A 'Patron Saint' for Chicago State University: Long-Neglected Chicago State University Has a Powerful Friend in the Illinois Legislature, and the School Is Not Even in His District

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Illinois state Sen. Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago, has long been an advocate for public education. In fact, its hard to find anyone in the state who won't acknowledge this fact, even among those who don't always agree with his tactics.

Since he graduated from Roosevelt University and later entered the Illinois State House of Representatives in 1973, the Chicago native has made educational reform from kindergarten to college a cornerstone of his public service.

But in recent years, he has turned his attention more specifically to Chicago State University, the 139-year-old university on the South Side of Chicago with a history of facing obstacles--including declining enrollment, dilapidated buildings and low faculty salaries.

When Jones was elected president of the Illinois State Senate five years ago, he vowed to change things at CSU, ultimately wielding his power as a legislator to secure funds for a university that until recently was considered one of the state's most neglected institutions of higher education.

Ironically, CSU is not even located within Jones' legislative district. But none of that matters to him. The 72-year-old politician has made the school his personal crusade and is working in Springfield--the state's capital--to help revitalize the university where the student population is close to 80 percent Black.

"Chicago State University is a predominantly minority university, and they need someone to be their advocate," says Jones, who has been criticized in the past for proposing controversial education legislation. For example, several years ago, he successfully petitioned and helped pass legislation that now requires the teaching of Black history and Holocaust history in Illinois schools. The proposal was met by some critics who questioned whether such a requirement was necessary. And he spearheaded a successful internship and scholarship program for minority students across the state, although other states are moving away from race-conscious programs for fear of facing major lawsuits.

His lobbying efforts on behalf of CSU were satisfied last year when the university opened its $38 million, 171,000-square-foot convocation center. …