President Robert L. Manuel > Notes from Rob > 2023-24 > Academic Convocation 2023

Academic Convocation 2023

​​​​Good morning. It is a real treat to welcome you all back – and to begin our term. While the summer was a wonderful time, it is more exciting to see our community reassemble and get ready for the year ahead.  

Today we get together to reflect, celebrate, and begin to work through our path forward. This moment is a critical one for DePaul, and I am excited to work with you to figure it all out.
To all our new faculty and staff members, welcome to the DePaul family. You're joining DePaul at a consequential moment, and I look forward to your contributions to defining our way forward.

I also would like to extend my congratulations to our newly tenured and promoted faculty members – as well as our community members who received awards today. The challenges that we have all faced were many – and I am inspired by your examples of working through those difficulties to distinguish yourselves in service to our mission and our students. Congratulations.

It was exactly 364 days ago today that I stood here, at this podium, for the first time. I remember leaving with such excitement for the year ahead, and I – like you – was ready to start reconnecting our community to each other and the world.

We lived in that relative state of hope for about four months – and then we saw the financial challenges come front and center.

Let's face it, the year did not go the way we expected – it certainly wasn't how I envisioned my first year with you would be. We faced some extremely difficult budget challenges. We should acknowledge that it was hard, and the spring quarter took its toll on all of us.

I experienced and saw pain, disruption and fear. I am sorry that we had to go through that moment – but I'm truly grateful for your thoughtfulness and care for one another during that time.  

One of the common questions I was asked during the year was, “How will these budget decisions help us move to prominence in higher education?  What is strategic about these decisions?"

The answer is they won't. There is nothing strategic about making budget reduction decisions – they simply were required for us to be able to begin the reinvestment process.

Here is what our decisions about last year's budget did for us – some positive, some not so much.

  1. They reinvigorated the fears that we are in just one of many budget crises that will continue to occur over time.
  2. They reenforced a sense of a zero-sum game at DePaul – where success in one area only comes at the expense of another.
  3. They also increased the desire in our community to figure out a path forward that prevents us from ever coming back here again.
  4. They allowed us to start the next fiscal year's planning in a break-even position.
  5. Our work gave the board confidence in our future such that they are now making the endowment return available to us if we can pitch ideas that support our mission for generations to come – this could mean investments of up to $17 million dollars a year.
We sit here today joined by two very different realities – both formed from the actions of the past year.

The first reality is born in desolation and is rooted in fear. It is paralyzing to action and the development of our community. It is warranted – but not helpful.

The second is based in hope, trust, and action. My sincerest hope for us – for DePaul – is that we can work with each other to choose hope, trust, and action as our guides moving forward.
We must use this moment to embrace our broad and talented Vincentian family members and together design our future that extends our mission to where it is needed, continues to provide life-changing educational experiences for our students, promotes the creative work being done around the university, connects us to our community, and creates a national model for quality in higher education.

As difficult as it was to go through last year's budget cuts, it also was a moment for shared governance to shine. I'm so grateful for the leadership of Faculty Council and Staff Council – as they were constant partners aiding the right engagements through it all.  One of the promises I made last year was that we would appoint Presidential Fellows to work with us on questions that surround shared governance at DePaul. I am pleased to tell you today that two projects (and three faculty) were chosen to become the inaugural Presidential Fellows in Shared Governance.

Dr. Bamshad Mobasher (Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media) will focus on one project, and Greg Mark (College of Law) and Dana Hall (School of Music) will focus on another. Their announcements, along with the details of their projects will be formally documented in an upcoming communication. These three faculty will join Stephen Haymes (College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences) and Jess Westbrook (Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media) who are our Presidential Fellows for diversity for this coming academic year.
Over the summer, I had many conversations with faculty and staff members. I heard one consistent message: how do we move forward?

I heard that there are concerns about fatigue -- concerns about direction -- and concerns that we will move forward but only at the expense of the distinctiveness of DePaul.

I am asking for some faith in the process, some grace as we design clear, new paths together.  I'm also asking for the community to believe that we are capable of making these changes – because the only truth I see is that if we do not act, we will be forced to continue our unpleasant conversations about budget management as our way to move through these difficult times.

Last January, we began the discussions called Designing DePaul  - we came together as a community to imagine our possibilities and ultimately to design DePaul's future. More than 3,000 members of our community, including faculty, students, staff, trustees, alumni, parents, and retirees, participated in nearly 50 listening sessions.

We learned that there are three things that should be present in everything we do – they are the glue that we will use to remember that we are a Catholic, Vincentian institution.

Those are:

  1. A devotion to understanding and including mission in all we do
  2. Be more intentional about demonstrating our commitment to DEI; and
  3. Find ways to continue practices that keep us financially stable.
Consider these three principles our foundation that will serve as our bedrock for all our initiatives moving forward.

When you leave today, I hope you take a Designing DePaul placemat. These are meant to show how all of the initiatives fit together, how and when you can be involved, and how we will develop our path forward.

Also – the placemat has a QR code on it that will bring you to a digital copy of the Designing DePaul results. These results will be available for university comment for the month of September – and we will produce the final report in October once all the comments have been synthesized. I hope you will take some time to comment on our future.  

As you read the Designing DePaul document – please keep in mind a few things. First – it is NOT a strategic plan. I do not think it is a good idea for a university as complex as we are to have a single plan that is created from one central office. Instead, this document is meant to do two things.

First – it is meant to detail the visions and directions from our community members. Every idea in the document comes from the comments of the Designing DePaul activities. This document should inspire each unit to know how to connect their existing strategic plans to university wide initiatives, or how to guide the development of new plans.

Second – it identifies university initiatives that we can begin to execute  immediately. Please see these initiatives as additive to our work – we need to continue to invest and support our existing programs as well as create new – the combination will enable us to accomplish all of our goals.

So here are some of the initiatives:

First – We will eliminate the retention and graduation achievement gaps between our Black, Hispanic students – and our Caucasian students. We will accomplish this within 10 years.
We must do better to honor the contract we established with our students to ensure they graduate within four years.

I am very happy to share that Darryl Arrington has agreed to lead our efforts in this area. Darryl has served this university with distinction and has a deep set of experiences with student engagement, belonging and retention. He is now serving as associate vice president for student retention and success in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity. I have asked him to work with you all to create a new model for retention at DePaul. To support this work, DePaul Central will report into Darryl and will serve as a catalyst for this work.  

In addition to supporting our students' academic success, we must also support their wellbeing. A second university-wide initiative will be to offer health insurance for our students.

Last year, members of Faculty Council, Student Government, and other departments came to me with a request to provide students with access to an affordable health insurance plan. We did our due diligence and learned DePaul is indeed in the minority for not having a student insurance plan, which is particularly difficult for our graduate students, international students, and out-of-state students. I promised Faculty Council they would get an answer from me on the health insurance plan by September 1.

Today, I am happy to report that starting Fall 2024, DePaul will be able to offer health insurance for all degree-seeking students.

Third - it was clear from our conversations that public safety is an area that we should focus on in the upcoming year. Earlier this week, all faculty, staff, and students received an invitation in Newsline to register for the safety summit, which will take place on September 14 on the Lincoln Park Campus. We will use this summit as an opportunity to convene our university community to proactively address concerns about campus safety.

Last year, at my inauguration, I shared a bold vision – to transform DePaul into a national leader in higher education.

Eliminating the achievement gap and doing everything we can to ensure student success is one way we will get there. Placing interdisciplinary education and translational research at the center of our new approach to teaching, learning, and research is another.

Based on community input gathered at the Designing DePaul sessions, the university will move forward with the creation of three interdisciplinary programs and translational research institutes - one focused on poverty, one on environmental sustainability, and one on artificial intelligence.

As the work in our interdisciplinary programs and translational research develops, they will all use a new data visualization theater where researchers, business leaders, civil servants, and community members can collaborate to visualize the future impacts of their policies, programs, and funding in the communities they are trying to serve.

Next – we are committing to redesign and deploy a new digital presence for DePaul. At the Designing DePaul sessions, you helped us identify the many reasons why we must modernize our digital presence to effectively showcase just how much our university is changing the world. The public-facing elements of a new DePaul website will enable our faculty, staff, and students to show the DePaul story to the world and connect with each other.

In addition to these initiatives, we will:

  1. Formalize our commitment to becoming an Hispanic Serving Institution
  2. Dedicate ourselves to the adoption of the requests that have long been identified by the Black Equity Initiative –
  3. All while continuing our work to support the AANAPISI community at DePaul
  4. Create a new process for our one-year budget planning, and a five-year financial model – to assist in the prioritizing of our needs
  5. Launch a data filled website that allows every person on campus to access finance, enrollment, and other critical pieces of our university's operations. We will complement this information with several public education sessions throughout the year on the financial management of the university.
There is more – and ALL of these initiatives can be reviewed in more detail on the placemat we will hand out in the back of the church – AND online in the Designing DePaul document.
Supporting these initiatives requires dramatically expanding our philanthropic efforts to support the creative existing and new programs yet to be developed at DePaul.

In the spring, Katie Fraumann joined DePaul as our senior vice president for advancement and external relations. Katie will be leading all our efforts to implement a new approach to philanthropy including the launch of a highly ambitious capital campaign next year.

As we plan for the larger comprehensive campaign – and so we don't lose momentum, this year we will embark on our philanthropic expansion by launching two targeted campaigns at DePaul. The first will connect our philanthropic efforts with the academic work of our university. Our desire is to more tightly connect the professionals in our advancement office with the faculty, labs, projects, and aspirations of our faculty and program directors directly. This planning will begin immediately, and we will use these materials as the core of our feasibility study – the results of which will become the core parts of our comprehensive campaign.

The immediate focus on student scholarships, the academic initiatives in the Designing DePaul document, and many existing programs around DePaul should enable us to find funding to help us grow our academic reach. It is our hope that these efforts will guide more than half of our long-term fundraising activities during the new comprehensive campaign (which I hope will be around the $1 billion dollar mark).

The second focused campaign will be to support our athletics program and will focus on improving DePaul's facilities for student athletes, including the construction of a new basketball practice facility. A strategic investment in improving DePaul's athletics facilities will benefit all our student athletes and foster long-term financial health for the university. This $60 million dollar project is a shorter term focused philanthropy opportunity, and we start fundraising for this initiative tomorrow! We will announce plans to move ahead with these facility improvements this afternoon.

To support these many initiatives, there are certain structural changes that have been made over the last several months to prepare for our work ahead.

Enrollment Management, led by Soumitra Ghosh, now reports directly to me in the President's Office. To maximize the effectiveness of our enrollment strategy across the university, we centralized certain functions under the Enrollment Management umbrella, including all admissions operations for international students and we have more tightly connected the abilities of this office to graduate student recruitment in the Driehaus College of Business and the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media. We're already seeing positive results. As of today, we are 98% of our goal for all enrollments in the fall quarter. Last year we saw roughly 1,000 new registrations between this day and our census date – and we are confident that we will meet (if not exceed by a bit) our targeted goals.

We need to elevate DePaul's story in ways it has never been told before -  dramatically expanding the reach and visibility of our university across the nation and around the globe.

For this reason, in the spring, I restructured University Marketing and Communications.

Elizabeth Clements, who reports to me and is a member of my cabinet, is leading University Communications, which includes media relations, internal communications, crisis communications, and multimedia production.

The second part of our communication and marketing strategy is to hire a new Chief Branding Officer for the university. To lead our branding and marketing, we are conducting a national search to help us create a strategy to more powerfully tell our stories to the world.

My goal is to have this position filled as soon as possible – especially as we move ahead with building a new digital presence for DePaul.

I just shared a lot with you. I hope you can sense how much we're already moving forward – and I hope you can see that these first set of initiatives – if we enact them well – will help us honor our mission, deliver our preferred form of education, and secure our financial future. 

As I mentioned earlier – when you leave the church today, please take a copy of the Designing DePaul project plan for the year. This document outlines exactly when you can expect to receive updates on each of the initiatives I shared with you today. My hope is that this chart will help you visualize just how much progress is occurring across our community, and will be a way for you to track the university-wide initiatives.

This afternoon, you also will receive an email from me that includes a link to the speech I just delivered, as well as a digital version of the Designing DePaul report, summarizing all your feedback from the listening sessions, and providing more detailed explanations for our work.
I want to emphasize how grateful I am that you are all a part of our Vincentian family. I recognize the signs of fatigue and concern, and I hope that the possibilities we explored today go a little way towards recharging your batteries. I believe that these options provide us grounded, creative, and achievable possibilities to lead us to a place of prominence and stability in higher education.

Thank you again for everything you have done and will do to keep DePaul moving forward. You are truly remarkable, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to forge ahead along this path with you.​