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DePaul leadership looks ahead during COVID-19 town hall

COVID 19 update

More than 1,000 faculty and staff members joined a virtual town hall yesterday, May 21, to hear directly from DePaul leadership about university operations and planning in the era of COVID-19. A recording of the webinar will be shared with the university community in Newsline as soon as it is available. The following summary captures key topics addressed by DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban, Interim Provost Salma Ghanem, Executive Vice President Jeff Bethke and Vice President for Mission and Ministry, the Rev. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M.

Guiding principles

Dr. Esteban started the virtual town hall meeting by recognizing faculty and staff for their ability to adapt in a time of crisis. He emphasized DePaul's Catholic and Vincentian values will continue to serve as guiding principles.

“I appreciate, and I am extremely grateful for the efforts of our faculty and staff during the past couple of months as we transitioned to a remote environment. You rose to the challenge of providing our students with access to a learning environment grounded in our Vincentian values," he said. “I also want to thank all the members of our DePaul community who have continued to come to campus to provide the services needed during the past two months. You answered the question: what must be done?"

As the university plans for the fall quarter, Dr. Esteban emphasized the health and safety of the DePaul community will remain a top priority.

“Over the past two months and moving forward, we have been guided by the goal of providing a safe and healthy environment for our students to learn, and for our faculty and staff to serve our students," he said. “We will not waver from this commitment."

Dr. Esteban referenced DePaul's strategic plan, calling for the university to develop students' readiness to engage with and thrive in a changing world.

“This year has put that strategic aim in perspective in ways we never imagined," he said. “However, we remain steadfast in our goal of providing access to high-quality and affordable academic programs that meet student, workforce and societal needs. We will continue to equip our students with a transformative education, grounded in our Catholic and Vincentian values – the type of education that is needed now more than ever."

Father Memo reminded attendees of the communal principles the university has and will continue to use in the decision-making process: safety, transparency, inclusion, respect in tension, shared pain and responsibility. 

“From the beginning, we have used 'community' in all we say and do," he said. “The biggest crises in human history were solved by community efforts. No one can do things in isolation. Closing off can be a natural reaction, but it is the sense of community that will lead use through this crisis within and beyond DePaul."

Academic planning

After introducing Soumitra Ghosh, the new vice president for Enrollment Management, Ghanem expressed her gratitude to all the faculty and staff for all their efforts these past months.

“Since March, you have converted over 4,000 classes to remote delivery. You have provided the resources needed by students to navigate this new terrain. You have answered their questions and alleviated their anxiety," she said. “Nothing I say can express my gratitude enough."

Ghanem explained detailed plans are underway for the fall quarter.

“At this point, we are planning to offer some classes in a face-to-face setting," she said. “We do believe we will not be able to go back to fully face-to-face classes as they were before. We are continuing to enhance our teaching in a multi-modal way, in which face-to-face, online synchronous and asynchronous classes all contribute to robust learning."

Many universities, including DePaul, are using state and local government guidance to determine how to restart campus for fall 2020. In addition to determining which classes could be in-person, the university also is working to update more than 100 classrooms with Zoom functionality, allowing participation for students who cannot join on campus.

“We are working closely with the deans, department chairs, faculty and all units across campus in this planning," Ghanem said. “This work is like a giant puzzle – this piece affects another piece. As soon as we know which classes will be face-to-face, we will share that information."

The Center for Teaching and Learning continues to offer support on remote instruction for faculty. More than 200 faculty members are registered to participate in CTL's extended summer programming in preparation for the fall quarter.

Ghanem also shared that final touches are underway for DePaul's online commencement ceremony on June 13.

“We plan to include as much pomp and circumstance as possible in this virtual setting," she said. “Most importantly, each individual student will be recognized during these ceremonies."

Operations update

Bethke announced the university's work from home order will be extended through July 17. Bethke also announced the end of hourly employee pay accommodations on June 30.

“While other organizations have announced furloughs and layoffs, we have done our best to keep our workforce whole," he said. “In light of the June 30 end date, the Office of Human Resources has launched a talent share initiative. Hourly staff who cannot fully operate in their roles at home can utilize this program to find other work across the university to record hours worked."

In addition to determining which classes can remain remote, the university also is examining which employees could work remotely long term.

“There are some 600 employees in the 55 E. Jackson building, where we rent $3.5 million worth of space," Bethke said. “Many of those positions are not student-interacting, and their work has not suffered in this work from home situation. The cost savings would not be immediate, but we are spending a lot of time thinking about this option."

Enrollment and revenue projections

Dr. Esteban offered national context for the university's approach to planning and decision-making. National surveys of new and continuing students, he explained, indicate a possible decline of 20 percent, excluding international students.

“As of now, we expect a 5 to 10 percent decline in fall enrollment," he said.

Due to the country's unemployment rate, Dr. Esteban added the university's projected net tuition revenue for fall could decline between $49 - $65 million, compared to last year. The university also expects a decline in auxiliary revenues, including room and board fees, as well as athletics tickets sales.

During the Q&A portion of the program, Ghosh provided an additional update on the university's enrollment projections.

“Continuing students is our largest group. As of yesterday, this group is about 2 percent behind where we were at this time last year," he said. “Incoming graduate students are down 1 percent; incoming freshmen are behind 10 percent in terms of deposits placed. However, transfer student deposits are ahead about 3 percent. These are deposits or 'intent to enroll' and not enrollments properly speaking."

Current and prospective students continue to have many choices, Ghosh explained.

“Therefore, there are so many scenarios that can play out between now and the fall. While we cannot fully predict or control how the immediate future will unfold, what we collectively do for our students as a community will determine what fall enrollment will look like," he said. 

Though net projections are down, donors and friends of the university continue to support DePaul.

“So far this year, we are on pace to raise roughly $56 million," Dr. Esteban said. “This is the second-highest dollar amount in DePaul history."

Additional questions for the leadership panel regarding university planning may be directed to