‘It’s not Vincentian’: Students protest budget, meet with university officials
April 16, 2023
April is usually marked by the mundane ritual of contract renewal for term faculty at DePaul. This year, the situation is much more complex. On Monday April 10, students gathered on the corner of Sheffield Ave. and Belden Ave. near the Msgr. John Egan statue with the inscription reading: “What are you doing for justice?.” The students’ response to that question was protesting in support of their faculty against projected budget cuts.
Chalk covered the sidewalks leading up to the Lincoln Park Student Center with pleas that read: “FUND YOUR FACULTY.” As the protest began, nearly 80 people rallied around the corner, with the occasional spotting of faculty — some outspoken, some quiet. On the outskirts stood a few administrators, surveying the demonstration.
The demonstration was partially brought about due to information gathered by The DePaulia revealing the university’s $56.5 million budget gap to the DePaul community. The group first started a petition in opposition to DePaul, titled “Cutting Millions from Staff, Faculty and Student Affairs!,” which has amassed over 1,600 signatures as of April 15.
During the protest, a demonstrator received news that their professor, Erika L. Sánchez, had been informed her contract would not be renewed. Later it was discovered that five other term faculty members received the same announcement on April 10.
The core organizers, consisting mainly of students from DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS) — the college expected to be hit the hardest — went into the protest with clear demands: What they described as “accountability” in the budget making process and an independent audit.
Students whose academic specialty resides in a department that’s existence hinges on the guidance and management of a few, if not singular, term faculty members began to worry for their future education at DePaul. The faculty handbook denotes the role of term faculty to administer these types of programs, because they have more time than tenure faculty and bring professional, real-world experience.
“DePaul really needs to protect those programs that don’t already get the most funding in general before this big change,” said Chase Campbell Lyon, a DePaul student and protester present on Monday. “Those are the programs that are really working their hardest to impact students’ lives with the stuff that they have…I feel like that [sends] a message of the values of DePaul.”
Another student, Vanessa Ramon-Ibarra, said she feels like the safe space granted by these programs cannot be lost.
“One of my professors was upset and asked us to mobilize,” Ramon-Ibarra said. “I did see other peers that we’re mobilizing and then I just showed up. [I’m concerned that] our faculty is going to be cut down and from that, it’s going to result in a lot of students not having the support systems that they had this year.”
A tenured professor echoed the same concerns regarding the future of the university.
“I’m scared that the changes we’re trying to make right now are short-sighted,” said Joseph Mellow, associate political science professor. “They’re not going to help us in the long run. We need to restructure, and we’re talking about cutting the most vulnerable people instead. That’s ridiculous and it’s not Vincentian.”
Mellow also believes that cuts to faculty are just the first phase of budget reductions.
“Phase one is just you’re going to see fewer people. That might be your beloved faculty member who happens to be an adjunct and they’re not here anymore,” Mellow said. “Then in the next couple of years, maybe some programs that you like won’t be here.”
Protesters also aimed their rhetoric at the athletics department, as an area in which they believe the budget should be reconsidered.
“They need to figure out their finances and give them the resources that are actually making an impact on students’ lives,” Ramon-Ibarra said.
Another concern on stakeholders’ minds is the presence of administrative bloat.
President Robert Manuel conceded that DePaul “probably” has administrative bloat to a “certain extent” in a conversation with student media on April 10.
“Why are we looking for change in the couch cushions when the big money’s upstairs?” Mellow said.
As the protest came to a head, the group marched to the corner of Sheffield and Fullerton Ave. chanting “Get up, get down, there’s a student movement in town.” The core organizers went inside the Public Safety office to meet with top DePaul officials, who the group described t as their “collaborators.”
Those officials included Manuel, Provost Salma Ghanem, Vice President for student affairs Eugene Zdziarski and Chief of Staff Arbin Smith.
While the protest’s core organizers declined comment to The DePaulia, during a speech at the protest, one organizer stated they plan on meeting with administrators again on Thursday, April 13 and are currently in talks with Student Government Association (SGA) president Kevin Holechko but hope to further involve SGA.
“We are going to be approaching SGA about joining in conversations about reallocating budget cuts, obviously away from student affairs and minority professors,” said Megan Galarza in a speech following their meeting with administrators.
Galarza went on to explain this step is in place because of the SGA’s ability to have input on the budget. Currently, SGA’s budgetary input comes in the form of Holechko’s position on the Strategic Resource Allocation Committee.
It was later clarified that while the organizers demanded to meet with administrators on April 13, administration did not schedule this meeting.
On April 15, the core organizers of the protest announced they are planning on having another meeting on April 19 — as the students of the Peace, Justice and Conflict (PAX) studies called for.
“This next Wednesday (April 19th), at 6 p.m. in the SAC, there’s a meeting being called by PAX students regarding the budget cuts,” said an organizer in a message in the “Fight Against Budget Cuts” Discord group on April 15. “Those involved with the meeting with the administration this past Monday will share the information from that meeting, as Jessica [Patrick] has been drafting a debrief of it the past few days.”
While it is uncertain how much of the information from their meeting with DePaul administrators the organizers will divulge on April 19, the group is intent on continuing their efforts in support of DePaul personnel and collaborating with administration to reallocate the budget cuts from student affairs.