Administrators, faculty discuss options for fall quarter at DePaul Faculty Council meeting


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

DePaul will likely hold on-campus classes in the fall, but with a reduced physical footprint, Provost Salma Ghanem said during Wednesday’s Faculty Council meeting. 

Though the university does not yet have a definite answer in regard to fall classes — and likely won’t until June 15 — administrators are looking at three possible scenarios: being remote as spring classes have been, being back on-campus but with a reduced physical footprint and being fully on-campus, Ghanem said.

“If I had a crystal ball, I do believe that we are most likely going to be looking at scenario No. 2,” she said. “I don’t believe the virus is going to completely disappear by then.”

One of the options the university considered in order to make that possible was changing how often classes are held each week, or even holding more classes on Fridays and Saturdays. However, that proved problematic because course registration for Fall 2020 has already begun — meaning students who have already registered would have to drop all their classes and start from scratch.

Among other details under discussion is how social distancing can be enforced in classrooms, hallways, elevators and dorms. On-campus housing could operate at just 50 percent capacity and passing period times could be increased so students can have more time to move around campus while staying at least six feet away from others. 

Nothing has been decided yet and officials have received mixed reviews about students’ preferences, Ghanem said. For example, some have said they prefer remote classes to be held asynchronously and vice-versa. However, Ghanem said administrators plan to prioritize classes that cannot be held remotely before considering others.

DePaul can’t make an immediate decision about fall because some universities around the country have already announced they will be fully on-campus.

“There is a big concern that if other schools do that, and we do not do that, that our students will not come back to us,” Ghanem said. 

Ghanem said these universities may be being overly optimistic, but may also simply be located in cities or regions that haven’t been hit as hard by the coronavirus as Chicago has.

Kimberly Quinn, a psychology professor, said she’s been talking with undergraduate students who say they won’t come back unless they’re in “at least some” face-to-face classes.

“They understand the constraints we’re facing right now, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that they are feeling unsupported and like they aren’t getting the perks of a truly good education — being able to interact with each other and faculty,” she said.

In addition, Ghanem said some surveys show about 30 percent of incoming freshmen in the U.S. wanting to take a gap year before beginning college.

That would be a blow to DePaul’s financial situation. Though the university will be fine for the current fiscal year because of a donor’s “very generous one-time gift,” officials already project an $80 million decrease in net revenue for next fiscal year, according to an announcement in Newsline from President A. Gabriel Esteban.

Some of the steps DePaul has taken to help students so far include refunding on-campus housing and meal plans, guaranteeing income for on-campus jobs even if work wasn’t able to be done remotely and canceling a planned tuition rate increase, according to the announcement.

Jim Ryan, chairman of the Board of Trustees, told Faculty Council the university was “in good shape coming into this pandemic,” though one professor, Nila Hoffman, said that’s not the message faculty, staff and students have been receiving.

“We have been told that we are in financial trouble by the president for years,” Hoffman said. “Now Ryan claims that we were financially strong coming into COVID? How does that work?”

Trustees are leaving all options open as they look to fill the budget gap, though Ryan also said they’re willing to operate at a deficit — but only for the near future.

Earlier during Wednesday’s meeting, Faculty Council members also discussed issues adjunct instructors have had, and will likely have, during the pandemic.

Because they’re paid on a class-by-class basis, adjuncts were required to teach remotely for spring quarter in order to keep getting paid. Plus, because the university still doesn’t have a definitive plan for fall quarter, it’s still unclear what classes can be offered.

“We don’t always know whether or not we’ll have a course next quarter, but we also don’t necessarily know the criteria that will determine whether we’ll have a course next quarter, which makes it especially frustrating,” said Nathan Dewitt, chair of the Workplace Environment Committee and an adjunct professor at DePaul.

Dewitt was among several instructors who sent a petition to administrators asking them to protect adjuncts and term faculty.