Short-term solutions: DePaul sees high level of interim administrators

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CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP: Interim President Patricia O’Donoghue; Interim Dean, College of Law Bruce Ottley; former Provost Donald Pope-Davis, who returns after his six months as provost in 2013, and now is the interim director of clinical training in the psychology department; and Interim Provost David Miller. This school year, DePaul has an unusual amount of administration positions open, including dean of students. (Photo Illustration: Carolyn Duff / The DePaulia)

On top of dealing with rising tuition, fluctuating enrollment and frozen salaries like many universities and colleges across the country, DePaul faces a unique issue this year with many interim administrators and frequent turnover of faculty and staff.

Although several positions were filled over the summer — including the VP of Student Affairs, VP of Advancement and Dean of the College of Communication — at least five administrators currently have interim titles. Two of those include the highest officeholders at the university: the president and the provost. This is the first time that DePaul has ever had an interim president and interim provost at the same time.

“I also understand via the grapevine that having a lot of interims around makes you a little nervous — interim president, interim provost and interim dean of the College of Law,” Interim President Patricia O’Donoghue said at convocation Sept. 5. “This is not unusual in higher education, but it is unusual to DePaul.”

While turnover is not unusual for higher education, the university currently has the highest amount of interim administrators among Big East schools. O’Donoghue came to DePaul in 2009 and has been shuffled between several administrative positions, most recently serving as interim provost. That position, the chief academic officer at the university, has been a revolving door with four different people in the provost office since 2012.

Donald Pope-Davis resigned in December 2013 after only six months as provost and has returned to the Psychology Department as a faculty member and is serving as Interim Director of Clinical Training, according to DePaul spokesperson Carol Hughes.

The university will start another provost search this fall, although specific details on the cost of this search were not available.

All of this is happening while DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. is on sabbatical through Jan. 1. Despite the number of interims, several current administrators are confident that the university will still be able to fulfill its mission.

“In the 31 years I’ve been here, we have had, what I would consider to be, a level of turnover typical for an organization our size, and the university always has been successful in fulfilling its mission throughout such turnovers in its past,” Bob Kozoman, the executive vice president of the university, said. “The individuals currently providing interim leadership have done so in an exemplary manner.”

Bamshad Mobasher, vice president of Faculty Council, agreed that the number of interim administrators would not interfere with their productivity this year.

“Overall, the (Faculty Council) has confidence in the current transitional leadership at DePaul, and we hope to work with the interim provost and the interim president as closely as possible to make sure this transition period goes smoothly,” he said.

As of Sept. 14, DePaul’s job portal listed 42 full-time jobs including postings for dean of students, director of student involvement and manager of talent acquisition. However, the job portal doesn’t include postings for high-level positions, including the provost or dean of the College of Law. Instead, the university will conduct formal search processes this fall for those positions. No interims or replacements have been announced for the deans of the School of Music or College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences who both announced their retirement May 7.

Stephanie Smith, vice president for human resources, said the number of open positions “changes from day to day,” but she would not provide specifics on the current number of open positions or if that were typical for the university.

Many changes were also made at the faculty level with the university’s early retirement package offered to many longtime faculty members last year.

To qualify, faculty and staff had to be either 55 years old with 20 years of cumulative service, or 62 years old with 10 years of cumulative service. According to O’Donoghue at convocation, about 45 faculty and staff retired at the end of the school year.

“Eligible faculty received two years of wages, and eligible staff employees received one year of wages,” Smith said. “Both eligible faculty and staff also were offered fully paid retiree medical benefits through year end. Staff employees were paid for their 2014 earned vacation, less days taken.”

The benefits were more generous to offset the condition that faculty give up their tenure. And according to Smith, the university achieved what it set out to do with the program.

“DePaul met its key goals for offering the early retirement incentive program: it honored our long-standing faculty and staff with generous incentive compensation and benefits, and also allowed the university to continue its mission of delivering affordable, quality education through the realization of ongoing savings,” she said.

There are, however, many administrators and faculty members who have chosen to stay at DePaul their entire careers. Kozoman, for instance, has been at DePaul in various capacities since 1983.

“I’ve found DePaul to be a challenging and rewarding place to work” he said. “I identify with our mission, and believe we have had and continue to make a positive impact on the students who attend here, on Chicago and on society as a whole.”

Those new to DePaul also said the school’s mission attracts them to the university.

“Initially, I was not interested in leaving my previous position. But after being approached about the position at DePaul, I began to look more closely at the University, and I was intrigued by its commitment to the Vincentian mission and values, as well as the way it embraced its urban setting in the wonderful city of Chicago,” Gene Zdziarski, vice president of student affairs, said.

Zdziarski began his time at DePaul in July. The department he is now leading took some criticism last academic year from some student groups who did not agree with the university’s handling of sexual assault cases. Despite this, Zdziarski said the necessary changes were made and that him being in a new position will not have a negative effect. “

A real goal for this year will be to ensure that the university is effectively communicating and informing students of the policies, procedures and resources available,” he said. “Continuous improvement is something we should all strive to achieve, no matter what the issue is we are addressing.”

Grant Myatt contributed to this story.