Taking the Long View

Photo Illustration by Jeff Carrion / DePaul University

For the last several years, a group of dedicated managers has been meeting regularly to discuss how DePaul’s Vincentian mission can guide and inform our management practice. A central objective of the committee has been to consider ways in which we might invite DePaul managers to come together on a regular basis to network, share resources, build community, and support one another. Such discussions bore fruit this past May with the inaugural Vincentian Managers’ Forum that was attended by approximately seventy DePaul managers. The committee is now in the process of planning further forums when DePaul mangers will be invited to meet with their peers once again to connect with one another and reflect on the relationship between their work and our common Vincentian mission.

Having served as a manager at DePaul for twenty-five years, it has often occurred to me that a foundational pillar of Vincentian management is to help new staff reflect on what it means to be part of an unfolding Vincentian legacy and to situate themselves within the arc of DePaul’s history. This is especially important whenever we are confronted with challenging chapters in our DePaul story, such as navigating the recent budget deficit. What might the lessons of the past teach us about facing the hurdles of the present?

In contemplating this question, I consulted DePaul’s own record of our rich history, which was written to commemorate our centennial.[1] This collection of essays traces DePaul’s journey from “the tiny parish-based St. Vincent’s College on the north side of Chicago”[2] through many fits and starts, to the culmination of DePaul as the large, multifaceted institution of higher learning that we would recognize today. Through my research, I was astonished that amid the many successes and times of triumph in our history, there were also certain defining moments of adversity that threatened our very survival. However, as I read about these times and learned more about their circumstances, it became apparent that no matter how daunting the path ahead may have seemed, DePaul always managed to traverse these treacherous waters. It may have meant treading water for a while, but usually the university has not only survived but flourished.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. When we do, echoes of old may tell us what we need to hear.

One such echo emanates from the early 1900s when DePaul was still in its infancy. During this period, “the financial panic of 1907 shrank both DePaul’s enrollment and its reputation among its creditors.”[3] As a result, by 1909, our “foundling university (now) found itself bankrupt.”[4] Clearly, this was not the end of the story though. During the next few years, DePaul managed to procure sufficient resources to continue its expansion and academic innovation. Indeed, just a decade later, the university was poised for solid growth.

Many years later, during the period of 1947–1948, another seeming insurmountable obstacle would arise when DePaul almost lost its accreditation as ruled by the North Central Association. This was due to a combination of factors such as DePaul’s “financial instability, its small number of faculty with doctoral degrees, its low per-student expenditures, and its inadequate library.”[5]

To rectify such gaps, a fundraising campaign was launched in 1952 which effectively bridged these shortfalls. Specifically, a significant number of PhD faculty were hired, and the library budget was increased. The crisis abated, and DePaul earned its accreditation.

I would hazard to guess that not many working here today would know of any of these struggles in our history. Yet such defining moments have helped shape contemporary DePaul. Indeed, the way in which DePaul weathered these crises and the innovation that brought us through these storms may have much to teach us still.

In reflecting on the peaks and valleys of our DePaul journey, it may serve us well to return to this small piece of wisdom that Vincent shared with his confreres long before the university’s naissance: “Never … be surprised at current difficulties, no more than at a passing breeze, because with a little patience we shall see them disappear. Time changes everything.”[6]

Reflection questions:

  1. What has been a time in your personal or professional life when seeds of hope from the past have helped show you the way forward?
  2. When was the last time you stepped back and took the long view? What pearls of wisdom did this action reveal to you?

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, PhD, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Albert Erlebacher et al., “DePaul University Centennial Essays and Images” (Chicago: DePaul University, 1998). Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/20.

[2] Ibid., v.

[3] Ibid., 53.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Letter 1075, “To Louis Rivet, Superior, in Saintes,” 15 November 1648, CCD, 3:382. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/28/.