Chicago State University doesn’t rank among the nation’s biggest party schools.
But the president of the Far South Side college, Wayne Watson, threw quite a shindig this past summer at the Chicago mansion that the university owns and he lives in, rent free.
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The party drew more than 300 people and carried a $5,400 price tag, a total ultimately covered by taxpayers, the Better Government Association and FOX 32 learned.
That includes $2,795 on catering costs for beef tenderloin bruschetta, fruit kabobs and oven-roasted turkey panini, according to records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
What’s more, a singer was paid $1,800 to perform and $840 was spent on stationery for the event, records show.
Security guards were also there, but that cost was unclear.
Chicago State spokesman Tom Wogan said the event – titled “Jazz on the Hill,” and held at the school’s hill-topped mansion at 10400 S. Longwood Drive, about four miles from campus – was geared toward nearby residents, alumni and prospective students. The party was centered on the home’s expansive lawn, and alcohol was not served, officials said.
“It yielded a lot of positive results,” Wogan said. “It was for community relations. It was not just a party to have a party.”
Wogan said the university ended up with names and contact information for alumni that had lost touch with the school.
This apparently was the first type of event like this at the mansion, at least in recent times.
Revelations about the party follow other controversy at Chicago State and with Watson, the former chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago.
The BGA previously reported that Watson’s City Colleges exit package was worth as much as $800,000, including $500,000 in unused sick time. He’s currently receiving a $211,000 taxpayer-subsidized pension on top of his $199,500 Chicago State salary.
When Chicago State’s board appointed Watson to head the school in 2009, some faculty members and students angrily protested, calling the move political and Watson the wrong choice.
Watson has been politically active over the years. He donated $250 to Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign fund in 2013, state records show. Watson also has donated $550 to campaigns controlled by Ald. Edward Burke (14th) since 2002 and $800 to former Senate President Emil Jones Jr. – who has a building named after him on Chicago State’s campus.
In-state undergraduate tuition, with select fees, is currently about $5,500 a semester and the current six-year graduation rate is about 21 percent for first-time, full-time freshman. Total enrollment, currently at 5,700, has decreased in recent years.
The school has owned the Longwood Drive mansion for decades. When pressed why the school has the home, Wogan said numerous universities in Illinois have large homes for their presidents. Wogan said Chicago State is now trying to get the most out of the property by holding more events there.