Zerrie Campbell, the longest serving president of Malcolm X College, last Friday announced her retirement, effective March 31.
Campbell has been president of the West Side community college since 1992, and part of the City College’s of Chicago system for the past 34 years. Campbell said she is ready for a break. An illness that afflicted Campbell nearly four years ago help spur the decision, she said. Her last day will be March 31.
“I don’t know if I have the energy I did 16 years ago to take it to the next level,” Campbell said. “It’s time to give somebody else a chance. It feels like going out on top.”
Malcolm X College, Campbell said, is on steady footing for whomever the city colleges picks as her successor. She pointed to the institution’s consecutive 10-year accreditations (in 1997 and last year) from the Higher Learning Commission. Campbell also acknowledged the school’s success in training students for health care professions and placing them in jobs.
“There’s probably not a hospital in the Chicago-land region that doesn’t have a Malcolm X College graduate, or at least a city colleges grad,” Campbell said, also noting MXC’s links to the community.
According to the latest statistics from the National Center for Educational Statistics, a federal agency, there are 2,744 students who attend Malcolm X College full time. The overall graduation rate, according to the center, is around 10 percent.
Campbell, 56, studied English at Northern Illinois University, and earned masters’s degrees from NIU and Chicago State University. She has served in a variety of roles within the city colleges, including teaching, staff and in administration.
Campbell’s tenure as MXC president, however, began with some controversy.
In ’92, Campbell became the fifth president in six years upon her appointment. Her predecessor was popular in the community. After his departure, some members of the MXC president search committee did not like that Campbell was simultaneously serving on a city college system-wide management team and acting as interim president of the college.
After accepting the presidency, Campbell said she spent a lot of time “internally” building enrollment, recruiting new administrators, and working on the relationship between administration and the school’s unions.
The school, she said, was “operating from a defensive posture.”
Campbell also led the school through the colleges teacher’s strike in 2004, which also saw controversy at MXC.
At the time, a MXC student, who had previously been selected as one of the top 60 community college students in the country by USA Today, said he was expelled for supporting the teachers. Campbell said he was only suspended, and that the student finished his degree.
“When we realized the strike was going to occur, I called a meeting,” Campbell recalled. “We had a celebration of who we were as MXC, and recognized that we would disagree but not be disagreeable.”
William Stewart, the current representative of Cook County Colleges Teacher’s Union Local 1660 at MXC, said Campbell was firm, candid and fair, and always advocated for students.
“As many have stated, no one will fill her shoes,” Stewart said. “She has contributed so much to the community and to get Malcolm X College to where it is now.”
Campbell said the next president will face many challenges, ranging from keeping enrollment up to integrating a new, mostly non-tenured faculty into the school.
The city colleges is planning a nationwide search for Campbell’s replacement.
In the meantime, Ghingo Brooks, a vice president at MXC and a former dean, has been named interim president.
Brooks, for his part, said Campbell will be missed.
“It was at her inauguration that she coined the mantra, the credo of the college,” Brooks said. “She coined it – ’empowerment through education,’ and that’s what the college became.”