​Convocation remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.

September 6, 2013
 
 
Thank you and welcome to DePaul’s 116th academic year.
 
Allow me, if I may, to welcome many of you who are new to DePaul. For this moment in time, we are the women and men who "are" DePaul. Buildings and programs come and go.  Colleagues retire and others join us.  What has lingered beautifully for 116 years has been a fierce dedication to the important mission this institution plays in the lives of so many. WE are DePaul University for this moment in time. And I couldn’t be prouder to welcome you into the good work that so many accomplish here together.
 
Pope Francis recently referred to the Lope de Vega play, "Fuente Ovejuna," in a speech that he gave on the plight of immigrants. It tells the true story of a small medieval Spanish town, named Fuente Ovejuna, deliberating whether to kill its despotic overlord.  In the final scene of the play, the king’s investigator, unable to determine who actually did the killing, brings the entire small town into the king’s presence:
 
MANRIQUE: Your majesties, …
In all the evidence I found
We do not have one single page,
No, not a single sentence written down
Which names the perpetrator of this crime.
The people of the town were stubborn.
Whenever I asked the name of the murderer
All they would say was "Fuente Ovejuna."
I interrogated three hundred of them.
All the approved tortures, rigorously applied.
Old men, women, ten year old boys
But I could get nothing out of them
Except the cry of "Fuente Ovejuna." [1]
 
Hoping you won’t draw any immediate parallels on the overthrow of leaders, let me quickly suggest that the heart of the play is not its climax, but the town’s deliberation as to whether they will collectively confront the challenges they face or passively accept their lot.
 
The events recounted in the story took place in 1476, and in de Vega’s literary hands, became a rallying cry for the power of a collective.  Pope Francis used the text to remind his listeners that we are citizens of the world first – a collectivity - before we are citizens of any nation, and thereby we have some measure of responsibility when immigrants literally wash up on our shores. We are all Fuente Ovejuna, the Pope suggested, and we must act collectively for those in dire need.
 
I read the play on my morning Red Line trips. To my surprise, the story lingered in my imagination over the summer, but for a matter closer to home.
 
This past year, DePaul confronted external challenges of its own. Not a person so much as an unfriendly economy and a heightened competitive environment, but a threat all the same. While the rest of American higher education faced many of the same challenges to be sure, I asked you to respond by accepting flat budgets, reduced hiring and a new vacation carryover policy. In addition, we pushed the annual raise back to January each year, so we could monitor enrollment before giving away money we might or might not have. We did this so that no one would have to be let go at DePaul just because the budget was challenged. It was an act of collectivity.
 
I’m happy to report to you this morning, that those measures worked, and I wish to thank our representatives on the Strategic Resource Allocation Committee, or SRAC, for proposing them. We had a successful year. We accomplished our goals and DePaul will be able to provide the raise on January 1 that we promised. Thank goodness.
 
Challenges remain, however.  Enrollment in the School for New Learning and graduate enrollments in Law, Business, and Education are softer than in the past. There are very clear reasons for this – including changes in those fields themselves, but also new competitors who are taking market from more traditional institutions. These challenges will call from us a fair bit of work this coming year: tighter budgets, yes, but more importantly, action to push the university forward.
 
This isn’t a call for alarm, but it is a call for attention. Universities typically have a broad array of programs so that if one program is down in a given year, the others can carry it. Softer figures than usual in four of our schools, however, require attention.  We’ll manage it fine.  I trust our colleagues in those four colleges to jump on these challenges, and I know that enrollment management as well as other university support services are already poised to help them.
 
And thankfully, there is far more good news than challenges to report.
 
• Several of our other colleges are doing very well indeed. And that’s because of your work.

• Undergraduate enrollment looks great, and that too is your work as you greet and assist potential students.

• DePaul’s School of Cinema and Interactive Media was listed among the Top 25 Film Schools for the first time this year. You all did that.

• The Theatre School was listed for the first time among the Top 25 drama schools in the world. You did that, DePaul.

• The application flow this year for the new health programs is amazing, constituting 28 percent of this year’s undergraduate application flow. That’s your work too.

• We completed a number of key investments this year, including new homes for the College of Education, The Theatre School and vastly improved spaces in the Richardson library. New facilities are underway for modern languages and writing, rhetoric, discourse as we speak. Drawings are nearing completion for music. These projects are possible because of the work you do.

• Eight DePaul athletic teams took first place academic honors among all the teams in the Big East this past year. That’s your leadership, DePaul.

• The campaign is poised to hit and exceed our goal. Many of you have worked hard on that from across the university and it’s benefitted everyone.

• Diversity MBA Magazine included DePaul in the Top Ten Best in Class Companies for Diversity. Not top ten "universities" – but top ten organizations of any kind in the nation. We did that.

• The Law School received the number one ranking – the top prize – for demonstrating the highest level of outreach to racially and ethnically diverse students.

• The Accounting program was listed as America's number one producer of minority graduates with bachelors degrees in accountancy. That’s our mission in action.

• DePaul was listed this year among the top ten universities for providing internships in America. You built that.

• DePaul was listed among the highest return-on-investments for Illinois universities, ahead of Loyola, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. You did that.
 
And that list doesn’t begin to touch the rankings we already receive year-after-year, or the research, the publications, the artistic contributions, the graduate schools into which our students were welcomed, the jobs they were hired for upon graduation, the countless individual successes, student-by-student. All of this is your work, DePaul.
 
But just yesterday, I received word of a new accomplishment. The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science has named DePaul’s chapter the Undergraduate Chapter of the Year. This work has been led by faculty, staff and student leadership, including Jesus Pando the faculty moderator, Rhonda Harley, the program coordinator and Maria Sanchez, the student chapter president, but
 
• It recognizes the work of many faculty, staff and students who – together – made this happen.

• It recognizes the stunning number of publications by our science students.

• It recognizes the impressive list of prestigious graduate schools to which they’ve been admitted.

• It recognizes outreach to young students in Chicago by our own students, faculty and staff, to take care not only of our own, but to put ourselves at the service of others.
 
I read the application and the award letter with enormous pride, for the words on the page told me what I already know about DePaul. Wonderful things happen at this institution because everyone comes together. Every corner of DePaul has been built by us or by those who came before us. It wasn’t outsiders who built DePaul. It was DePaul who built DePaul. And that’s as true today as it ever was.
 
This moment in our history is no moment for passivity.
 
• You’ve built a wonderful institution, incredibly responsive to our students’ needs.

• You’ve insisted on high standards and provided creative and cutting-edge learning opportunities for them.

• You’ve counseled them to greatness and seen them through the considerable challenges they sometimes face.

• You’ve created entirely new programs out of whole cloth for them, because you saw how the world was changing.
 
And therein lies my confidence. DePaul truly is the Lord’s work, but through your hands. You collectively: DePaul University. Our own "Fuente Ovejuna."
 
May the Good Lord bless our 116th year. May lives continue to be changed and graced here. May God deeply bless each of you, and through you collectively, our beloved DePaul University.
 
Thank you and God bless you.

 


 

[1] Lope de Vega. (1989, electronic edition 2012), “Fuente Ovejuna & Lost in a Mirror,” adapted and translated by Adrian Mitchell. London: Oberon Books, Act Three, Scene 7.