Help wanted: College of Education Dean steps down making four colleges dean-less


Sofi Martinez

College of Education Dean Paul Zionts discusses his professional years in higher education. Zionts said he has been a dean for much longer than anticipated and is ready to step down.

College of Education (COE) Dean Paul Zionts announced on Sept. 23 that he will be stepping down from his position on Dec. 31. His decision to leave the role makes the COE the fourth DePaul college in search of a new dean, including the School of Music, College of Communication and the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media.

“I didn’t plan on doing this until I was 80-years-old,” Zionts said. “At this point, I plan on coming back for teaching and I’ll put everything into that just as I put everything into whatever else I do.”

Zionts is currently serving his 14th year as dean and is in his third term. He worked at three universities prior to DePaul, including the dean of University of Michigan at Dearborn. Although Zionts has been involved with education for over 50 years, he believes it was coincidence that got him into the field. While waiting to hear back from his draft board during the Vietnam War, he accepted an offer to join a masters degree program in education and would go on to work at a reform school. 

“I came here because I was interested in working with the faculty and staff to create partnerships in the city and to do some real meaningful work,” Zionts said. “Virtually every one of my expectations has been met.”

Zionts has been instrumental to broadening degree programs for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, increasing scholarship programs for the COE, and advocating for diversity within the college. He cites the college’s faculty and staff as the reason behind these successes and believes his job was to support them.

“I like to say frequently that these fabulous people fall into my lap and my opportunity is to make sure they don’t fall out of it,” Zionts said. “They make us look good, they make the college look good, and I think our reputation has really increased over the past ten years because of them.”

COE professor Jason Goulah believes Zionts’ success has been from expanding the college’s reach and connecting with Chicago via the Vincentian mission. He also cites the college’s increasing diversity under Zionts’ leadership as another aspect of its success. 

“He’s seen a lot of difficult times in education: teaching as a profession saw a decline in interest, we had the time of COVID-19, racial division, political and social division, and economic cuts,” Goulah said. “He was able to lead the college in such a way that we weathered all of that and remained strong in our enrollments. He’s been great for the college of education and I’m sad to see him go.”

Despite praise from staff and faculty, students ultimately felt disconnected from Zionts, citing his position as administration as the reason. Many did not know he was stepping down from his role even after his announcement. 

“It’s a lot of change coming at once in the administration, and maybe it would have been nice to spread that out,” early childhood education senior Audrey Blackwell said. “I would love to see the new dean more involved in classes and reaching out more personally to students. I don’t think we experienced that with Zionts.”

With criticism of the multiple open dean positions for colleges at DePaul, Goulah assures students that this is the nature of academia and that it is no indication of an issue at DePaul.

“This is the natural sort of rhythm of the people who are in these positions,” Goulah said. “As deans come in, they serve one, two, maybe three terms. What is exciting about this is we do have a brand new president. I think he is cohering all of the constituencies of the university and speaking to a shared sense of purpose, identity and mission.”

As new administration is introduced throughout DePaul, Zionts trusts they will look for a successor that supports the faculty with the similar values of transparency and honesty he practiced. While the provost is still looking for nominations for an interim dean, Zionts hopes one will only be necessary for the six months he’s gone leading to the 2023-24 school year. 

“I figured it would be better for the college if we had someone new onboard who could work with the president to bring the college even further,” Zionts said. “It’s very exciting right now to be at DePaul because there is a whole new generation of deans. They are a great group and this transition is going to be great.”