Please engage in a thought experiment with me.
You are the Mayor of Chicago. You have an opportunity to talk to the Economic Club of Chicago (ECC). ECC members are the corporate elite of Chicago – CEOs, Chairmen, Directors, and Managing Partners and Directors of companies such as Walgreens, Aon, McDonalds, Accenture, JP Morgan Chase, Madison-Dearborn Partners, Deloitte, Rush University Medical Center, and Sara Lee. As Mayor, you may have two or three opportunities to address this group over each of your four-year terms. Over 1,200 people will gather to listen to your speech.
You have had a dynamic and energetic start as Mayor. You have taken on tough issues and scored early wins. You are wrestling with significant budget shortfalls in the context of the greatest recession the US has seen in over 70 years. You aspire to keep Chicago as a great, global city. You are committed to improving outcomes for students in K-12 education, putting more police officers on the street, and making Chicago’s environment friendlier to help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
What do you talk about? What issue do you want to bring to this august gathering of business and civic leaders? What key message do you want to communicate, and in turn, what is the ask? What actions do you want this audience to take? What will you inspire them to do differently tomorrow?
Last night, Mayor Emanuel talked about the importance of City Colleges of Chicago to the future of Chicago. We were not one in a list of major initiatives and policy ideas – we were the whole enchilada. The Mayor talked about CCC as an essential centerpiece to his strategy to link qualified employees with the jobs that Chicago employers cannot fill, even in this recession. Time and again, he mentioned Olive-Harvey, Malcolm X, Harold Washington and our sister schools. He told of meeting a student at the 35th Street Red Line stop who, in the Mayor’s words, is “doing everything right.” This student is holding down a full-time job at a Target distribution warehouse and attending school at Harold Washington. He asked what we – meaning we in the room, the business community, and CCC – what we are doing to ensure this student receives the education he needs to put him on a path to success in Chicago.
I was sitting in the room. I was moved by the times the Mayor was interrupted by applause as he outlined his vision for CCC’s role in Chicago’s future. He then made the pitch, asking the leaders in the room to join CCC in achieving this future. Those leaders embraced the Mayor’s vision. My wife, no stranger to big effing deals, leaned over to me and said, “This is a really big deal.” It is. It is incredibly energizing to know that Mayor Emanuel supports our efforts to make CCC an economic engine of the city. I have already had business leaders reach out to me to ask how they can get involved at HWC.
With this charge comes responsibility. CCC and Harold Washington can no longer toil in the obscure backwaters of higher ed. Our actions will now come under scrutiny, and the business community, having been asked to help, will begin asking what we are doing to hold up our end of the bargain. I want to note that the Mayor did not ask us to walk away from our liberal arts responsibilities, but he did ask for us to re-focus and re-energize the industry-specific training we will offer.
I have already started talking to a small number of faculty about what Harold Washington might become in the months and years ahead. I have asked for ideas, supporting data, and plans. I look forward to additional discussions with faculty and staff on what we need to do to fulfill our role in the Mayor’s vision. I look forward to planning for our role in helping our students achieve their career goals. I look forward to making HWC a centerpiece in the CCC strategy.
Welcome to the Spotlight.