“Items need to be fixed, not addressed”: Design DePaul event promises change, community hopes cautiously


Amber Stoutenborough

President Robert L. Manuel spoke about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, the state of the university and what he hopes to accomplish going forward.

Over the past several months, President Robert L. Manuel has been sitting down with those in the DePaul community. At coffee meetings or in passing on the street, many members raised concerns to Manuel. These ranged from salary fears to the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in classrooms. 

On Thursday morning, Manuel hosted the Design DePaul event to show how he plans on taking action over the next five years.

The auditorium was filled with about 400 people, while approximately 400 more attended virtually. Anyone from the DePaul community was invited. A handful of seats were designated for staff members assisting with the presentation. 

“Many [university] items need to be fixed, not addressed, fixed,” Manuel said in his opening statement.

Manuel said one of the main issues people brought up is that “some of the promises of the past have been vacated.” Manuel said he needs the community to grant him and his administration a “reset.”

“None of us want to be resident in that pain for much longer,” he said. “In order to do that, we have to collectively muster the strength to move through this to a more comfortable community, and a better sense of our quality of life.”

Despite Manuel’s emphasis on trust within the DePaul community, DePaul students and staff are hesitant after years of unanswered concerns. But most are more optimistic with him than they were with previous administrators.

Sonia Soltero, Faculty Council President, said Manuel has built some “demonstrable trust” since taking office. Soltero said Manuel has already delivered on several important requests from the council of the whole. 

“He has also moved remarkably fast on addressing the low morale and lack of trust on the part of the faculty and staff,” Soltero said.

A large word collage flashed on the screen. There were over 50 words on the screen, but the boldest were: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), budget, FY23/FY24, student debt, faculty size, staff load, community engagement, moral and marketing communication. 

Manuel said he wants to address everything that was included in the collage, but specifically these. He said they were the biggest concerns he heard from the community since arriving at DePaul. But, for Thursday’s presentation, he was mainly going to focus on three main topics: DEI, the university’s state and the path forward. 


There are records from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s where white members of the DePaul community performed minstrels in blackface. To this day, people of color in the DePaul community continue to face racism in classrooms, meetings and personal conversations.

“To be sure, no one alive today is responsible for the horrible acts that happened 100 years ago,” Manuel said as he transitioned to speaking about DEI. “But we are responsible for how we respond to the long tail effects of those acts that are present in our community today.”

Manuel said the university has been talking about systemic university problems for too long. He said DePaul now needs to identify the problems and find paths to “engage, solve and move forward.” Manuel mentioned his presentation for one day “does not suffice” and the plans to make life on campus better is ongoing. 

Another large image popped up on the screen — this time a bunch of bubbles. Each bubble was filled with the names of various groups on campus that reached out to Manuel about their issues on campus. The groups that reached out to him were: Hispanic; Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, African American, persons with disabilities, gender queer and women and people from religious groups.

Jaslynn Hodges, a graduate student and the school of public service and Student Government Association (SGA) community engagement coordinator, said DePaul often shows off its diversity statistics, “but when you’re actually on campus you don’t feel any of that.”

“I often feel like DePaul basically puts on this front that we want all of these things, but then behind closed doors doesn’t actually put them into practice,” Hodges said.

For now, Manuel said he plans on increasing the number of presidential fellows regarding diversity. He mentioned during the presentation that Shajuan Young, executive assistant to the VP for Institutional Diversity and Equity in the President’s Office, has been put in charge of leading the creation of DEI training for faculty and staff. 

On Monday, Jan. 30, there will be a Memo sent out to everyone in the DePaul community giving an in-depth description of Manuel’s plan surrounding DEI, religious intolerance and other topics that were mentioned in his presentation on Thursday.

“It is not sufficient,” Manuel said. “It’s not an answer. It’s a start.”

University Today

“The first thing you do when the lights are out is acknowledge the lights are out,” Manuel said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “The lights are out.”

Retention is an ongoing issue for DePaul. Student retention is high for the first year, but no more than 65% of students who came in their first year at DePaul graduate in four years, according to DePaul’s enrollment statistics.

“The way we do our work is wonderful for the way it was,” Manuel said. 

For the university to improve retention, Manuel said, “we have to find a way to show that what we do matters” and the declining value in higher education is the “biggest nut to crack.” 

Among the need to find ways to make DePaul stand out to prospective students, Manuel pointed out how student loan debt is “crippling” and will continue to be a problem as inflation and interest rates increase. But, Manuel said the university needs to make immediate changes,  otherwise, by the time the enrollment cliff – the population decrease of 18 to 21-year-olds from around 2025 to 2028 – hits, DePaul could become irrelevant, “or even worse, out of business.”

“The size of the university is a big concern for many faculty,” Soltero said. “Given what some call the eminent enrollment cliff due to lower birth rates in the United States, do we want to maintain the number of students we are now, increase to what we were a few years ago, or become a somewhat smaller university? Those are decisions that have long term implications for staff and faculty.”

Aside from retention, budget is another big ticket item many people in the DePaul community are worried about. 

Manuel said there are two budget plans. The current one, being the “cow method,” and the future and “more desirable” one, being the “buffalo plan.” Manuel said his daughter, a senior in high school, came up with the two names.

The cow plan has the university holding only $100,000 in revenue in July. In October, it will increase to $11.4 million because there are tuition payments, then will slowly fall to $8.6 million in December continuing to decrease until the following July when the university is once again at $100,000.

Manuel said “this exercise shouldn’t be our future” and will only hold the university back from becoming the “national model for higher education.”

With the cow model, Manuel said layoffs and salary cuts will be possible. But with the Buffalo plan, revenue will significantly increase while expenses will decrease “if we invest in ourselves.”

In regards to finances, the university must take the buffalo plan if it does not want to become irrelevant, or even worse, be out of business, according to Manuel. 

The buffalo plan includes the university reinvesting in itself through interdisciplinary education, utilizing staff and faculty to cover more bases, and being willing to invest in technology and resources that will modernize DePaul. 

“The fact that he knows we have been stuck in the ‘cow’ plan for many years and that he knows what the ‘buffalo’ approach looks like, points to a clear path that he wants to take,” Soltero said. “As Manuel often says, ‘we cannot cut ourselves to greatness,’ yet have to face head on the financial and enrollment challenges.”

The Path Forward

The concerns brought by many are to be addressed over time. But ultimately, they all need various strategies to work smoothly, Manuel said. 

Manuel said one strategy is outreach. He said this needs to be done in countries like India, seeing as India contributes over 100 students every year, according to DePaul’s enrollment statistics

He also noted that marketing communication needs to be done in the United States as well, but more in telling the success stories of DePaul’s alumni.

Another large part of taking the university to the next level is taking the university from a “red ocean” mindset to a “blue ocean” mindset, according to Manuel. 

“Our continuing education becomes a revenue source to invest in the processes that we have,” Manuel said. “[We need to look at] how we expand to what I call blue oceans, places where there’s not a lot of competition, instead of [keeping] the red ocean situations that we’re in where there’s a lot of activity around very little food.”

Manuel said a way to do this is to begin integrating interdisciplinary education into the university, which he believes will increase revenue. 

“We can’t continue to [cut ourselves] year after year because the gap will continue to grow,” Manuel said. “The gap will become too big to have these incremental cuts help us get to stability in reducing the opportunity to access $20 million a year to invest in our future because that $20 million that comes from the endowment is immediately spent on operating deficits.” 

Manuel said if the university finds a way to push into the “buffalo plan” and invest in interdisciplinary studies, then “we have access to pitch ideas to the board for $20 million.”

But along with this potential increase of revenue, Hodges said “we really have to think about where the money [is] going.” She said this is important because she, as a student, can see “how other groups are treated or prioritized compared to minority groups” when it comes to finances.

“My personal question is who is getting what and is it equitable?” Hodges said. “When you’re running a university of this size, of this nature, a private institution, one that experienced a pandemic, like many other colleges and universities, I understand how all of that takes priority. But I think sometimes that overshadows the things [like inequitable allocation of resources] that we really need to talk about.”

Soltero said regardless of the topic, she is just glad the administration is finally stepping in in a positive light and letting governance actually be shared. 

“It is remarkable that only a year ago we were at a precarious impasse with the administration and the Board of Trustees,” Soltero said. “And today we are coming together to resolve the issues facing us with an administration that is much more transparent, collaborative, and responsive.”

Hodges said that while she is cautiously optimistic about the new administration and its plans to better DePaul, community members need to stand firm in what they need from university leadership.

“We need to make sure that these administrators and like [the] Board of Trustees, directors, all of these people in these higher level positions are held accountable, because at the end of the day, the DePaul community is who they are serving,” Hodges said.

At the end of his presentation, Manuel said there will be 43 more design sessions from now until March. There will be 15 online and 28 in-person regarding digital presence, program distinction and expansion, philanthropic expansion, geographical and community expansion and institutional efficiency and effectiveness. Separate sessions regarding DEI and sustainability will also be held throughout the quarter, according to Manuel. 

“I recognize that some of the promises in the past have been vacated,” Manuel said to close. “We’re not going to vacate our promises.”