Convocation address by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
September 2, 2006
I want to thank a number of people this morning, and then make a few comments as we begin this academic year.
We should thank Fr. Pat Harrity, the newly appointed pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church, for welcoming us into this church for this and for so many university events. Thank you, Fr. Pat.
I want to thank Dr. Susanne Cannon and the College of Commerce for their vision and determination to build one of the finest centers of real estate development in the United States. It’s an ambitious goal, and one worthy of DePaul’s commitment to be of service to Chicago and the Midwest. Thank you, Susanne, for your leadership.
I particularly want to thank George Ruff. Not all that many years ago, George was a student here at DePaul. His gift to us not only invests directly in our faculty, but it is a leverage gift that encourages other potential donors to step forward. Welcome home George, and on behalf of all of us in this room, thank you for giving back to your alma mater.
This gift and new program illustrates something that is true of DePaul in general. DePaul’s great programs weren’t built from a central office. They were built by faculty and staff and colleges who believed in them with all their hearts, rolled-up their sleeves and built something that would last. So are all of our new and existing programs. Thank you all for your dreams and your hard work to make them extraordinary.
I’d like to thank all those who work in the university’s newly expanded Advancement sector. Quietly, out of sight, these women and men have spent the past year literally reorganizing everything they do. And it shows. Every single area of fund-raising rose this year. In only two years, they went from raising $10 million to $15 million of outside gift support. This year, they are going for $20 million. As you’ve seen today, and as you will continue to see, nearly all of these dollars support DePaul’s academic mission. A new science building and new faculty chairs are but the most obvious of the many ways that the university’s friends and supporters are stepping up to help us build a better DePaul.
More than anything, I want to thank those who have been involved in the university’s strategic planning this past year. Nearly 1,000 members of the university community participated in some phase of the process of gathering data and choosing a direction. We’ve chosen an ambitious direction to raise the academic position of institution. I will have the opportunity to say more as I visit with all the sectors of the university in September and October. For now, let me simply say that I’m enormously proud of this plan. And I’m enormously proud to work with colleagues who came together and were unafraid to chart an ambitious course for the next six years. The Board of Trustees asked hard questions, conducted their own full review and came to the conclusion that the proposed direction was a worthy one, and they have funded our plan. $6 million will be put to initiatives this year alone, with five more years of investment to follow.
This plan is real, and it’s ambitious. Some plans can be accomplished around and in spite of faculty and staff. Not this plan. This plan can only be accomplished if the faculty and staff come together and say, "Let’s build this." And so I stand ready to lead and support your plan.
We have a new strategic plan just getting under way. But, I’m happy to report that the university community has already made some progress on some of our strategic goals.
The Law School set a goal to become one of the top 100 law schools in the country, and accomplished it (by jumping to No. 80) before the ink was dry on our brochures! Dean Weissenberger and the faculty worked hard on this for three years, and that hard work paid off. Now, they’ve already begun to set new, more ambitious targets.
Last year I told you about the School of Education’s advising initiative. This year, I’m happy to tell you of a university-wide accomplishment that will improve advising for all students. Untold faculty and staff hours have been generously given to prepare a degree-audit feature that will enable all faculty and students access to student academic records. This required not merely loading their course records, but all the requirements for every degree program, as well as the articulation agreements with the hundreds of colleges and universities from which students transfer to DePaul. Bringing all this information into one place should greatly simplify the act of advisement. Out students told us this was their highest priority for DePaul’s improvement, and the staff and faculty took them at their word. I’m proud to work in a university where people selflessly work together to make our students’ experience better. This will be rolled out shortly.
In just the same way, this past June the university opened “DePaul Central” in the Schmitt Academic Center, next to the “pit.” This center brings together many university services into one single point of contact for students to have most of their questions and needs attended. Susan Leigh—who masterfully led its design, development and now administration —likes to say "DePaul central isn't just a place, it's a promise." The promise is to eliminate the runaround, to try to ensure resolution to registration and billing issues in one-stop, whether in person, on the phone or on-line. I’m grateful to the three directors of the functions housed therein: Paula Hanley from ARC, Paula Luff for Financial Aid, Tammy Rogers for Student Accounts and especially their professional staffs who are now all co-habitating in this newly configured space. The departments we integrated into this unit average 600 phone calls a day, and I believe they are now a national model for service integration—that incorporates best practices in cross-training, voice-over IP phone technology, knowledge management systems, all marshaled with a great spirit of Vincentian personalism. The open house is all day today, and I encourage you to stop by today, or any day. I encourage all faculty and staff to refer students needing assistance with registration, financial aid and billing questions to DePaul Central.
Also working quietly in the background, a number of faculty and administrators have been designing a new electronic way for faculty to track and hold students accountable for academic integrity. The university will soon roll out an electronic Web site for faculty and deans' offices to better monitor, submit, track and hold students accountable for instances of cheating or plagiarism. The idea is to provide yet another tool to encourage a campus climate of integrity and honesty. In a day and age when students come to DePaul expecting that the shortcuts that may have served them at other institutions will work here, this new tool will assist our faculty in their long-held insistence that DePaul students hold themselves to a higher standard.
All of these are backroom, unseen efforts to improve the student experience at DePaul. And it’s working. DePaul’s star and reputation are rising.
It’s no accident that the State of Illinois awarded its largest capital grant to a private educational institution to DePaul this year—$9 million for our new science building. Speaker Madigan, President Jones and Gov. Blagojevich all are convinced that DePaul makes an enormous contribution to the state, and for that reason are convinced that their grant is a true investment in the future well-being of this state. Our biology, environmental science and chemistry faculty spent the summer designing the new laboratories, classrooms, offices and green spaces that will be constructed. We’re out raising additional funds for the building now, and we hope to put a shovel in the ground next summer.
Allow me to point to some other recent accomplishments:
-A team of students from our College of Commerce won the National Accounting competition for Hispanic students.
-CTI’s recent performance in world competition. They may have lost to the Russian team, but they stood proud alongside MIT and Princeton, among the top schools in the world.
-The APA gave our Clinical Psychology faculty and program its nod as the best training program in the nation. No. 1!
-Service-learning was again recognized as among the best of the nation.
-The Princeton Review recently ranked DePaul as No. 1 in the nation for diversity. The category wasn’t merely for counting the number or percentage of representation of many diverse groups, but focused more on the institution’s atmosphere of safety and inclusion. It was based on interviews with our own students, and I was deeply gratified to hear what they had to say. We are not perfect by any means, but I think you should all be proud of this accomplishment.
All of these efforts come about not because of some president sitting in his Loop office. No, these efforts happen because people rolled up their sleeves and said: "I’m going to be build something wonderful in my area." This is a heroic and extraordinary commitment to the academic enterprise and to our students in particular—and there are so many other examples.
I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your commitment to our students and to one another. I am confident that our strategy for raising DePaul’s academic position and enriching its academic quality will be more than rhetoric, because I know each of you and your commitment and desire to push this university to even greater heights. For this and many other reasons, I am proud tell others that I’m your president and to work alongside you.
My colleagues, have a wonderful year. We have great things ahead of us.
God bless you.