Good morning. I would like to welcome and acknowledge Provost denBoer, Faculty Council President Professor Mobasher, Executive Vice President Bethke, Secretary of the University and Vice President Father Udovic, deans, associate provosts, members of cabinet, Joint Council, the Vincentian community, distinguished faculty and guests. And, in what I believe is a first for DePaul, I would like to make special mention of my wife, Josephine.
I ask that we pause for a moment to reflect on the damage and devastation left behind in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. My family and I used to live in Victoria, Texas, and are very familiar with the surrounding area. It has been difficult to watch the events unfold these last several days. Currently, we are aware of 250 DePaul students with homes and families in Texas and Louisiana. Of those, approximately 100 students are from the directly affected areas. Please keep those students in mind as classes begin and offer your support. You may also consider making a contribution to one of the trusted relief organizations that University Ministry shared in a message earlier this week.
On campuses around the country, academic convocation is a ritual that signifies the start of the academic year. It is an honor and a blessing to be part of this year’s academic convocation. My late father, a lifelong academic, used to say that bricks and mortar do not make a great institution; rather it is the people who inhabit the buildings. You, our faculty, are the reason why DePaul has become a leading academic institution. An institution that transforms the lives of the students we serve.
My wife, Jo, and I deeply appreciate the warm welcome (and warm weather) we’ve received from the DePaul community these past two months. In fact, I was reassured by the Provost that winters here are very similar to Southern California. We spent much of the summer getting to know DePaul by touring its facilities and meeting with the administrative units. We also made it a point to try as many Chicago restaurants as possible, and I can tell you there is no shortage of good food in this great city.
Earlier in the program, the Provost laid out some of the challenges we face as we start the strategic planning process. Despite our best efforts, enrollment has been steadily declining for the past five years, and it appears that it may continue in the foreseeable future. Demographics, shifts in demands for academic programs, and socio-economic as well as technological and political trends are but a few things that pose some of our biggest hurdles.
Unless we act proactively, I would not be surprised if we lose the title of the largest Catholic university in the next few years. The significant decline in enrollment has to be stopped. We cannot continue to cut our way to excellence - instead we need to grow - both selectively and strategically - our way to excellence.
As we embark on our strategic planning initiative and chart our future, I ask we always keep in mind our mission. DePaul has a very visible Vincentian and Catholic mission – to serve the marginalized – including ethnically diverse, low-income, first-generation students, and immigrant communities. That mission is near and dear to both me and Jo, and it is why we chose to join the DePaul community.
While we have challenges ahead of us, we will face them together. We will rise up. We have the intellectual capacity, and we have the willingness to move our institution forward because we all believe in our mission.
Earlier this week, I met with Joint Council over a two-day retreat. The agenda focused on the planning process for our next strategic plan.
Four strategic planning teams will be appointed this fall focusing on the following areas: Mission and Student Experience; Enrollment and Student Outcomes; Academic Programs and Faculty Development; and Financial Performance and Sustainability. Each team will include faculty, staff and a student representative. The co-chairs, who will be named soon, will be charged with submitting slates of potential members for each planning team to me. I have also asked Faculty Council to submit slates of potential members for each team. In addition, in consultation with senior leadership, I will form a Strategic Planning Task Force, which also will include faculty, staff and students, chosen from slates provided by our three representative bodies: Faculty Council, Staff Council and Student Government.
As part of my outreach, over the summer, I met with administrative units and received input on where we could be as an institution, as well as some of our challenges. This will continue as I meet with the colleges and schools over the next couple of months to have discussions about where we are as a university, and where we could and should be. I look forward to our discussions.
Further details will be shared in upcoming communications from my office as well at the State of the University address on Friday, September 15 in the Wintrust Arena. I hope to see you there. I want and encourage the university community to be engaged in this next planning process.
Finally, we saw how much the DePaul community cares about one another and for anyone suffering injustice. I witnessed this earlier in August as many of you responded to the violent clashes in Charlottesville with prayer and concern. DePaul’s work on race and free speech will continue this year, and I assure you it will remain a priority in the university’s next strategic plan.
Jo and I feel blessed to be a part of the DePaul community. We look forward to working together and wish you much success in the year ahead. Thank you.