‘He has impressed me.’ Students review the early leadership of DePaul President Rob Manuel


Erin Henze

DePaul President Rob Manuel smiles to a student in a student media press conference on Sept. 1 after mentioning how students are able to walk his dog if they would like to.

Students rushed over to DePaul President Rob Manuel to get in a selfie shot he took for his Instagram while standing on stage during the Blue Demon Welcome event on Sept. 6.

Manuel is creating new ways to engage with him as a university leader such as through social media. One of his main goals, he said during a press conference with DePaul student media, is to connect with more students, faculty and staff. So far, Manuel said he has met with 600 people from the DePaul community.

Kevin Holechko, Student Government Association (SGA) president and senior, has known DePaul President Rob Manuel since the hiring process began. Those in the SGA president and vice president roles are expected to assist a committee in the selection of university leadership positions when a search is launched for an administrative position.

When Holechko was tasked with assisting in the selection of a new leader for DePaul, he recognized the university deserved someone who wanted to be active in the lives of everyone in the DePaul community.

“He’s gone far above and beyond what even I was expecting,” Holechko said. “I think that’s the same for our faculty and staff. There’s just a different feeling on campus with his presence around. And people are just hopeful and excited for whatever is going to come next.”

Freshman Jeremy Goodrich said he feels excited to be at DePaul, not just because of the college experience but because of the community that is building itself already just within the past couple of weeks.

“I think President Rob is exactly who Depaul needs right now, someone who is committed to listening to the students and changing things as necessary,” Goodrich said. “It really feels more welcoming when you have a president who truly cares about what the students want.”

Avery Schoenhals, SGA senator for the College of Communication and sophomore, said he, too, has felt a heightened sense of community at DePaul lately. While he said it is probably because of the university resuming pre-pandemic activities, he also said it has a lot to do with Manuel’s approachability.

After meeting him, I do have an elevated appreciation for his leadership style and care for the student body,” Schoenhals said. “I like that he makes himself visible to our student body, and as a student leader. I feel that he makes himself accessible and easily approachable.”

Soon after stepping into the presidential role, Manuel sent a message to the DePaul community which outlined Manuel’s focuses during his presidency. 

Some emerging themes he told the community were shared governance, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), philanthropy, re-establishing the Vincentian mission, recognizing and respecting the people in the DePaul community, strengthening academic programs, building new academic programs, and designing the future for the university. 

“It addressed a lot of things that not only students are concerned about, but faculty and staff [too],” Holechko said. “To see that he’s also addressing some of the serious concerns that [the faculty and staff] have, as well as students, and he’s finding a way to coordinate all of those concerns into a plan and address them all, that was absolutely wonderful to see. It was literally a breath of fresh air.”

While Holechko said he was unable to give exact details on the plans Manuel discussed with the joint council, Holechko did say that Manuel will be following up on plans he laid out in the message to the community. 

President Rob Manuel applauds a faculty member as they approach the front of the St. Vincent de Paul Parish church to be honored at the academic convocation on Sept. 1. (Erin Henze)

Holechko also mentioned Manuel is trying to push for better communication throughout the university. 

“I feel like all students are aware of this when I make the following statement [that] there is a major disassociation between the common student and a senior administrator,” Holechko said. “And the same is on the employment side of the university. The communication chasm you have between a dean and a regular department chair, that’s already enormous. But going from a department chair to executive leadership, that on its own is like going from here to the moon. A lot of people who feel like they’ve been closed out from that conversation table. He’s [now] coming back and being like ‘I want to hear your concerns.’”

Aside from working with the DePaul community on communication, Goodrich said continuing to expand the mental health resources on campus is an important aspect Manuel should explore.

Schoenhals, after looking into the details Manuel laid out in his message, said he was glad to see Manuel listing DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion, as a priority. He said he hopes this gives SGA a valuable opportunity for their Executive Vice President for Diversity and Equity, Adora Alava, to advance her initiatives to the administrative level.

But besides the main points listed in the message, Schoenhals said he would like Manuel to pay attention to the areas of need found in the university climate survey as well as bettering the efficiency within the financial aid office and DePaul Central office. 

“We pride ourselves on being a mainly first-generation student university, and I believe that we would benefit from having more programs and resources for first-generation students and their families,” Schoenhals said.

With Manuel’s addition of vision sessions, Goodrich said he is trusting that Manuel will listen to what the students, faculty, and staff need from university leadership. 

Schoenhals said Manuel’s genuineness and attentiveness is what makes him seem like a good leader already, even with Manuel being in office for only, as of today, 43 days.

Students deserve to have a leader that wants to interact with them and hear from them, and President Rob has so far shown that he is that type of leader,” Schoenhals said.

When asked about how Manuel could improve as a leader, there was a lot of silence. Schoenhals and Goodrich said that as of right now, he is a picture-perfect leader, but Schoenhals said he can’t make too many quick judgments yet. Holechko held a long pause, thinking hard about his answer.

“Here’s one: I want him to trust himself a bit more,” Holechko said. “Because he is new he has asked multiple times, ‘Am I doing this right?’ Am I doing this wrong?’ “Trust your gut. You are a doctor. You are the president of a major institution. You are here for a reason. If you think this is a problem, it is probably because it is.”

For students, faculty, and staff who are looking to attend a vision session to contribute to what should be discussed at an administrative level, the faculty and staff vision session will be held at 1 p.m. on Sept. 27 in Lincoln Park and 1 p.m. on Oct. 7 in the Loop. A session for students will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 on Lincoln Park Campus. More details and invitations to register will be available soon.

Connect with Kiersten Riedford: @kriedford | [email protected]