Remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., at the 118th annual Academic Convocation ceremony

​September 3, 2015

Thank you, and welcome to DePaul’s 118th academic year. 

And a particular welcome to everyone who has recently joined us.  Our new professional staff.  Our new faculty whom I had the privilege to meet as a group on Tuesday.  Our provost, Marten denBoer.  Jennifer Rosato-Perea, our dean of the College of Law.  And Tom Jenkins, our American Council of Education Fellow, who joins us from Trinity University in San Antonio, where he serves as chair of the Classical Studies department.  

WE are DePaul University, and I’m proud and grateful that DePaul’s students are in your care.  

Last year at this time, I was on academic leave and Dr. Patricia O’Donoghue occupied this podium.  She did me a great favor, and DePaul enormous service.  I mention her because Bruce Ottley (recent dean and long-time faculty member of the law school) and I were returning from lunch last week, walking down Jackson Blvd., when a woman with her daughter in tow asked me if I worked at DePaul.  We exchanged names, and I introduced myself as the president.  She seemed momentarily confused and then she asked if I knew “the other president, Pat.”  I told her Pat had retired and that I had seen her at a wedding just last week.  The young woman’s eyes lit up and told me that she and her daughter had been homeless last year while she was a student at DePaul, and that Pat had helped her.  She’s still a student in SNL and doing well these days, and was a little misty eyed as she spoke her thanks for Pat.

I’ve had a number of those kinds of “perspective moments” recently.  

  • Last Thursday, many of us gathered to honor Eileen Siefert with the Via Sapientiae award, the university’s highest honor, as she retired after 30 years of service in the PLUS program, English Department, Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse faculty, and of course leading the Freshman Writing program.  Her faculty colleagues spoke their gratitude for her encouragement of them, and their admiration for her selflessness and consummate professionalism when it came to her students.  Eileen spoke in return of her gratitude for her colleagues, for her students, and for DePaul that so allowed her to make a difference in so many lives for so long.
  • Our music students gathered on their own initiative this week to take care of each other when two of their classmates died in a terrible car accident, and then went en masse to the funeral to support their friend’s parents and family.  
  • Our athletes surrounded our athletic director’s home when she came home from her final chemo session, and they just cheered and cheered and cheered.  

  • Some of you have been quietly supporting a new initiative here at DePaul to provide a room in your homes for homeless students.  

This is the DePaul I know.  People here value what’s important.  

All of this and more went through my mind as I read David Brooks’ book of the summer, “The Road to Character.”  The book, of course, is the inner and very public ruminations of a New York Times columnist, as he considers the moral work he might have put off in favor of career advancement and public approbation.  Two contrasting themes - “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues” – carry the larger point that what we spend our lives working for are not what we are praised for at the conclusion of our lives.  

In an aside, Brooks characterizes universities of preparing students for resume virtues.  And it’s true.  We do.  Unabashedly, and without apology.   We exist to introduce students to the intellectual life, to show them the world and to prepare them to be actors in it.  It’s our purpose.  

And rather than accept the dichotomy, DePaul entwines it with something larger.  Something contained within our very motto: Viam Sapientiae Monstrabo Tibi, (“I will Show You the Way to Wisdom”).  We seek to prepare not only educated human beings, but wise ones.  Graduates with perspective, able to choose and pursue what’s most valuable in the world, intent on directing their life’s energies to make a difference for the world.  

  • Economists who seek not only to use the market to their advantage, but to ask how the many might benefit

  • Journalists committed to the fourth estate​ 

  • Lawyers passionate for justice 

  • Public relations professionals who value truth 

  • Scientists and software designers who linger over impact 

  • Artists, theologians, and counselors who know the heart’s deepest yearnings 

  • Politicians who actually believe in social benefit
“Wisdom” is richly present within courses in religion or philosophy or professional ethics, but it’s not reducible to them.  Nor should it be left solely in the hands of priests and ministers.  It permeates our lives and suffuses our intellectual discourse.  It must come to the young from those who know their disciplines and the world deeply.  

And it feels timely as DePaul now enters into a review of our Liberal Studies Program.  After twenty years, it’s certainly time to observe if the present structures still serve our students well.  

Nationally, when universities study their core curricula, one often sees departments clawing for additional credit hours to immerse their majors further in their professional disciplines.  At DePaul, questions of curriculum must rise higher than “Who gets more time for their material?”  At this moment, our motto must come to the fore.    

I will, as any president should, remain at the sidelines as this evaluation takes place.  At its conclusion, however, when the proposed changes are brought to me for approval, I will ask how DePaul’s deepest values have been realized in whatever shape the liberal studies takes.  Thank you in advance for taking the fullest education of our students most seriously.  Here too, I’m proud and grateful that DePaul’s students are in your care.  

Thank you also for simply being here today.  It is a great privilege to be part of DePaul, and a great pleasure to gather together.  Lucy Rinehart, professor of English and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences spoke movingly last week of an unexpected challenge of our new technology.  Now that so many have chosen to teach online, at least from time-to-time, we see each other a bit less, and that’s a loss.   Lucy spoke of a new intentionality that is required for us to form the rich academic community that has always nurtured us.  Moments like this are blessings and nurturing, and I’m grateful you would model today the community that feeds us for our work throughout the year.  

As you go through the Church’s great doors into that new year, allow me to send you with a bit of good news.  

  • For reasons that have yet to be fully explained to me, The Princeton Review put us on the top of its “Best in Midwest” rankings.  Whatever it means, that’s your hard work.

  • Just this morning, Food and Wine Magazine ranked us among the Top 50 “Caffeinated Universities in America.”  I will take personal credit for that. 

  • We also start the academic year having hit our budget enrollment targets. That too is your hard work. 

  • The financial and staffing decisions of the past two years, as well as the many improvements to DePaul you created and the kindness and hard work for our students all paid off.  We did better than we hoped last year. 

  • And so, we’ll be able to invest in DePaul in important ways in the coming year. 

  • We’ll also fund a 2.5 percent raise pool this year, distributed in January as usual.  

  • And yesterday the Board of Trustees gave me approval to distribute a bonus from last year’s margin to all faculty and staff who helped create that margin.  All full-time faculty and staff who worked at DePaul during the 2014-2015 academic year and are still working at DePaul, will receive a $1,000 bonus in their Sept. 18 paychecks.  Part-time faculty and staff will receive $500.
I know $1,000 and $500 means more to some than to others, but I hope all of you will take it as a sign of gratitude.  DePaul has the same challenges that all of higher education is facing:  government reductions, demographic changes, higher costs and new competitors.  But we’ve faced it together, creatively, selflessly, and with no small amount of hard work.  And I know we’ll always do so.  

And if we needed more proof of the DePaul spirit, the Board of Trustees supported a second decision yesterday.  At this moment, over 1,200 of our students have no idea if the state of Illinois is going to fund their scholarships this year.  For most of them, this is the difference between going to college or not.  DePaul’s going to let them start anyway, and the university is going to assume the risk that Illinois may or may not come through.  

Make no mistake, if there is not a budget by later this fall, I’m going to ask for your help politically to amplify our students’ voices.  I may need the collective voice of DePaul to be a voice for our students.  For now, though, let’s leave this Church and begin the year with the pride that we work in an institution faithful and true to St. Vincent’s mission for all those without great means.  

All of this is the DePaul I know.  You are the DePaul I know.  Thank you for being DePaul University in this place and time.  

May God bless you abundantly, and through all of us collectively, may DePaul University remain a blessing for a world in need.