The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., applauds faculty and staff at the VISION twenty12 Action Showcase of Strategic Initiatives

January 29, 2009

Good afternoon. I’m proud to be with you today. I mean that. I’m proud to stand with you today.

Three years ago, the university community completed its planning work and set forth an ambitious agenda. Nearly 1,000 members of the university community had participated in some component of that planning. The Board of Trustees acknowledged this work and adopted the proposed plan, which we named VISION twenty12.

We decided to shift strategic directions away from all-out growth, toward a singular focus on academic quality. But we chose a path that avoided the easy, usual strategies of others. Rather than simply making DePaul harder to get into—and thereby excluding many of the first-generation students we cherish and know can succeed—we chose to raise our academic standing the old-fashioned way. College by college, major by major, program by program, we admitted to ourselves that any program can be made better, and we set out to do just that. At the same time, we set ambitious goals to raise the quality of our student services, our diversity and our financial health.

We have now spent over $11 million on those projects in just three years ($51 million if you count the new science building!). And we will spend a great deal more in the coming three years.

But the halfway mark is a good place to take stock. What have we accomplished, and what do we have left to do?

You have just seen 30 of the many projects under way. They are stunning in their ambition and quick implementation. But that’s always been one of DePaul’s strengths. We move from idea to implementation far more quickly than the rest of American higher education.

And those initiatives—together with many others we simply could not show you in a single afternoon—are having an effect. The larger world is seeing that something is happening at DePaul.

This year we have observed tenured faculty from other institutions now applying for positions at DePaul—several from institutions with higher rankings. They know that something interesting is happening here.

In the past two years, DePaul has begun receiving grants from NSF, NIH, MacArthur, Kresge, and others that the finest universities in the nation would trumpet if they received them.

Our programs’ rankings are rising each year. Commerce is now ranked No. 6 in the nation. Entrepreneurship is No. 2 in the nation. Psychology was ranked first in the nation. There are many more.

Our students are competing well against their peers. Our employment statistics are notably high. Our accounting students are competing and winning major competitions. This year, the winner of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, the highest award in all of jazz, is a recent DePaul alumnus.

We’ve developed extraordinary new colleges, schools, programs, majors, minors and professional certificates in these three years. All of them have a “DePaul curricula”—rigorous, current and practical. Several have developed stunning advisory boards of some of the finest minds and practitioners in their fields.

University fund-raising is rising. Even this year, when other colleges and non-for-profits are down, we’re holding strong, and increasing the number of donors.

Applications are soaring. More students from out-of-state want to study here. Students with higher ACT scores than ever in our history are now applying. This is due to the extraordinary work of Enrollment Management and Marketing, clearly among the finest such assemblages of talent in the nation. But it’s also due to everyone’s work in building the substance of the university. We’re a better university, and the world is watching.

We have successfully entered the Big East and shown we can play there. We’ve won the softball, women’s basketball and men’s soccer titles outright. Half of our teams are in the top half of the league. Even our men’s basketball team, which is having a down season this year, has beaten 11 of the 15 teams in the league since we joined. And our colleagues are making it work, while at the same time making sure our athletes graduate at a higher rate than the university average with some of the highest grade-point averages in the entire conference. This was a gutsy move to join, arguably, the best athletic conference in the nation, and it’s working.

We’ve made progress on our intention of strengthening the Catholic character of the institution while simultaneously and fiercely protecting DePaul’s founding identity as an institution that welcomes people of all faiths. The new program in Catholic Studies is established, as is the research center on Global Catholicism. The number of students studying the Catholic intellectual tradition has grown markedly, thanks to both Catholic Studies and Religious Studies. Catholic Campus Ministry has been established, and Mass attendance has tripled. And yet, at the same time, we have fostered important programs in Jewish and Islamic studies.

We’ve also made progress on creating permanent structures to secure the Vincentian character of this institution. The new Vincentian Mission Institute—shared with St. John’s University and Niagara University, our sister schools—is in its first cohort and second year. DePaul has now taken its place as the finest center for Vincentian research worldwide. Our trustees have established a committee to govern and protect our cherished mission.

Financially, we’ve come a long way. This past year, we received our first A-rating from our rating agencies. We are not a wealthy university. We return much of our profit each year to student financial aid. And we have lost nearly 30 percent of our endowment in the economic crisis that grips our nation. Even still, the ratings agencies recently reaffirmed their A-ratings for DePaul because they have great confidence in our financial and operational health.

Our goal of looking to the needs of teacher-scholars has been greatly advanced by the lessening of teaching loads in the colleges whose loads were higher than others. The plans in LA&S to shift teaching toward a Monday-to-Thursday schedule, so that Fridays can be used for research and departmental meetings will also assist.

Student Affairs has significantly expanded its counseling services, as well as adding resources for addictions support, social work and gender-based violence assistance. New centers for students to receive legal and financial advice have also been established and have proved immediately useful.

Extraordinary progress has been made on using Chicago as a classroom. Our faculty look to Chicago to design their class projects, invite guest speakers, create internships and learning opportunities, and sometimes design entire courses. Few students in the United States have such a learning opportunity as we can provide using the resources of this singular city.

Major progress on facilities has been made: The McGowan South science building; the 14 E. Jackson building; numerous classrooms and teaching areas have been built or updated. We’re moving forward with new facilities for Law, Communication, CDM, School of Public Service, Music, Theatre, the Museum and additional classroom facilities in Lincoln Park and the Loop. All are under design and in various phases of realization.

And you’ve already seen so many other advances today, which because they received their own moment in the sun, I will not repeat here.

If we have made impressive progress, there is yet much in our strategic plan that remains to be done.

It’s time to measure our success with our advising initiatives and see if the students are telling us we’re doing a better job. We began this extensive project because our students told us we were deficient in this area. It’s now time to let the students speak again, and tell us if the new approaches are helping. From the beginning, I’ve repeated the line that “Activity does not equal Accomplishment.” We must evaluate our efforts and learn from them.

The President’s Diversity Task Force has done first-rate work in preparing a strategy and easy-to-use tools for academic departments to more effectively hire diverse candidates. But now, the departments must use these materials. If they do, I am convinced many other universities will come to DePaul to learn from us. We are on our way toward becoming a national model for diversity, but that will depend mightily on the university’s commitment in the next three years. I ask all faculty departments to read our new faculty hiring guidelines and to implement them for this spring’s hiring cycle. Copies can be obtained from Liz Ortiz in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.

We must look ever more deeply into the implications and possibilities of our commitment to construct an education whereby students become “ethical and socially engaged leaders.” The work done to add ethics courses to the MBA and to train and support faculty who wish to teach ethics components in their courses across the entire university curriculum is a great start.

Our work in service learning and the many other service opportunities that we provide is also a great place to start. The training that Student Affairs gives student leaders is also a great place to start. The work we do on mission—teaching students about Vincent de Paul—is also a powerful place to start. But Bill and Mary Pat Hay challenged us several years ago, with their $1 million gift, that no one should leave DePaul without knowing about Vincent DePaul and without a commitment to give back to their communities and care for the less fortunate. This goal of creating alumni who are “ethical and socially engaged leaders” must saturate every corner of the university, every classroom, every conversation.

We have established a new Center for Writing-based Learning and hired nationally respected professionals to staff it. I applaud some departments’ plans to make their students write more and offer better feedback. We must now increase the number of faculty working with this center to raise the quality of student writing across the university. The center is poised to assist faculty even to the point of sending extra staff to your classes to help you read, grade and provide feedback on your students’ writing. Now we must use that amazing new resource.

Three years ago we accepted a goal of “internationalizing of our curriculum.” This did not primarily refer to Study Abroad, though that continues to grow. This goal reflects a desire that students are prepared and ready when they leave our university to understand how their fields of study operate beyond our national borders. The world has indeed become flat, and our curricula must follow.

Our suburban campuses are working on new strategies. I support them in that work.

Online learning has come a long way, but more work needs to be done. Our goal for these programs, as with all programs, is to be known for quality and academic rigor. But there are many populations close to the heart of this institution who can be well served by these new technologies, particularly women trying to balance home- and work-life responsibilities. We should have more to offer them.

We must continue to build on the good work that’s been undertaken for student success initiatives. Our retention is up, but not for all of our student populations. We have work to do here.

We must more powerfully make known to the world what’s been happening here at DePaul in the past decade. In the months ahead, you will see new publications and new hiring to get the word out to ever broader constituencies.

And, most importantly, many of our academic departments and programs must join the larger university effort to raise the quality and rigor of their programs. I’m well aware that most of our colleges have created their own specific plans for moving forward on these larger goals, and I look forward to cooperating and watching the progress in these ways as well.

The world has changed since we first wrote this plan three years ago. We now stand inside the worst economic decline in three generations with no clear signs how far that decline will continue or how long the recovery will take.

DePaul is fortunate in that it has not depended upon its endowment income for more than 2 percent of our overall budget. But we are heavily dependent upon tuition income for our spending. At the moment, all indicators are that our enrollment is strong and will continue to be strong, but there is much cause for concern about this in the coming three years. For the moment, we have adopted a “business-as-usual” approach, but we are closely watching all indicators.

The success of this plan and our ability to flourish in this economic climate, depend mightily on the university’s reputation and quality, the two very elements we chose to focus upon in VISION twenty12. I said in May of 2006, at our last gathering in this room:

“The plan that many of you have written rises or falls on one central idea: In a very competitive environment, the only safe strategy is to provide the highest quality at a good price. A broad focus on the enrichment of academic quality—real and perceived—is the foremost and the most significant thrust of the strategic plan. … the university best protects itself from challenges, and best builds a strong future, if it focuses mightily on the enrichment of academic quality. In the end, it’s the product that matters. The focus of this plan is on the product—the quality and reputation of our academic programs.

I want to end these reflections with gratitude, but I don’t know where to start. I have a privileged position at DePaul that affords me the opportunity to see the whole institution. All nine colleges. All 13 campuses in eight nations. All 200-plus majors and academic programs. All the professional programs and extraordinary research activity. The breath-taking amount of service and the differences it makes to Chicago and places throughout the world.

The esprit de corps among our staff and academic departments, the sense of genuine community throughout the entire university. The sense of mission that pervades every corner of our community. The purpose and mission that is worth waking up to each morning—that our lives make a true and measurable difference in a world that so needs a university dedicated to making an outstanding education available to those whose families may not be able to afford an outstanding education.

And, so, I don’t know where to start. You are extraordinary people. You serve our students with love, with creativity and with long hours. Students know they are the center of your worlds. Thank you for that. Thank you for building a better DePaul. The work we have done in three years is breath-taking. I look forward to working with you to fully realize our goals to become one of the finest Catholic urban universities in the nation. I can tell you today, with all my heart, that we are well on our way.

May God bless you. And may God bless DePaul University.​​