Equal Opportunity/Good News Is No News/Strangers Bearing Gifts | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Equal Opportunity/Good News Is No News/Strangers Bearing Gifts 

Charles Middleton hit the glass ceiling in Boulder, but Roosevelt University found his sexual orientation irrelevant to the question of how good a president he'd make.

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Equal Opportunity

Roosevelt University's new president, Charles R. Middleton, had a long, successful career at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He took a job there as an assistant professor of history in 1969, right out of graduate school, and climbed the ladder through the academic and administrative ranks. By the mid-90s, when the school's top job opened up, he was well positioned to land it: a popular dean of the college of arts and sciences, he had, among other things, managed a $100 million budget and led a capital campaign that raised $42 million. But the job went to someone else. Middleton, who had been married with children but came out as a gay man midway through his tenure at Boulder, was told by people in on the discussions that his sexual orientation was an obstacle. "Remember," he says, "Colorado was the place that in 1992 passed Amendment Two, which sought to deny lesbians and gay people the right to protest and even to petition government agencies for relief from discrimination. It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was overturned as a violation of civil rights in '96. It was a pretty inhospitable environment in Colorado, and still is."

Middleton says his personal tale is "just one of those old, ordinary stories--about maturation and growing up and accepting self--but the living of it was not ordinary, nor is it for anybody who has to go through that, even today." Still, "the issue has always been, What does this have to do with how I do my job? And the answer is nothing."

Middleton went on to Bowling Green State University as provost and then to the university system of Maryland, where he was vice chancellor for academic affairs when he interviewed for the Roosevelt job last year. "I said early on in the interview, 'Let's just get this on the table, because if this is a nonstarter, I want to know now,'" he recalls. "And they said, 'Let's talk about what we're really interested in, which is your view of where this university can go.'" His partner, John Geary, now a visiting professor at DePaul, was included when Middleton was introduced to the Roosevelt community; as far as Middleton knows, he is the nation's only officially acknowledged gay male university president. "It's the dog that didn't bark," he says. "It wasn't an issue here because it's part of Roosevelt's tradition to be inclusive."

Middleton was formally installed this week, but he's been on the job since last summer and has already spearheaded a strategic study that will lead to cutting some of the school's 126 degree programs. (No announcement yet as to which ones.) He wants Roosevelt to focus on its strengths, which he sees, for example, in its music and theater conservatory, its new doctoral program in clinical psychology, and its master's program in computer science. He hopes to build an innovative program in urban health care and is looking to other urban private schools like Fairleigh Dickinson, Pace, and Northeastern (in Boston) as peers. He wants to increase enrollment at both campuses--the 25-year-old Schaumburg branch is home to 47 percent of Roosevelt's 7,300 students, and Middleton says Roosevelt is serving as diverse a mix of backgrounds and ages there as it is in the "urban village" of the South Loop.

The glass ceiling he bumped up against in Colorado is still legal there and in many other states, including Illinois (where gay-rights bills have foundered for years), Middleton says. "That's why one has to tell the story. You have to say, is it right to say because of this issue, irrespective of the rest of your career and accomplishments, you wouldn't make a satisfactory employee?" Polls show most Americans think no, it's not. But "there's an act before Congress, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, that would bring equality under federal statutes and expand the protections that already are there for age, gender, religion, and all those other things--expand it to include sexual orientation. It's having a heck of a time getting enough votes in either house."

Good News Is No News

The Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation is trumpeting the "Illinois arts industry" as an "economic dynamo." It has released two studies, seven-year follow-ups to research done in 1995 that tracked the statewide economic impact of the arts and the geographic and political distribution of jobs in the field. "Arts Related Jobs Outpace Overall Job Growth in Illinois for Past Seven Years" was the headline on the press release. And they did, as the smaller print indicated--by a whopping 1 percent. According to the study, overall job growth in Illinois from 1995 to 2002 was 21 percent; arts-related jobs grew by 22 percent, to 128,000. The researchers counted as "arts-related" employers everything from ad agencies and video rental stores to zoos.

The distribution of those jobs is just about the same as it was seven years ago. Seventy-eight percent of them are located in the Chicago area, divided about evenly between suburbs and city; 22 percent are found in clusters elsewhere in the state. Distribution is extremely uneven, notes iMapData, Inc., the firm hired to conduct this study, with some state house districts having 130 times more arts-related jobs than others. IAAF, an arts advocacy group, declined to release the cost of either study, but neither involved gathering any raw data. iMapData extracted its information from Dun & Bradstreet's on-line database, using computer software to slice and dice it. They've set up a link at www.artsalliance.org that's supposed to allow members to identify arts-related businesses and jobs in any town or legislative district and get the answer to questions like "Who is my senator?"

Another consultant, Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, conducted the economic impact study, which was limited to nonprofit organizations and programs and based on data from Illinois Arts Council grant applications, the Illinois Tourism Network, and Museums in the Park. According to CS&L, nonprofit arts are now a $2 billion industry in Illinois, up from a little over $1 billion in 1996. That sounds like a lot of money, and the report calls the arts "a significant component of business activity within the state."

The arts are essential to Illinois and to Chicago, a magnet for new residents and visitors and a catalyst for development. But IAAF's hype doesn't necessarily hold up. Illinois' gross state product in 2000 (the most recent year available) was $467 billion. That means the nonprofit arts component of $2 billion is a drop in the bucket: less than half of 1 percent. And the 128,000 jobs cited in the iMapData study represent only 1.8 percent of the total number of jobs in the state. Legislators from districts with 130 times fewer arts-related businesses than the red-hot city center might not be impressed.

Strangers Bearing Gifts

Folks from Los Angeles-based A.S.K. Theater Projects will be in town this week to get the lay of the land. This year the private foundation will award the first of a half dozen annual $45,000 fellowships to midcareer theater professionals all over the country; in 2004 they'll start giving an annual $25,000 prize for the "original, noncommercial American theatrical production that best advances the art form." Details at www.askplay.org.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.

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