DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Leadership looks ahead to 2020-21 academic year during summer town hall

Leadership looks ahead to 2020-21 academic year during faculty and staff town hall

Leadership town hall

Nearly 900 faculty and staff joined a virtual town hall yesterday, Aug. 20, to hear directly from DePaul leadership about university operations and planning as the campus community prepares for the start of the fall quarter.

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, Vice President for Mission and Ministry, the Rev. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., and other senior leadership members.

Health and safety

Dr. Esteban started the virtual town hall meeting by recognizing faculty and staff for their dedication and resilience over the last six months.

“Faculty have dedicated themselves to testing, strengthening and enhancing remote instruction. This summer alone, 241 faculty members participated in the DePaul Online Training series. That's 10 times higher than the average number of participants over the summer, making it our largest cohort yet," he said. “Our staff have been working around the clock to support our students and their families. I feel humbled and blessed to work alongside the dedicated faculty and staff in our DePaul community."

As the university prepares for the fall quarter, Dr. Esteban emphasized the health and safety of the DePaul community remains a top priority in all planning efforts.

“We have spent considerable time and resources to protect the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff," he noted.

Efforts range from the #CampusClear app to improved ventilation systems to a trained contact tracing team. 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.

Support for students

Fr. Memo reminded attendees of the communal principle the university carries as a Vincentian institution.

“I have been at DePaul for six months, and it is clear to me the most common and safe place is our mission," he said. “Young people are fighting to pursue dreams. We are here to help them achieve this purpose. We want to take this opportunity to thank you all for helping our students pursue their dream. You do this with creativity, resilience and innovation."

Dr. Esteban also shared how the university has supported students and what we can continue to do moving forward.

“We saw an increased use of the Student Food Pantry, and we are working hard to address the technology gap and provide our students with the basic resources they need to learn," he said.

The university also launched a challenge to support the Student Emergency Assistance Fund. Until Sept. 8, a donor will match donations made to the fund dollar for dollar, up to $50,000.

Vice President for Student Affairs Gene Zdziarski noted how the university is working to engage students remotely.

“In the spring we launched the DePaul Engagement Network, or DEN, which provides students with hundreds of opportunities to connect," he said. “Early virtual programming for fall will begin Aug. 26, and DEN is set to host Welcome Week."

Academic planning

Before diving into plans for the fall, Ghanem used the town hall as an opportunity to introduce three new members of the university community: Stephanie Dance-Barnes, dean for the College of Science and Health; Tatum Thomas, dean for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies; and Cynthia Pickett, associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Ghanem's town hall update followed the Aug. 12, leadership announcement that 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."

Bethke echoed leadership's appreciation for the flexibility and dedication of faculty and staff over the last several months.

“We feel quite confident this is the right course for us at this moment. Everything we've done to prepare to reopen will benefit those who return in fall and later when we're able to welcome more people to campus," he said. “We are making the best of the situation at hand. Thank you all for your dedication. We know it's not easy, but we'll get through it together."

Though nearly all classes will be taught remotely, leadership noted the fall 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. However, we still ask you to minimize your presence and only go to campus for essential needs."

GianMario Besana, associate provost for global engagement and online learning, touched on DePaul's continued work as a leader in global engagement.

“Not all study abroad programs have been canceled, we are evaluating programs one by one," he said. “We have about 100 students traveling to other countries this fall. We also launched a virtual international internship, and have a number of programs our students can participate in this fall quarter."

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

“In November we plan to make a decision about hosting on-campus classes for winter," Ghanem said. “Registration for winter courses begins in October, but that is just too soon to make a decision. With this summer as an example – what we knew in June is very different from what we now know in August."

Human Resources

As the start of a new academic year approaches, faculty and staff had questions about sick leave and vacation time amid a pandemic.

“We feel our leave policies are very generous, and we feel they would be adequate should someone need to take time to care for a COVID-positive family member. Employees may use up to 60 hours of sick time, and the Family Medical Leave Act offers more extended time and may apply to this situation," said Stephanie Smith, vice president for the Office of Human Resources.

Asked about increasing the number of vacation days employees are able to roll over into the next calendar year, Smith said the number will remain the same.

“Many of us are working remotely, and the lines between our work and personal lives are blurred. Zoom fatigue is real. It is even more important these days to reimagine vacation to have time away from desks and computer screens and time to care for ourselves," she noted.

In response to a question about wellness programs, Smith noted that earlier this summer, DePaul's wellness program provider, Interactive Health, went out of business. Smith assured faculty and staff the university is working to find a new provider.

To close the town hall, Dr. Esteban noted the importance of following health and safety guidelines provided by the university.

“It's about taking care of our community," he said. “From wearing a mask to using #CampusClear to completing HR's COVID-19 training, we encourage these practices among faculty, staff and students. It's not about you; it's about your neighbor. That's how we do it at DePaul."

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