Incoming DePaul provost important to complete Vision 2018

On a sunny day in September 2012, DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. announced the university’s new strategic plan — Vision 2018 — to a crowd of faculty, staff and students in the Quad.

Now, at the halfway point of this six-year plan, the situation at DePaul is not entirely sunny. Despite success and a focus on student support initiatives at the university, an inconsistency in the provost office over the past four years and low morale at the university have clouded the view. A new and permanent provost will be a key piece in continuing to propel this vision forward.

“The plan is absolutely central to the work of the provost for the next couple of years,” said Jay Braatz, vice president for planning and presidential administration. “We’ve moved the plan forward in great and important ways, but our next provost will need to help focus the university’s energies for many years to realize a number of our ambitious strategic objectives.”

Vision 2018 includes five overarching goals to direct efforts that touch all parts of the university. The goals include: enhance academic quality and support educational innovation, deepen the distinctive connection to the global city of Chicago, strengthen the Catholic and Vincentian identify, foster diversity and inclusion, and ensure a business model that builds the university’s continued strength and educational excellence.

The university just completed campus visits for the four final provost candidates from a national search that began last fall — and all candidates received copies of Vision 2018 prior to their visit. At each session, various faculty and staff voiced concern for morale and communication at the university.

Faculty Council Vice President Bamshad Mobasher said the morale issues come down to a few key issues from faculty and staff including a “culture of secrecy and mistrust,” a lack of appreciation from the administration and Board of Trustees, as well as high administration salaries and priorities.

“Many feel that there is a lack of transparency especially in terms of the administration being open with the faculty and staff on matters that affect the whole university community,” Mobasher said. “Another issue that many faculty members have spoken about is the perception that the faculty don’t seem adequately appreciated either by the administration or the Board of Trustees.”

Screen shot 2015-02-15 at 7.40.46 PMIn the provost sessions, faculty indicated the importance of research, innovating new programs and salaries as important issues that need to be addressed.

“Specifically, the university community is looking for a provost who can replace the cultural secrecy and mistrust with one of openness and transparency in which all stakeholders feel part of the process of moving the university forward,” Mobasher said. “Faculty, in particular, also would like to see the new provost be an advocate and a champion for the faculty, and to create an environment in which faculty’s hard work and innovations are appreciated.”

Braatz, who is on the provost search committee, said that she thinks the final provost candidates were all strong and that she is confident they will be able to come in a make a positive impact.

“Without a permanent provost, there are understandably places in this university where we are feeling unsettled, where we’re feeling anxious,” Braatz said. “I think there’s a big role that the next provost’s appointment will play around issues of how we feel around campus. I understand that people feel a bit as if we’re in limbo. Our next provost needs to understand that when her or she comes on board”

Despite that uncertainty, DePaul continues to move forward with Vision 2018 and a strong focus on student success initiatives including student advising, international opportunities and expanded course and program offerings. Braatz explained how the strategic plan is made up of five broad goals closely tied to DePaul’s mission and helps focus, but doesn’t dictate, the work.

A new global learning experience program allows faculty to teach portions of their course with faculty from a country overseas, and is something that Braatz said the university will continue to build. They also plan to continue building online learning opportunities and offer more online and hybrid courses.

“Among the many things Academic Affairs is focused on currently is an initiative to work with the colleges to think about how we can develop new interdisciplinary programs that cut across departments and even cut across colleges,” Braatz said. “We know that a lot of what

students need doesn’t necessarily fit within one college or department.”

With a continued focus on student success, the university also plans to increase scholarship money following the recent capital campaign that wrapped up at the end of last school year. The Board of Trustees initially authorized a campaign for $250 million, which seemed to be quite ambitious, Braatz said. But, the campaign exceeded expectations raising a total $333 million.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 increases scholarship aid by almost 8 percent compared to this year, Braatz said. Additionally, the university is budgeting to increase wages to a minimum of $10 an hour, most of which will go to student workers. This proposed budget will go to the Board of Trustees for approval at their March meeting.

However, dropping enrollments in some colleges have had some “financial realities that are never easy to deal with,” Braatz said.

“There’s no question that the economic climate that we’re in effects morale,” Braatz said. “But, in some ways, tighter economies can actually be of some benefit because they force you to focus and identify the most important priorities.”

According 2014 enrollment data, between 2010 and 2014 undergraduate enrollment in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS) dropped about 27 percent and the College of Education dropped by about 30 percent. At the graduate level, enrollment is down 37 percent at the College of Education, 33 percent at LAS and 25 percent at the College of Law.

As best described by one staff member at an open campus provost session, “We’re in a lull and need someone who’s ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”

The new provost will be announced in the next few weeks, Braatz said.

Correction: Scholarship aid could be increased by almost 8 percent in fiscal year 2016, not 18 percent.