Even though she won’t start until January 2009, Paula Allen-Meares has big plans as the first Black chancellor for the University of Illinois-Chicago.
“I want to change the culture of the school from faculty to students so that it remains one of the top universities in the country,” said Allen- Meares, 60. “I am committed to equality in higher education, and I know the staff at UIC is committed to diversity.” UIC is located on the West Side and is the largest university in Chicago, with a student population of 25,000, a faculty of 12,000 and an annual budget of $1.7 billion, according to Bill Burton, public affairs director for UIC. The UIC Board of Trustees is expected to approve Allen-Meares’ nomination at its July 24 meeting, Burton added. As chancellor, Allen-Meares will serve as the executive officer for the UIC campus, reporting to the president of the University of Illinois in a system that includes campuses in Champaign-Urbana and Springfield. She will work with the executive administrative staff to recruit students, and do grant writing and fundraising. For the last 15 years, Allen-Meares has been dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She plans to transfer her success there, where she helped raise $87 million during her tenure, to UIC. “Fundraising is a big part of being chancellor because colleges cannot rely solely on student tuition to pay bills,” she said. “At the same time, I want to make UIC affordable to any student who wants to attend whether they’re Black, white, blue or green.” But Allen-Meares adds that she is no stranger to Chicago. “I have a lot of friends in Chicago and have conducted educational workshops for the Chicago Board of Education,” she said. Other state universities such as Eastern Illinois University in downstate Charleston and Northern Illinois University in Dekalb have special admission requirements for minority students. Allen-Meares said she is open to the idea of UIC having special admission requirements for incoming minority students as well. “That is something I plan to look into once I officially start because I know more and more public universities are doing this to increase minority enrollment,” Allen-Meares said. Ramona Davenport, director of minority affairs at Eastern, said their Gateway program for incoming, minority freshmen should be duplicated at all colleges with a low minority population. “Minority kids, specifically Blacks, do not have the same academic upbringing as white students who often attend better schools in the suburbs,” Davenport said. “It is unconceivable to expect a kid who attended a low performing high school in the inner-city to test as well or academically achieve as much as a white student who attended a private or suburban school with state-of-the art classrooms.” She added that 70 percent of Eastern’s minority students come from St. Louis and Chicago, particularly from the Chicago Public Schools. Montel Smith, 18, a junior at Harlan Community Academy high school on the South Side, plans to attend UIC and said a minority admissions policy would help students like him struggling to improve his grade point average. Black students at UIC welcome the news that it would soon have a Black chancellor. “I think it’s cool that a woman of color was chosen for the top spot here. Most chancellors at big universities like UIC are white men so it’s refreshing to know that the glass ceiling is finally being broken,” said Chandra Meeks, 20, a sophomore chemistry major at UIC. Freshman Eddie Brooks, 19, said he hopes Allen-Meares can make a difference in recruitment because that is where he sees the school lacking. “The only reason why I am here is because my mother is an alumni. Otherwise, I might not be here because no one from UIC ever came to visit my high school,” he said. “Marketing is everything when it comes to what college Black kids will attend. That’s one reason why Black colleges like Morehouse College and Howard University are so popular among Black high schoolers. It’s heavily marketed at inner-city schools.” With an annual salary of $375,000, Allen-Meares will make the move to Chicago with her husband of 34 years. The couple has three grown daughters and six grandchildren.
Wendell Hutson can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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