After weeks of heated racial controversies on its Lincoln Park campus, the president of DePaul University has announced he will step down next summer, two years before his contract expires. The Rev. Dennis Holtschneider made the announcement to the full DePaul University community by e-mail, where he tied the decision to the timeline of DePaul’s institutional growth and made no mention of the recent emotionally charged incidents that rocked the campus.
“My intent had always been to conclude my service with the end of my contract in 2019,” Holtschneider wrote. “I realized, however, that this does not time well with DePaul’s planning cycle.”
Holtschneider has led the Vincentian Catholic institution since 2004. In his announcement, he said he will continue to work over the next year on the university’s current strategic initiative, called Vision 2018, but that staying beyond that would interfere with his successor’s ability to define the next set of strategic priorities. He said he’s been planning to resign early since January.
But some students believe Holtschneider’s timing is tied, at least in part, to rising pressures to respond to what some say are persistent racial and gender issues on the campus. In the last few weeks the DePaul community has dealt with the discovery of anti-Mexican graffiti written in the quad, a noose found outside a student’s dorm room and a heated event involving a conservative pundit invited to speak on campus.
Anais Donald, an undergraduate at the school, said she was surprised and confused to hear of Holtschneider’s decision. Donald was among many students who grew increasingly vocal about how the incidents contributed to a feeling that they were unwelcome and unsafe on the campus. She said Holtschneider had responded in recent days by holding a number of face-to-face meetings with concerned students, including a town hall forum.
“And that led most people to believe that Holtschneider himself would be taking responsibility for these things instead of stepping down,” said Donald. “I don’t believe that the best way to take responsibility is to leave your post.”
Donald said she fears the transition may make it more difficult for students to work for cultural and institutional changes at DePaul, because a new leader will be starting from scratch.