Mission and Values > Programs > Vincentian Mission Institute > Current VMI Cohort > James Wolfinger

James Wolfinger


James Wolfinger holds the rank of Professor and has a joint appointment in the departments of History and Teacher Education.  He taught history, American government, economics, and other disciplines at the high school level before returning to graduate school to earn his M.A. in U.S. history at the University of Georgia and Ph.D. at Northwestern University.  He joined the faculty at DePaul after graduating from Northwestern in 2003 and has been at the university for fourteen years.  He has served as program director of the Secondary Education program and associate chair of the Department of Teacher Education before becoming associate dean of the College of Education in 2012.  Jim is also the director of the DePaul University and Facing History and Ourselves Collaboration.  He is the author of two books, Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry (Cornell University Press, 2016).  His articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, Journal of Urban History, Labor, Enterprise and Society, and many other venues.

Why DePaul

DePaul’s focus on multiculturalism, social justice, improving the urban world, and educating first-generation students has always enticed me to work here and stay here.  When I tell colleagues at other institutions about the mission and how we try, even if imperfectly, to live up to it every day, they want to work here too.  The faculty, staff, and administration all have a palpable commitment to live up to our ideals the best we can.  I recently attended the university dinner for commencement speakers.  At that event, Father Holtschneider spoke earnestly about what we stand for, what we try to achieve, as a community.  Our speaker, who had won many literary awards and had attended dinners at the White House as the guest of four different presidents, leaned over and said, “I’ve never been so honored.  Being a speaker here, seeing this community, has been life changing!”  I must agree.  I have had opportunities to go elsewhere but have always chosen to stay because I feel such a close fit with, commitment to, this university. 


Higher education has found itself on rocky soil for some time now.  There are no easy fixes.  I firmly believe that the future of this university is vital to the city of Chicago and the larger community.  I also firmly believe that future depends on a deep understanding of, and commitment to, the university’s mission.  It is impossible to work at DePaul and not know something of Vincentian personalism, but I want to participate in VMI to gain a far deeper understanding of the teachings of Saint Vincent de Paul and the underlying mission of the university.  Knowing the mission, I believe, helps us make smarter strategic decisions about what steps to take next.  It helps us contemplate the future while simultaneously understanding our past and deepening our commitment to what we stand for as an institution.