Inaugural address​ of the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.

November 20, 2004

If I may, allow me to begin with thanks. There are people in the room tonight who honor all of us at DePaul by their presence.  

  • His Eminence, Cardinal Francis George
  • His Excellency, Bishop Thomas Paprocki
  • The Very Reverend James Swift and Very Reverend Thomas McKenna, provincial leaders of the Vincentian Midwest and East provinces
  • The Honorable Mattie Hunter and the Honorable Kirk Dillard, senators of the Illinois General Assembly
  • Commissioner Cortez Trotter
  • Representatives of our sister universities. In particular,
    • Krzysztof Pawlowski, rector of Wysza Szkola Bizesu, our partner institution in Poland;
    • Peter Loewenguth, president of the CMC Graduate School of Business, our partner institution in the Czech Republic; and
    • Fr. Gregory Banaga, the president of Adamson University, our Vincentian sister institution in the Philippines
  • Also with us tonight are the 9th and 10th presidents of DePaul University, Fr. John Richardson and Fr. Jack Minogue. Our pride in this university is due in no small part to their vision and tenacious leadership. Fr. Minogue and Fr. Richardson, would you stand and be acknowledged?
  • Most gratefully, tonight, I'm proud to be surrounded by the Vincentian brothers and priests who sponsor this institution. They are our colleagues in faculty departments and other various offices. Some are semi-retired. A few do not work at DePaul at all, but support it in more ancillary ways. All, in one way or another, have led by their quiet, steady, prayerful example. I rely heavily on their friendship and support in my own life, but I know that you have known them far longer than I, and I know that you call them your friends. I wonder if I may ask all of the Vincentian priests and brothers in the room to stand and be acknowledged for their faithful service.
  • I will say a bit more about those who organized tonight's events when we're at the Fairmont Hotel, but may I ask you join me in thanking the students tonight—the actors, the musicians, the student government leaders, and many others—who by their presence remind all of us what a joy it is to be an educator. Would the students please stand?
Do you know the story of Abel Berland? In the 1930's—the depths of the Great Depression in Chicago—a young, bright student named Abel Berland had been refused admittance to the University of Chicago because their "quota of Jewish students had been filled" and so he sought admittance to DePaul's College of Commerce. But now, as the Depression hit, his family no longer had the funds to pay for his tuition. Frustrated and saddened by this second setback, Abel walked into the dean's office to withdraw from the university until he could secure enough funds to return. As Abel tells it, Fr. Comerford O'Malley, the dean, looked him in the eye and said "Abel, enroll in the next semester's courses and don't worry about the tuition at this time. We'll work it out. Your education is more important than our collection of tuition." 

At the time, DePaul University was not in much better shape financially that Abel's family. Like other Depression-era institutions, the university was struggling to survive. Indeed, the Midwest Province of the Vincentians was underwriting the university in those hard times. Abel completed his education, eventually paid off his tuition debt to DePaul, and went on to become president of Arthur Rubloff & Co. real estate. More than that, he took his liberal arts education from DePaul, turned it into a life-long love affair with literature, and became one of the United States' great rare book collectors. When Dean O'Malley became President O'Malley, Abel Berland became one of the university's first lay trustees. He established an endowment to help future students, and served his alma mater with advice and assistance whenever he could. Abel's beloved wife Meredith died just two weeks ago, and I'm certain he and his family would be grateful for your thoughts and prayer.

DePaul University began as a solution to a problem. Immigrant populations, largely Catholic and Jewish, could not get into other Chicago colleges because of price and because of admissions quotas. It was abundantly clear to immigrant parents that a college education would change their children's prospects in this new world. And so, at the request of the Archbishop of Chicago, the Vincentian fathers and brothers, in concert with other generous men and women in Chicago, formed a new college, with the idea of welcoming everyone, with no religious test for either students or faculty. From its opening days, this was an institution for all those with great dreams and limited resources.

Many colleges in American higher education started for the same reason. But universities in the United States tend to shift position over time. 

  • Harvard and Yale were founded for the students whose parents didn't have the money to send them to Oxford or Cambridge to study.
  • These schools began accepting a wealthier, more elite student body after the American Revolution, so charity colleges were invented for those who couldn't afford them. Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin and others are now among our nation's wealthiest and most elite liberal arts colleges, and charity colleges no longer.
  • Land-grant colleges were formed in the mid-1800's to make education more broadly available. Today, those institutions—Cornell, MIT, the University of Michigan and other state institutions—educate students from families having higher average incomes than students attending private colleges in those same states.
  • Even our beloved junior colleges and community colleges, designed to make education available to all sectors of society, have begun building four-year programs and tightening access when permitted to by their home states. 

As some of these institutions shifted their missions to a wealthier student, other colleges shifted their missions from teaching missions to research missions. Today, nine of the ten largest private universities in the nation are research institutions. Only one—DePaul University—is a doctoral intensive university, making DePaul University the largest private university in the nation with a primary teaching mission. This is not to belittle research. DePaul's faculty is justly proud of the research it conducts each year, the grants, the books, the articles, keynote speeches, projects and more. Our faculty members are prominent in their fields, some of them leading some of the most important conversations in the nation. 

But let's be candid. There is a difference between faculty who wake up in the morning and go to work because they want to spend their day creating and producing research, and those faculty who wake up in the morning and go to work because they want to prepare the next generation. DePaul's faculty self-select to work at DePaul because they believe with all their hearts that the reason God placed them on this earth was to make a difference in the lives of these young people. Their research, their consulting, their service activities, all fit into or around this primary task of sharing with our doctoral, masters and undergraduate students the great questions and knowledge, great research and ideas of our world. 

That makes DePaul a wonderful place to be a student. And it seems the students agree, having voted themselves in the Princeton Review to be among the happiest students in the United States for four out of the past six years—including this year.

DePaul has jealously protected its mission over the years. We've raised our standards, and built nationally ranked academic programs, such as our top-ten ranked MBA program, but we've held to our founding vision at the same time. Today,
  • We have 23,570 students.
  • We model the diversity of Chicago itself, where 30 percent of our students are students of color.
  • 50 percent of our students are over 24 years of age, having decided to do whatever it takes at this point in their lives to invest in their futures.
  • 38 percent of our students are the first in their families to go to college.
  • 80 percent of our students come from and stay in Chicago and Illinois after their education. As one prominent politician recently said: "DePaul University is fundamental to the city of Chicago." Chicago's theatre, its music, its schools, its courts, its businesses and so many more all depend on highly well-educated DePaul graduates.

Today, DePaul is flourishing, it's growing, but it's flourishing and growing on our terms. The mission is very much alive at DePaul. Today, the story of Abel Berland is repeated every quarter. This September alone, DePaul University assisted 1,900 students from the greater Chicago area so that these students could afford to stay in school. When Fr. Minogue recently stepped down as president, the university wanted to put his name on something as a tribute to his leadership. It says something wonderful about him and about DePaul that he asked the university to establish a scholarship for juniors and seniors who, for unforeseen family circumstances, have to drop out of college. The Minogue scholarships, once they are fully funded, will extend DePaul's mission for yet another generation of Abel Berland's.

But let me tell you a more recent story.

Yesterday afternoon at 3 p.m., a 1955 graduate of DePaul's law school came forward and said that he wanted to give back to the next generation at DePaul. Vic Cacciatore joined the DePaul board of trustees in 1973, and has been an active friend of the university ever since. Vic chaired the Physical Plant and Property committee at the time the university acquired the Goldblatt's building. He headed the committee at the time of the acquisition of the Blackstone, now the Merle Reskin Theatre. He played a role in the Goodman School of Drama becoming part of DePaul University. When Vic talks about DePaul, he talks about the opportunities that a DePaul education made possible for him. He believes in DePaul's mission, because he knows what it did for him and his family. Through the years, he convinced colleagues to donate over $2.5 million dollars to DePaul, while donating almost $350,000 himself.

But yesterday at 3 p.m., he, his wife Charlotte, and his children said that they would personally donate $1 million toward the Sullivan-McGrath Campaign to build a new softball stadium. Academic programs, facilities, and now athletics have all been touched by this man's leadership and generosity. In gratitude not only for this gift, but for a lifetime of love and service for DePaul and its mission, DePaul will name that stadium in his honor. Vic, his wife Charlotte and some of their children are here tonight. Vic and Charlotte, would you please stand?

We're proud of our mission here at DePaul, not just of the students who come here, but of the education they receive. St. Vincent DePaul had no patience for those who would give the finest service only to the wealthy. And so, DePaul University has insisted on providing the finest education—an elite education—for a non-elite population. That's our market niche. That's what makes us interesting in the larger landscape of American higher education.

And that shapes our marching orders for the years ahead of us. We are the largest private university in the nation with a teaching mission. In the years ahead of us, we must continue to push toward becoming the finest private university in the nation with a teaching mission—but on our own terms! 

  • A practical, performance-based education, so that students are well-prepared whether they are standing on theatre stage, a commodities floor, an emergency room, or any others of the hundreds of professions our students are prepared for here at DePaul.
  • A liberal arts education, so that students are prepared for more than just their careers.
  • A Vincentian education that never averts its gaze from society's marginalized.
  • A Catholic education, which understands how values and faith-based beliefs are integrally woven in life's most important issues.
  • An urban education that understands and incorporates the views of diverse groups.
  • An international education, so that students prepare to live and work in a world where national boundaries are becoming less important with each passing day.
  • A rigorous education, so that students are well prepared to compete with their counterparts from any university in the United States, whether in the workplace or graduate study.

An elite education for a non-elite population. But not "elitist!" One of Chicago's largest employers recently told me why he hires DePaul grads whenever he can. He said that they're well-prepared, but even more importantly, DePaul grads show up for the first day of work without a sense of entitlement. They come knowledgeable, but also come prepared to learn; to accept work assignments as opportunities to learn the business from the ground-up; and to build their careers the old fashioned way—with hard work. I was happy to hear that about our students, for Vincent de Paul always told his priests that Vincentians should be known for their humility, simplicity and zeal. In other words, "lose the attitude and work hard." There are plenty of educational institutions that instill a sense of entitlement, a sense of elitism, a sense the world somehow owes them. That's not DePaul. One of our alumni in the 1940's said we are the "street-kid" of universities. There's something to that. 

The past six years have seen enormous enrollment growth at DePaul. That growth has fueled the hiring of an extraordinary faculty. We have already built something amazing for our students, but this assemblage of talent now permits us to do even more. In the years ahead of us, our energies must be focused on building something even more extraordinary for our students:  

  • For some colleges and programs, we must improve our facilities if we are to jump to the next level.
  • For other programs, we must change our curriculum.
  • For others, we must invest in additional faculty expertise.
  • For others, we must change the way we teach.
  • In some areas, we must add new programs to match the changing world around us.
  • In some areas, we must raise our standards even further.
  • In some specific areas, we must improve our internal operations. 

But all of this in service of building something extraordinary for our students. 

Vincent de Paul was never satisfied. Trying to sum up Vincent's life, the academy-award winning film Monsieur Vincent invented a scene close to Vincent's death, in which he was asked by the Queen of France what he would have done differently looking back on his life. The Vincent of the movie thought for a moment, and quietly said, "More." There's no historical basis for this question and response, but it sums up Vincent's life beautifully. Until the last moments of his 80-year life, Vincent de Paul insisted that the needs of the poor be served fully and well. There was always more to do, and what was done could always be done better.  

I'm extraordinarily blessed to be president of DePaul. It will not be my job to convince the institution to create something ever-more extraordinary for our students. This institution already believes in it. I have spent the past three months listening and learning from those who work here: 

  • Our music faculty decided two decades ago to develop one of the finest music programs in the nation. They did it on their own, steadily, with a real commitment to providing the students with an extraordinary experience.
  • CTI decided last year that it should create a major in digital cinema. Within a matter of months, the program was designed, faculty members were trained, new faculty members were hired, students were recruited, and the program was up and running for September. It took only months from idea to implementation. That's the energy and the commitment of our faculty.
  • A few weeks ago, faculty and staff from the College of Education decided to take CTI's advising program—probably the best advising system in the country—and raise it to yet another level of sophistication for the needs of their students. This is a faculty that isn't satisfied with what they have. They want to build something better.
  • The School for New Learning recently opened a program for the chronically ill—finding yet another way to make a college education available to those for whom it might otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve.
  • The College of Law raised its standards three full points this year—the single highest rise of standards in the nation—and it did it by increasing, not decreasing, the number of traditionally underrepresented groups.
  • I could brag about the colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Commerce and Theatre just as easily. I could brag about the women and men of DePaul who are creating fascinating ways to deliver degrees to overseas markets and online markets. I could brag about our student life staff; our second-to-none facilities staff; our second-to-none enrollment management staff; an athletic staff that puts academics first, and then sets records both academically and athletically; a library staff that "writes the book" on customer-service and professionalism. And so much more.  

I can't believe that, somehow, I became lucky enough to be president of an organization—faculty, staff and administrators—who are so committed and so determined to build something extraordinary for our students. We have much work ahead of us, to be sure. But we know who we are. 

DePaul University began as a solution to a need. DePaul University is still a solution. But DePaul University is not the buildings; those change. DePaul University is not the specific programs; those change too. DePaul University is the collective body of women and men who believe in an idea: that an extraordinary education available normally only to those with great means should be available to all those with dreams. The finest education for those who can't easily access the finest education. An elite education for those who aren't elite. 

DePaul University thinks big, and we take risks. We believe in our ideas. We've done it through hard times and good ones. When we had no resources, and when we had great resources. We've always believed in working in partnership with others—whether those are other universities, schools, city and state agencies, foundations, businesses, nations, or individuals—anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves and build something extraordinary for the next generation.  

I began tonight with words of thanks. Let me finish in the same way. There are public figures and luminaries here tonight, but they are not the heart of DePaul. The heart of DePaul is the faculty. The heart of DePaul is the staff. The heart of DePaul are the students, the alumni, our trustees and advisors, our friends and supporters, our partners—all those who give life and breath to the project, the mission, that is DePaul University. You are DePaul University.  

And so, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I look forward to great things for DePaul in the years ahead, because I already know the greatness of your hearts.  

May God grant us creativity, energy, love and steadfast commitment to the mission.  

May God bless you and, through you, may God bless DePaul University.  

Thank you.​​​