daley wanted between
the colleges and the public schools.

But Temple, who could have walked away quietly with a substantial
sum of money and — if history is any guide — quickly landed on his
feet in another job, decided to fight. This despite the fact that
earlier this month, officials at the Community College of Allegheny
County in Pittsburgh confirmed that he was one of four finalists for
the president’s post there. Allegheny County officials said they could
make a final selection by the end of this month.

Temple says his main reason for taking on the Chicago system was to
defend his reputation as a competent administrator and to combat what
he calls a long history of “cronyism and patronage” that he says is
ruining the system’s potential. His battle against City Colleges began
in the pulpit of a church on Chicago’s south side in February, when a
group of ministers spoke on his behalf.

At the press conference, the ministers charged that Temple was
another Black leader deposed by Daley’s pawns at City Colleges. Argie
Johnson, the former head of the Chicago public schools who was ushered
out when Daley’s reform team took over the system in 1995, even came
and sat beside Temple in the church pulpit for support.

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That press conference laid the groundwork for the coming weeks,
when Temple began to lodge accusations against the board chairman,
Gidwitz. Temple said Gidwitz had attempted to micro-manage the system
and forced him to hire the chairman’s friends and former employees. In
fact, he claimed, Gidwitz actually made the decision to fire him last
summer when Temple tried to combine two administrative departments at
City Colleges. That restructuring, Temple said, would have cost an
important Gidwitz ally his job.

“The system is not a toy to be played with by the rich and famous,”
Temple said during a press conference in late February. “There is too
much at stake for me to run away from this.”

But the board seemed to put a stop to the verbal battle with
Temple’s firing. His last statement was made immediately after the
meeting.

“I am disappointed with the board’s action,” Temple said, while
adding, “I have thoroughly enjoyed my tenure as chancellor, even in
some of the more lonely and challenging moments.”

Temple quickly vacated his office and headed for a vacation spot, sources said.

Watson, who had been president of Kennedy-King College, one of the
seven colleges in the City Colleges system, apparently is trying to
make an impact quickly. Less than a month after taking over as
chancellor, Watson announced that he and Paul Vallas — the
Daley-appointed public schools chief — are teaming up on an initiative
to significantly boost the number of Chicago public school graduates
who will attend City Colleges this fall.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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