Major staff layoffs expected


Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia

Despite a tightening budget, DePaul key employees saw increases in their total compensations.

Serious layoffs are likely coming to DePaul. DePaul officials said that the process is “not yet finalized” and any staff reductions “would go into effect before July 1,” which is the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Several current DePaul employees described to The DePaulia a culture of fear and opacity on the part of the university regarding their employment. Almost all asked to remain anonymous for fear of job security.

“I’m hearing there are going to be at least 200 people laid off in June,” said an administrative assistant currently employed by DePaul.

The employee said that over the last six months, many of their duties have been “slowly stripped away” from them. They believe it is a calculated effort to make them disposable or subject to termination.

“If you take everyone’s work away, you can justify getting rid of them,” they said.

“Everybody around the university has been chatting about layoffs,” said one DePaul professor. “Even the security guards are asking me if (my job is safe).”

In order to confirm the reality of layoffs, The DePaulia contacted several key DePaul officials on Wednesday.

Instead, The DePaulia received a response on Thursday afternoon from Carol Hughes, from the Office of Public Relations and Communications (OPRC). Hughes referenced the university-approved budget from March that would invest in “strategic growth through major cost-saving measures and reductions in the (2019 fiscal year) budget.”

“From its earliest communications about the process, the university has noted that the review and centralization of key financial, administrative and technology functions could result in staffing reductions and that such restructuring changes would go into effect before July 1,” wrote Hughes in an email.

Hughes noted that faculty positions would not be a part of the restructuring process.

The DePaulia asked Hughes: how many staff members would be terminated, what departments would be affected, how much money would be saved from the staff cuts and how many days notice would be given to terminated staff.

“The process is nearing completion, but not yet finalized,” Hughes wrote.

And, as a result, we have no additional information to provide at this time.”

Terry Smith, law professor and chair of DePaul University’s Black Leadership Coalition (DPUBLC), sent a formal request for reduction in force data — among many other requests — to the university, on Feb. 26. Over the last four months Smith sent multiple follow up requests but never received the data he requested.

Finally, on March 26, the university told Smith that they needed more time to process his request.

But Smith is not satisfied with the university’s inability to fulfill his request in what he considers to be a timely manner.

“If the university, and specifically Dr. (Elizabeth) Ortiz and Associate Provost (Lawrence) Hamer, ever intended to respond substantively to DPUBLC’s requests, it could have done so weeks ago,” he told the DePaulia Wednesday.

On Tuesday, The DePaulia reached out to university officials, asking why Smith’s request for reduction in force data had not yet been met. On Wednesday, Hughes wrote that the university was still in the process of authoring a report that would be accurate.

“The information is being carefully vetted to ensure accuracy and expressly reviewed to ensure confidential personnel matters and/or competitive data remain so. The report will also outline efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion across campus. Upon completion, the report will be shared with the campus community, including DPUBLC.”

But Smith argues that “any suggestion that the information sought is proprietary or intrudes on the right of the confidentiality of individual employees is simply insupportable.”

On Thursday, two days after The DePaulia’s original inquiry, Smith received a response from the administration stating that the university hopes to have the report “completed by mid-June.”

On Saturday, Smith received an email from Provost Martin denBoer that, he believes, was not intended for him. Smith believes that denBoer hit “reply all” by accident. The email reads as follows:

“It’s increasingly apparent that this is a fishing expedition,” wrote denBoer. “We need to consult before responding, if at all.”

The DePaulia reached out to denBoer asking him to clarify what he meant by a “fishing expedition,” but received no response by the time of publication.

Shannon Stone-Winding runs a consulting firm and has worked with DePaul in the past. She is also an ASK mentor and an adult student at DePaul. She said because enrollment is down, it makes sense that serious cuts will need to be made.

“You have to think about the history of the university,” she said. “(DePaul) used to be ‘the little school under the El,’ then they grew extremely fast, and the way they set up the university doesn’t really match the growth.”

DePaul’s undergraduate enrollment peaked in 2012 at over 16,000 students. But lately enrollment has continued to decline. From 2016 to 2017 enrollment declined from 15,407 to 14,816 students, according to the university website.

Several faculty members told The DePaulia that the faculty has been pushing hard to get data from the university on how staff cuts were made over the last few years. So far, their requests have been unsuccessful.

Some faculty members have grown so concerned with the current climate that they have decided to call a “Council of the Whole,” a tool available to faculty in order to garner attention and to help pass motions and initiatives. The last attempt at a council was in 2011, but it was unsuccessful.

Faculty have already secured more than the 50 faculty signatures needed to call such a meeting. Dr. Bamshad Mobasher, president of the faculty council, said that “obviously the individuals initiating the council have grievances” with the university.

“Part of the goal is to bring in faculty to center around a set of issues and get more participation,” he said. “Politically, it’s very significant.”

At a time when DePaul has raised tuition while also getting ready for staff cuts and restructuring, many of its top employees are collecting lucrative salaries. The average total compensation for DePaul’s key — or top paid — employees average at over $400,000 a year, according to data obtained via DePaul’s 990 form published on Guidestar.

Additionally, many key officials reported large increases in compensation from 2016 to 2017. Provost denBoer reported a base pay of $227,231 in 2016, but in 2017 his base pay nearly doubled to $451,853.

Executive Vice President Jeff Bethke reported a base pay of $236,997 in 2016. In 2017, Bethke’s base pay rose to $392,211.

Out of the 21 key employees listed on both the 2016 and 2017 990 form, every single employee reported a higher compensation than the year prior. The average amount of increase in compensation was over $48,000 per key employee. Each key employee saw an 11.87 percent increase in total compensation.

DePaul has also recently launched its “first brand advertising campaign in over seven years,” according to DePaul Newsline, the university’s PR publication. Although the total cost of the advertising campaign is not public information, The DePaulia confirmed the cost of DePaul’s Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) advertising initiatives.

DePaul spent approximately $480,000 on CTA ads that run on trains, platforms and buses, according to the public relations department at Intersection, the CTA’s marketing agency.

In a March Newsline article, President A. Gabirel Esteban said that DePaul would “continue to invest” in its employees.

But with the upper level administration continuing to look for ways to save money, many DePaul staff members will be holding their breath — hoping they aren’t next on the chopping block.