Determined to Prove
The State Community College District 601 in East St. Louis is 20 years old "and they still haven't got their act together," State Sen. Kenneth Hall remarked recently.
But Hall's good friend Warrington Hudlin, 68, now president of the SCC board, says he and his new board are changing that, and by June everybody will recognize the change, "We will have quality."
Hudlin, a successful insurance man with offices in First Illinois Bank Building and at 24th and State Street, was a member of the steering committee for the establishment of the college. But he watched in dismay as the college was made a political tool, was launched without proper preparation and even was looted. But last January Gov. Jim Thompson said enough is enough and removed the whole board, changed it from an elected board to an appointed board, and Hudlin was chosen as chairman. Now, after 20 years, he has a chance to correct the situation.
He has set his goals: A quality administration and faculty whose credentials meet the job descriptions and who will attract students; a new strong emphasis on vocational education for those who do not want to go to college, while keeping the transfer program intact; cooperation in training for business and industry; innovation in job training and programs to attract students.
State Community College is the only community college in the state that is not supported by local taxes, and some legislators are murmuring about that, saying the district must fund sources to help pay its own way. But the district was created by the state legislature because Belleville Area College District and the Lewis and Clark Community College District had been allowed to annex all the tax-base, especially industry, without taking in the poorest population in the area most in need of a junior college. BAC had been allowed to wrap around the American Bottoms to rip off industry-packed Monsanto (now Sauget) with its 100 or so people, without taking East St. Louis. Lewis and Clark had come down to take in the heavy industry of Granite City and Venice, but stops short of Brooklyn. The alternatives were to force BAC and Lewis and Clark to take the "undesirables" or create a state-supported district. The legislature and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) took the latter course.
"Now they are saying to us 'You've got to find some taxes.' I talked to the legislators, I told them 'You know what you did. What do you mean how much time? Twenty years ago there was no tax base."
But Hudlin sees the riverfront as providing that tax base eventually. He has hope for the city, and for the college's role in it. "Before we pass on, you're going to be surprised at how much East St. Louis has changed," he said.
Looking back at the college's beginning, he said the legislation was signed in June. "There was no building, no staff, no nothing. Two months later here they were (in the rented Spivey Building) calling themselves a college. Now that's ridiculous. With no planning, no nothing."
Of the people chosen as administrators, only one or two had any college experience, and that at the lowest levels, he said. The dean of instruction two months earlier was an elementary school teacher, "and she became a dean. I don't know how she was baptized into all this information. The man in charge of business wasn't even a senior accountant.
"Our community college board did that. It put the college in a bind right off. And the worst thing, they let Wendell Wheadon talk the state into having an elected board, and it became political. This is one time the governor should have appointed the board so he would know there was a level of competence," Warrington said.
Warrington has a sister who was a dean of nursing at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. "SIU had formed a dean's committee to come down to community college to help them, but Wheadon chased them away. The ICCB should have said, 'No, this is wrong, wrong!' But they went right ahead with the program. I've always been unhappy about that," Hudlin said.
There have been cuts in staff, and the teachers have been told there will be no more classes with just six or seven students. The instructors know that their jobs depend on the college's ability to create student growth. The enrollment is only "a couple of thousand," but it is up 22 per cent from last year, and Hudlin sees that as only a beginning.
How much time does Hudlin spend working on college matters? "I think about it a lot," he said.
"At first I said I wouldn't go over there, they might think I was meddling. But I found out that really you have to meddle. I also have to have enough presence over there so the word will go out, that I want no politics."
Hudlin said be found sincere people on the faculty, but their resumes did not fit their requirements. "They were sincere people, but they just didn't know. We are rapidly putting in people whose resumes fit. It's not hard to do, but it is hard in our town because of politics. Look at the stadium out there (at East St. Louis High School). Awful! Awful! Awful!
"We've had to move people. We'll have to move more. The job descriptions and resumes of some of the people who held them had very little in common. Most of these have resigned; some have gotten better jobs. We had people who just didn't fit. They're the ones who kept making the same mistakes year after year after year."
The day of the interview a new director of vocational education had been hired. "We're going gung ho on that," he said. He said he had talked with SIUE President Earl Lazerson and they agreed that vocational education should be SCC's special niche. New deans have been hired, with one new dean and a new president to go. The contract of the existing president, Richard Bonner, is up Dec. 31. Applications for his successor were to be cut off Oct. 15. But already, there are many good applicants. Only persons who have been deans will be considered. Some applicants have been vice presidents. "Some are so good I wonder why in the world they would come."
|Hudlin resisted pressure to replace Bonner immediately a year ago.
"We didn't even know what all the problems were," he said, "so it seemed to
me that you ought to at least know the problems before you went out to hire someone, in
case you wanted to look for certain strength to match the needs."
"We were severely criticized because each year the auditor made a report with 20 or 30 exceptions, and many were repeats. Since the president
hadn't moved, didn't recognize the necessity or didn't elect to do it, the first thing to do is change the president, get a new leader. If it is so bad the whole board is removed, then he has to change," Hudlin said.
Hudlin believes the college can reach the unreachable, those who think they can't be taught, with the proper faculty and recruitment. He recalls his days in the service in World War II when a soldier claimed he could not remember the 10 General Orders. But he could recite over 30 verses of the Sanctified Monkey. And those who couldn't learn math, but could keep track of all the bets and the payoffs in a craps game. There are ways to reach them, he said.
In vocational education, he wants students to build houses for practice and demonstration. He wants to see unwed mothers trained for highpaying construction work, highway work. And he wants to find the unemployed or underemployed, to recruit them off the streets, and bring them to the college so that they can become earners. He already has talked with lumber companies about the houses, with Rev. Buck Owens, the street minister, about recruitment.
There are teachers in East St. Louis who are outstanding nationally, including Ron Carter of the Lincoln High School music department. Carter has different students each year, different levels of skill, of aptitude, but each year the jazz band sounds the same, and it is nationally recognized. Coach Bob Shannon at East St. Louis High School has different football players every year. They are not all stars when they come in. But they are stars when they play, and he wins state championships one after another. Hudlin wants junior college courses that these people can teach, and bring those who want to study under the masters to the college.
Riverfront gambling may cause more problems that it solves, in Hudlin's opinion. But the college has sent a couple of faculty members to Las Vegas to learn how to train gambling house employees. Whatever the needs in business or industry, the State Community College will be prepared to meet the needs to train workers, be said.
Hudlin is hopeful for the city. The impossible happens. "I went through a period when I was not optimistic. Yet when I see what many of our young people have done, including my own sons..."
He was talking about Warrington Junior and Reginald who on their own managed to go to Yale and Harvard, and who recently produced a movie "House Party" for Tri-Star Productions, now available on video cassette. The movie cost about $2,300,000, made $26 million. They have been signed to produce two more for Tri-Star and a TV movie for NBC. They always identify themselves as from East St. Louis, Hudlin said proudly. Hudlin's third and oldest son Christopher is with Hudlin Insurance, and operates the office at 24th and State.
As for East St. Louis physically, the opportunity is the riverfront. Hudlin said he can't understand how Mayor Carl Officer could have messed up so completely on developing the riverfront. Millions have been lost. Somehow it will have to be wiped off. "I don't know how you can do something like that." The important thing, he said, is to get started. "I would like to see Malcom Martin do his thing." Martin is a St. Louis attorney who years ago tried to locate the St. Louis Transportation Museum on the riverfront. Now there is talk of an ethnic museum. Such a museum could be started with a central unit with each group allowed to add on its room, he suggested. He said Martin saw such a museum in Mexico that was successful.
Billions will be invested in the riverfront, depending on who comes, he said. Those billions can restore East St. Louis' tax base, and the college can pay at least. some of its own way.