DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Leadership hosts virtual town hall for students, parents

Leadership hosts virtual town hall for students, parents

Town Hall
More than 1,100 students and parents joined a virtual town hall on the evening of Aug. 20, submitting nearly 500 questions to DePaul leadership on topics ranging from tuition to housing to student services.  

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, Vice President for Student Affairs Gene Zdziarski, Executive Vice President Jeff Bethke, Director of the Department of Housing Rick Moreci and other leadership members.

Guiding principles

Dr. Esteban began the virtual town hall by acknowledging the newest plan for fall 2020 is not what most had hoped to experience.

“We understand the news about the fall is disappointing, but based on our Vincentian values of taking care of one another, we do not believe there is a reasonable way to open campus to the full extent while still managing the health risk to our community," he said.

Dr. Esteban reiterated the health and safety of students, faculty and staff is a top priority, and noted the various measures the university has taken to protect the limited population returning to campus this fall. These efforts range from the #CampusClear app to improved ventilation systems to a trained contact tracing team, as well as enhanced cleaning practices and the removal of self-serve options in the dining halls.

The university also built more than 700 hand sanitizer stations, equipped with World Health Organization-formulated sanitizer that faculty, staff and students can use to clean high-touch areas, like door handles and work surfaces.

In addition to health and safety measures, Dr. Esteban reassured attendees the university remains committed to students' education.

“Even in a remote learning environment, many aspects of the DePaul experience will not change," he said. “We are known for individualized attention; the focus always has been and always will be on students. Our distinguished faculty still bring energy and new ideas that students welcome every day. Quality of academic programs is our first commitment, regardless of modality."

Student support

In an effort to ease the financial burden COVID-19 has placed on many families, the university took steps to reduce strain on students.

“Last spring we rolled back a planned tuition increase for 2020-21. We have now canceled the athletic fee and activity fee for this coming quarter," said Dr. Esteban. “We also have given students the opportunity to opt-out of the U-Pass for fall 2020."

When asked if the university would lower tuition for online classes, Dr. Esteban noted the quality of a DePaul education does not change with its modality.

“DePaul has been involved in online education for more than a decade. Roughly 7,000 students per quarter take an online class, and we always charge regular tuition," he said. “Faculty go through rigorous training, and our courses are high quality. We believe the quality of our remote education is equal to or in certain cases better than in-person classes."

Though most students will not return to campus this fall, leadership assured attendees students will have access to a full range of services.

“All student services will be available virtually," Zdziarksi noted. “This includes the Career Center; the Office of Multicultural Student Success; the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness; counseling services; academic advising; tutoring; and Adult, Veteran and Commuter Student Affairs. There are numerous means to connect with these services, such as telephone, online chat and Zoom calls, as well as in-person meetings when deemed necessary."

If an in-person meeting is scheduled, university protocols of social distancing and wearing a face covering must be followed.

Zdziarski also noted how the university is working to engage students remotely.

“Our staff have been working on creative solutions to engage students. In addition to various Facebook groups dedicated to each DePaul class, this spring we launched the DePaul Engagement Network, or DEN. This platform provides students with hundreds of opportunities to connect," he said. “We currently have more than 250 registered student groups, and virtual programming for fall will begin on DEN on Aug. 26. DEN is set to host Welcome Week and will house information about our fall virtual Involvement Fair."

Residential housing

This fall, the number of students living in residence halls will be reduced significantly.

“Students staying on campus will practice social distancing; each student has a single room with their own bathroom," Moreci said. “This allows for us to easily quarantine someone if they become ill. We have only about 15 students per floor in the buildings we are using this fall."

Based on the university's plans for the winter, more students could be allowed into campus residence halls in the new calendar year.

“We are all hopeful we can welcome more students in January. We will keep the housing applications of everyone who was originally assigned to live with us for fall," Moreci said. “We are not canceling anyone out unless the student specifically asks us to. If the decision is made to have a more robust housing population in winter, we will reach out to students who had housing to see if they're interested."

Moreci also helped clear confusion about fall 2020 housing prices. Students living on campus are getting a single room at the rate they would have paid to share a double room with another student.

“That is a cheaper rate," he said. “We also did not raise housing rates this year, so it is actually last year's cheaper rate."

The university's dining program also received an update for this quarter.

“Food services will be open in the fall," he said. “We also offer plans for both on-campus and commuter students. The commuter plan, called Commuter 15, contains 15 meal swipes per quarter, as well as $600 in declining balance to use at dining locations and campus stores."

Academic planning

On Aug. 12, leadership announced almost all fall 2020 classes would move to remote learning.

“We went from about 16 percent of classes being face-to-face to 1.6 percent being face-to-face," Ghanem said. “We appreciate how quickly we were able to make this decision and inform students. This helped students decide where to be located for the fall."

Though only about 70 classes will take place on campus this fall, leadership noted this coming quarter will differ from the spring.

“We are not on lockdown, and some areas of campus will be open in a limited capacity," Ghanem said. “More than 100 classrooms have been equipped with Zoom capabilities, and students will have limited access to the library and computer labs. Students will be able to conduct research on campus and checkout equipment as needed."

When asked about an extension of the university’s “grace period” for allowing students to take a hiatus in their studies, Caryn Chaden, associate provost for student success and accreditation, noted the policy will not change.

“Currently, students may take off three consecutive quarters and without having to reapply," she said. “Only if they take off a fourth quarter would they then have to reapply. There has been no talk of extending that period as we have found this policy to work well."

While the fall quarter is only a few weeks away, some are already looking ahead to winter 2021.

“We hope to make a decision for winter 2021 by November," Dr. Esteban said. “At DePaul, we're all in this together. Empathy and flexibility are part of our DNA. We urge students to continue to be patient, courageous, open minded and passionate."

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