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Letter to the Editor: University must uphold St. Vincent de Paul legacy

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Dear Mr. President Esteban and Dean Caltabiano,

My name is Thomas Patrick Hughes and I am a graduate of the School of Music class of 2017. As an alumni of DePaul University, there have been things that I’ve taken with me since departing: my education, my passion to my craft and my strong unwavering belief in upholding the Vincentian values of kindness, charity, support and a sense of humility (although, as an artist, the last of these can sometimes be a challenge). Since leaving DePaul and embarking on the next chapter of life, I’ve had time to reflect on my time at DePaul.

I’ve also had the opportunity to look at the school from the outside and reflect on how it has changed in a mere five years. It doesn’t seem like a huge amount of time on the grand scale of things, and yet the school is completely different than when I first arrived.

The first thing I’ve noticed is how DePaul didn’t teach me Vincentian values that I didn’t already have: I’ve always tried to show compassion and kindness to others, I’ve always carried myself humbly before others, I’ve always supported my colleagues and my community, and I’ve tried to set an example. We all fall short of the buck at times and I’m no exemption. I’m not perfect but I don’t like to make mistakes repeatedly.

DePaul, however, did reinforce these values in me. There were several staff members who went above and beyond the call of duty: Phil Verpil (my academic advisor), Assistant dean Dr. Kurt Westerberg, former voice faculty Jane Bunnell, former voice faculty Michael and Michele Sylvester and vocal coach Linda Hirt. Every single one of these individuals made the hell that was moving to a new city, transferring to an incredibly expensive school, the struggle of not being able to afford food or always have a roof over my head, the struggle to succeed in school (…) they made it easier.

There was a time even when the students didn’t form cliques: where students from different musical backgrounds, instruments, or even majors would support one another and would befriend one another. And that’s where I noticed the second thing: there are fewer students, especially within the School of Music, who strive to uphold these same values that were instilled in me at a young age.

The values of St. Vincent de Paul aren’t just words written into a university’s mission statement or in the welcome packet. They shouldn’t be simply something that sounds good when spoken. The values of St. Vincent de Paul are something that every student and faculty should not merely adhere to rather that should strive to uphold them within every inch of their being.

In the past five years, the school that I came into has lost that sense of community with others. It has become more about being ahead than helping lift others up. It has become more about building barriers than breaking them.”

It has become more about financially draining the student than encouraging not only the best minds but encourage the best characters to strive to do their best in a competitive world, have the humility to seek help when it is needed and to provide help and support when they are in a position to do so. DePaul has become a community (from where I sit) that is more focused on pushing others down to get to the top rather than picking someone up to finish the race together. And, it’s not something I’ve seen in students alone: in faculty, I’ve witnessed people abusing the small amount of power that they have in order to gain or keep a competitively political edge over others.

Within a school of fine and performing arts, you cannot attract a world class student body and talent if you do not have a world class faculty, and you’ll never keep a world class faculty if they are never taken care of. In five years, I’ve watched the entire voice department be replaced. Some were let go for reasons beyond my understanding to which I will never ask nor assume why.

However, several left because they were not given the job security that so many of their colleagues were being offered. My own voice professor felt as though they had very little say in events that happened with their own students or opera productions; (…) they felt as though they rarely had a seat at the table, and when they did, their voice was never appreciated. It’s not just them. Every voice faculty member that I’ve talked to (extensively) has made the same remark: the power dynamics within the School of Music and university as a whole does not care about their adjunct faculty (adjunct faculty who do just as much as a full-time staff without the job security).

Although this has become the norm within universities, it does not have to be so within DePaul University itself. This university can be the example of what it truly means to be Vincentian: treat others with the dignity and respect that we ourselves would want and should demand, to value those who uphold these values and reward them for such.

As for the students, I know it is difficult to screen students for character. It’s not something I’m saying the university can change. I am merely pointing out that my time at DePaul didn’t get better over time. It became increasingly worse as the atmosphere changed from that of a close-knit community to that where politics within the staff and poor quality of character within the students were allowed to destroy the name and purpose of St. Vincent de Paul.

Although there is much more I could say, this letter would run rather long. So, I will leave with this: does the world need another graduating student body of “artists” where their main focus in life isn’t about giving?

Do we need more individuals in the world driven by greed and selfishness? Does the world need more nasty politics? From my point of view, what the world needs now is artists who create art for the sake of adding to the community.

The world needs leaders who are willing to help others, build communities, live and display kindness, charity, compassion and humility just as St. Vincent de Paul did. The world needs more Vincentians … Let DePaul University be the institution that makes that possible.

Sincerely,

Thomas Patrick Hughes

The opinions in this section do not necessarily reflect those of The DePaulia staff.

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Letter to the Editor: University must uphold St. Vincent de Paul legacy