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Higher Education 

A Conversation With John T. Richardson, the Retiring President of DePaul University

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John T. Richardson is an understated man. This Roman Catholic priest is a study in black and white: ebony suit with discreet snowy cuffs and stiff collar, a full head of well-trimmed, well-combed white hair. He's soft-spoken, polite, even courtly, and his eyes frequently twinkle behind his bifocals. Modest about his achievements, which are considerable, he occupies a well- appointed office that's not particularly large and almost devoid of trophies on the 13th floor of DePaul University's Lewis Center. As president of the second largest Roman Catholic university in the United States, he could have a car and driver. Instead he rides the subway every day, as he has since 1954.

A member of the Vincentian order founded by Saint Vincent DePaul, Richardson may be considered the spiritual descendent of the men who founded DePaul University in 1875. He joined the order in 1942, and was ordained in 1949. Named dean of DePaul's graduate school in 1954, he's been with the university ever since, becoming executive vice president and dean of faculties in 1960; in 1981 he was appointed president. He will retire in June.

His tenure has coincided with a period of remarkable growth. In 1960 enrollment was 8,745; today it's 16,414. Then the students came almost entirely from the Chicago area; now more than a quarter of them are from out of state. In 1964 the philosophy department added courses in existentialism and phenomenology, in what a university history calls "the first major pioneering change in undergraduate programs offered by American Catholic institutions in 200 years," and the number of areas in which the university offers graduate degrees has steadily increased. There were 737 graduate business students in 1970; 20 years later DePaul had become the nation's second biggest MBA producer, with 2,995 students.

DePaul has constructed or acquired dozens of buildings in the last 30 years, including the entire Lincoln Park campus (McCormick Theological Seminary's old site), the Blackstone Theatre, and Goldblatt's flagship store on South State, now the DePaul Center. Scheduled to hold much of the College of Commerce, the center may open this September, though Richardson says a more realistic date is next January. (The new Lincoln Park library will be named after him, following the request of Richard and Claire Heise, who donated $7.5 million to the university in May.)

Though he seems proud of these changes, Richardson seems prouder of such innovations as the International Human Rights Law Institute, founded in 1990 and dedicated to "developing and promoting international human rights laws . . . through teaching, research, technical assistance, public education and advocacy" in Latin America, central and eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He also points to DePaul's programs in inner-city education, including the Urban Teacher Corps, a graduate curriculum that specializes in teaching teachers to cope with the special problems of the underclass. And he subscribes wholeheartedly to the university's statement of mission, which reflects the Vincentians' view of education; it reads, in part: "As a university, DePaul pursues the preservation, enrichment, and transmission of knowledge and culture across a broad scope of academic disciplines. It treasures its deep roots in the wisdom nourished in Catholic universities from medieval times. . . . By reason of its Catholic character, DePaul strives to bring the light of Catholic faith and the treasures of knowledge into a mutually challenging and supportive relationship. . . . As an urban university, DePaul is deeply involved in the life of a community which is rapidly becoming global, and is interconnected with it. DePaul both draws from the cultural and professional riches of this community and responds to its needs through educational and public service programs, by providing leadership in various professions, the performing arts, and civic endeavors, and in assisting the community in finding solutions to its problems." He downplays talk of the Blue Demons.

When I spoke with him about DePaul's progress and the role of the urban university, he was thoughtful, yet ready with his answers. It's easy to understand how he gets along with both undergraduates and the heads of megacorporations. He has the quality of the idealized confessor: he makes you like and trust him.

Bryan Miller: What is your view of the changes that have taken place in your time? You've been at the school a long time, and you were influential in policy well before beginning your term as president in 1981.

John Richardson: That's right. I was executive vice president 21 years, and it's pretty hard to draw a sharp line between those two. The areas in which the university has advanced--and I would say especially and primarily in our strategic planning--are in questions of quality: quality first of all in our academic programs and then, secondly, in the quality of the fuller life that we can offer our students.

BM: You mean as opposed to being just a commuter campus?

JR: Yes. But even for commuting students there's a lot that can be done to accommodate students--career counseling, for instance. That's one of the most important services we provide. We have to give the commuting students at least equal service there; they're just as dependent upon a job after they graduate.

BM: How much of the change at DePaul has been your doing? Yours is the name that always comes up.

JR: We've always had a rather collegial focus to setting goals and strategic plans at the university. I've had more of an opportunity to articulate these objectives, but it is not something I do independently of others. We've had a number of long sessions on all these goals and how we want to see the university moving. With costs spiraling, unless we have true quality and can offer something at least comparable to the finest of the public, tax-supported institutions, our future does not look good.

BM: Does this new emphasis on quality have anything to do with changing attitudes in the Roman Catholic Church? Do parents no longer automatically send their children to a church institution?

JR: Well, that would be part of it, yes. There certainly is not a captive audience.

BM: That was true at one time.

JR: Partially true.

BM: There were alternatives--your famous rivalry with Loyola, for example.

JR: Yes, and there are others in the area. Loyola and DePaul are close allies on this.

Part of it was the decision of the state to invest heavily in the University of Illinois in Chicago. As a commuting institution we were doing quite well for years, certainly having a fair share of the market. We drew not only from Catholics, but especially because of our strength in law and business and in music we drew other students as well. But when the University of Illinois moved to the Circle from Navy Pier and started a full university program, right in our front yard . . .

BM: You had subsidized competition.

JR: Yes.

BM: So you had to reinvent yourselves.

JR: We had to look at quality. That was the first consideration: looking at the academic programs. And secondly we looked at what we offered the students overall. And then we had to look at our distinctiveness too. If we're not just going to be able to match the University of Illinois or other good institutions, we have to have something different. If you've read anything on DePaul, you'll know that our distinctiveness comes in three ways: we're Catholic, we're Vincentian, and we're urban.

BM: When I first moved to the Chicago area and was looking at colleges, the reputation of DePaul was that it was Roman Catholic, blue-collar, commuter, and sports oriented.

JR: Basketball anyway.

BM: How has that changed?

JR: I see the image of DePaul as being academically more competitive, I see it having more breadth in its programs, and, particularly in the last three or four years, I see the university as being truly involved in the community and being recognized for that.

BM: Does an urban university have a special role to play?

JR: In my view it does. And it means more than the location. We're in the center of a city, and we still draw our students predominantly from the Chicago area. It's a type of significant involvement in the activities of the city, especially in those that are related to higher education.

The best example of the areas in which DePaul has invested very much in the last three to five years is our outreach to the inner-city schools. Traditionally we've considered them in some kind of partnership with us; we've had some kind of articulation with the high schools and junior colleges, but certainly nothing formal. Now when you see the problems with quality, particularly at the inner-city schools, there's a real problem there. So rather than saying, "All right, here is one of our markets drying up," because the graduates of the inner-city public schools are not qualified to enter DePaul, and looking for new markets to replace them--which would have been a way out--we've been saying, "This is very important. This affects not only our market for qualified students, it affects the whole quality of the city."

So we've talked to all of the corporations here about the pool of people that are going to be in the work force. It's something that we know will have an effect on the quality of life in the city--the social and cultural life--if the life of the public school system deteriorates so rapidly.

BM: Do you have students working with public-school classes?

JR: Oh, not only students. We've got faculty, we've got programs in the schools, we work cooperatively with the corporations and the foundations. In this one program we're working now with 30 schools, and we've just signed an agreement with Citibank of New York to extend that to 10 more.

BM: So you're returning something to the community, and at the same time you and the rest of the community will benefit from it.

JR: Yes.

BM: So there's a service here that's also a sort of enlightened self-interest.

JR: Yes, it's that. And our selection of what type of service we will give the community is rather easy if there's an educational problem. If we feel that we have the resources and the strength and the reputation to go out and help these people, then we think that it's something we have to do, something that's most appropriate. And we have had tremendous partners in the corporations and foundations. DePaul is certainly a leader in education in the inner-city schools.

BM: And given the competition for qualified minority students, it can't hurt you if they think of you as someone who helped them earlier.

JR: Yes, yes. But I think we're a little more altruistic than that. We're not just self-serving. For instance, in one of our first programs--one that's now ten years old--we worked in two [Hispanic] inner-city schools to take freshmen that had some real career motivation and ambition and were willing to work extra. Their families agreed, the counselors at the high schools agreed, that we would give them additional support; we would have classes at the university every Saturday, and we would work with them in their basic areas of math and English. By the time that they went through this four-year program they'd had a high school education that was almost what you would expect from a first-rate high school on the North Shore or one of the city's best private schools. We've done that for ten years.

BM: Are you working both with public and with Catholic schools?

JR: These are all public schools. We've gotten involved in the last two or three years with Providence-Saint Mel's, which used to be Catholic. I think it's private now.

The core of this program was at Juarez, on the southwest side; it was mostly Mexican. To give you an example of the sort of students who have completed this program, just in the first years a number were accepted in civil engineering in Urbana-Champaign. In the first class I know there was one who went to MIT. There was one who received a full scholarship to Brown. These are major research universities that are certainly looking for Hispanics. So they probably had a certain advantage, but they also had the ability.

BM: Are your faculty members donating their time? Or is this considered part of the job?

JR: It's part of the job. There's a second area of community, in a very broad sense geographically, that DePaul has been engaged in. And that is the international, the global community. We became involved not just because of what is happening in central and eastern Europe, although that has certainly jolted us--it's jolted everybody. But our self-interest in this is the fact that we are preparing students for careers in business, and if our students are not prepared for international business there they're inadequately prepared. Now part of that is not just studying that from a distance, but involvement.

BM: So you're sending people over there or bringing people over here?

JR: Both. We have exchanges going with several countries for research and training. And it's not only our business department that's involved; our law school has been very interested. We had an institute on human rights--we think this is part of legal studies. We want our faculty and our students to understand that while we have our system, unless we understand other systems we're really not getting a full education. So we've been active through this institute in both Latin America and in central and eastern Europe. Some of our faculty members were official observers of the trial of the military in El Salvador, in the murder of the Jesuits and women. We had a meeting last month in Prague with people representing DePaul on the question of human rights in the writing of the constitution there.

BM: Just so you don't teach them about being litigious.

JR: Well, we're not sending personal- injury lawyers over there! [He laughs.] No, these were constitutional lawyers. And we're sending some criminal lawyers too--that gets into questions of civil rights.

BM: Has the recession taken any toll on your business school?

JR: The recession hasn't hurt us so far; our enrollment is still up. I wouldn't be surprised if it plateaued somewhat this fall.

BM: I have the impression that most DePaul students are the first generation in their families to go to college.

JR: That's right. They're investing in college for their careers. And where you have very good career opportunities for that first generation, that means a lot. They can't afford to get a degree and say, "Now what shall I do?" They're not going to take a six-month vacation.

It's changing a little, but we don't want it to change too much. And even while we're going a little more national, we're still committed to the people from Chicago and to those in the lower or middle class.

BM: This has always been noted as a Roman Catholic institution. Has that importance diminished any?

JR: I would say it's changed. I prefer not to use the term diminished. It's a different type of Catholic character than it used to be. A lot of the change goes back to the early 60s, to the second Vatican Council. And even before that some of the changes came about through what I would call the mainstreaming--at least of DePaul, although other Catholic universities have done the same. Some of the attitude before that was the idea of being almost remote.

BM: Fortress DePaul?

JR: That's right. And there was a defensive mentality about learning, and about students, and about the behavior of students on campus. And in those days many people--parents especially--liked this very much. But you can't have that type of university and be in the mainstream.

BM: Does the church affiliation have an effect on academic freedom? One reads about theologians at other universities getting stomped by church authorities.

JR: For the most part, no. There's still some remote possibility of the church taking an official stand with a DePaul theologian, but it's never happened, and it's most unlikely to happen.

BM: Are DePaul academics free to speak out on things like birth control if they disagree with the church line?

JR: There's never been any lack of academic freedom. We make that quite clear. We do find that the positive part of what we're doing here is that we continue to look for relationships between the church and theology--not only Catholic, but the other religious traditions--in learning. And we do encourage faculty in the religion and theology department to look at other disciplines. We invite our faculty in the other disciplines to look at the religious underpinnings of a lot of our learning, because in the last decade or two the idea of value-free studies and research, particularly in social and political sciences, has had a lot of influence.

BM: So you do have values, and they are based on church teaching . . .

JR: Some of the values are. Not all of them. We try to encourage those which are traditionally religious values.

BM: But there's no iron hand enforcing one viewpoint.

JR: No.

BM: That's pretty much a thing of the past then?

JR: Yes. In fact, the chairman of our religious studies and theology department is not a Catholic.

BM: Just out of curiosity, what is he?

JR: He's a Presbyterian.

BM: My word--a Calvinist among you.

JR: [He laughs.] And a lot of the faculty are not Catholic.

BM: I wouldn't expect that you'd necessarily be looking for religious purity in your computer-science professors, but I would think it might be justifiable in the religion department.

JR: Well, we would at least expect a balance in religion.

BM: Is there any possibility that you're overbuilding? You've got the Goldblatt's building coming along, you're building more dorms, but there's a smaller pool of college-age students.

JR: Most of our expansion has been for quality, not for increased numbers. We're leasing in two other buildings down here--we've been very short of space. More space for the same number of students and faculty is another part of the way that the quality is changing here.

BM: You're looking to get more students from a national base now, isn't that right?

JR: Yes, we started that possibly 20 or so years ago. The rationale for that was that we saw the future of the liberal arts and sciences in the inner city as being a little tough to maintain. The residential component would be very important and the type of campus life that that would provide. For students in business and law we didn't see that need so much. Our traditional students work part-time, particularly in business. The law doesn't permit much of that.

So that was the genesis of our developing our Lincoln Park campus into a more residential campus. We're pretty well there now. We've got a few more things to do.

BM: What has been the impact of the expansion of the DePaul campus on the Lincoln Park area?

JR: It's been quite favorable. We've had good relationships with the community.

BM: I seem to remember a situation when you took over the Sanctuary building--there were some people who'd bought condominiums there who were rather distressed about suddenly finding themselves living in a dormitory. How was that resolved?

JR: It was resolved through negotiations with the people. They moved right into the middle of a campus, so they couldn't have been too surprised. What happened was that [condominium development] was in bankruptcy. The developers and the people who held the paper on it were anxious to move those [units], so those people bought dirt cheap. There were something like 18 units, and 7 of them had been sold. It was a great bargain for us, so we bought the remaining 11. We met with the people, because we had a great need for more residential space then, and we said, "Of course, you're welcome to live in a quasi-university dormitory, but if you want to sell, we will offer you what you paid plus 10 percent, which we think is a fair offer." And they didn't think it was a fair offer. I can remember them all demonstrating outside the office, protesting that we were throwing them out--one lady was pregnant. "Now I'm going to be out in the street" and on like that. They put on a pretty good show. They even hired a publicist.

They finally sold us their units. We never did announce what the final arrangements were, but we reached an agreement. They wanted the price of a comparable apartment in Lincoln Park--even though they were on top of the el tracks and in the middle of a university campus. So we offered them what they paid plus 10 percent plus an additional 1 percent for each month they'd lived there. I don't think we settled for too much more than that.

BM: Did that affair hurt your image in the community?

JR: Not really. We were already working with area organizations. The biggest activity was after we developed the master plan for that campus--we hired an architect and worked with all of our people--which required a PUD, Planned Urban Development. It's zoning, and it's required by city ordinance. We listened to the people in the area, and we made changes. They have legitimate concerns: concerns over density, concerns over the number of buildings, concerns with the height of the buildings--the greatest concern is always with parking--the flow of students through the neighborhood areas. They wanted to know what our future plans were for buying more residential property and tearing it down. We've had some individual problems, but on the whole we work very well with the neighbors there.

BM: Northwestern has had big problems with Evanston over questions of providing city services, since they've got these big chunks of land that aren't on the property-tax rolls but receive services. Have you had any problems like that?

JR: No.

BM: Do you pay any fees, or have you been asked to pay any fees?

JR: No.

BM: Has there been any flak over your taking these office buildings off the rolls?

JR: No. It did come up in the purchase of the Goldblatt's building. But that was a city-owned building that was off the tax rolls, deteriorating rapidly, and hurting the neighborhood. The Greater State Street Council was entirely on our side. In fact, the first time we went in to see the mayor about it the head of the council and the chairman--the head of Marshall Field's--came in with us.

BM: What about Lincoln Park?

JR: No one has ever raised that question.

BM: Perhaps it's not an issue because Chicago is so much larger than Evanston and can better absorb any costs?

JR: And a lot of the property we've taken over has not been that [expensive], especially in the beginning. In the late 60s we moved our campus from Kenmore and bought McCormick Seminary's campus when they moved to Hyde Park, so that was already off the tax rolls. That was the biggest addition to our campus there.

BM: What city services do you receive?

JR: We get fire protection and water--that's about it. We do have our own security, and, in fact, that's been a plus to the community. We had an instance a few years ago where a security patrol going down an alley saw smoke coming from a garage and summoned the fire department. They put it out quickly, but it could have been a real tragedy. The community also really appreciates our music school. They're invited to the concert hall, and they like that type of participation.

We did have a problem where we removed a parking lot next to the baseball diamond and opened up a real lovely field, which we thought that the neighbors would like. Well, we took away 30 or 40 off-street parking spaces--and that was part of the previous PUD that McCormick had. We were obligated to replace that off-street parking.

BM: Did you have any problems with conflicting cultures when you took over the Goodman's theater school?

JR: Not too much, not really. The Goodman was in their phaseout period, and what they'd decided was that they'd take no freshmen. By the time we started negotiating with the Art Institute--we started looking at the school of drama in '77 and completed our negotiations in '78--for the '78-'79 year, there were only seniors.

BM: How much of the faculty did you retain?

JR: Some had gone on. We did not give any of them tenure; we took the core of them and gave some three years toward tenure in our system. Some of them now have tenure. Their acting dean accepted it because it was a way of keeping the theater school alive. I think it's a much, much stronger school now than it was when it was a part of the Art Institute. They were always stepchildren over there. The Art Institute is centered on visual arts, not the performing arts. They only had the students because they had the theater: "We've got a building. Let's have a school!" [He laughs.] With us it was the other way around: "We have a school, but we don't have a theater! So what do we do?" So we scrounged around for a year. The first five years we had an agreement with the Art Institute that we could use the building when the professionals weren't using it.

BM: Then you bought the Blackstone.

JR: Then we bought the Blackstone.

BM: You had some problems with the unions down there. Is that still going on?

JR: We didn't have problems. The deal we cut with the unions--this had been a union house--we said, "The only condition under which we can buy this building is if it is not a union house, because this is our laboratory. We have to use our students." We have our own electrical technicians, we build our own scenery, we make our own costumes--even the ushers are students. The unions were reluctant, but they said fine. But then they said, "If you bring in professional companies, we will expect them to use union members." And we said, "That's up to them."

The union problems arose [three] years ago, when the International Theatre Festival was here. They picketed because they felt those were professional companies. We said, "This is not our affair. This is between the people who are leasing the theater and the unions."

BM: What's the role of basketball at DePaul?

JR: It's had a traditional role as a strong rallying point for our students. It was an attention getter in the press, and it's certainly helped DePaul over the years, because it gave us a type of recognition, a type of prominence, that we didn't have on other grounds.

BM: Has basketball been overemphasized?

JR: Occasionally it has--I hope more by the media than by the university. What's happened is that DePaul has grown in stature over the years; we have so many other activities and programs that stand out, that should get us attention. But we have not objected to the athletic attention that we get, as long as it is positive. And most of it has been positive. We've had some bad stories in the sports pages, but very few compared to most universities.

BM: Have there been any problems with the academic standing of basketball players, with unqualified students recruited just because they could palm a basketball?

JR: Oh, we've had some problems. We've had academically weak students, but not in the last ten years or so. In some ways we stood behind the NCAA and helped to support limits on the number of students that are given scholarships that don't meet standards. If basketball players don't meet standards, they may not even play their first year.

BM: Is it fair to say that you're deemphasizing the role of basketball?

JR: Not so much deemphasizing basketball as building up the rest of the university. We're still conscious of the media--when the Tribune Sunday magazine section did that article about DePaul and Loyola they wanted Father Ray Baumhart of Loyola and me to get together in our respective sports shirts for a picture. We said no. They probably would have wanted us to hold a basketball too! So they went with the photo of the two professors--but they still used the sports shirts. The article wasn't that much about sports--it was more about our different emphases. Loyola's very strong in the medical area.

BM: Although they're closing their dental school.

JR: Well, it really has been an albatross. Father Baumhart kids me every time he sees me. [He whispers,] "You want a dental school?" I always say, "No, thank you!" [He laughs.]

BM: What are your plans after you retire?

JR: I'll probably stay on. The most logical capacity would be for me to help with fund-raising, since I've been doing that.

BM: You've built up quite an endowment, haven't you?

JR: It's still very small. Our next campaign is still capital development--that's number one. Endowment is number two. I would hope that over the years that order would be reversed.

BM: Let's talk for a moment about issues that affect academia in general. Why have costs risen so far, so fast?

JR: First, in the last decade or so universities have been trying to make up the declining amount of financial aid coming from the federal and state budgets. As inflation has continued, tax support has declined. The problem is worse for private colleges and universities.

Our rate of increase now is such that we're worried about the future. Our idea has always been that qualified students should be able to have a choice between public and private universities; if they qualify academically, they should qualify [for financial assistance]. It's becoming increasingly difficult to find that assistance.

BM: But the average cost of a college education has risen well above the inflation rate.

JR: Yes, it's at least twice the rate of inflation. Next year our increase in student aid is 23.8 percent.

BM: How much will your tuition be up?

JR: About 5 and a half to 6 percent. There are other reasons for our costs exceeding the rate of inflation. More expectations of us. Some expenses have become required by law, such as all of the issues of fringe benefits for the faculty and staff--questions of insurance and pensions. There's the type of security that campuses must now provide students and staff. These are matters of law, and they do add to the cost. There are certain questions of equity, of civil rights legislation that require that if any group of faculty or staff have access to benefits they all must. Those costs are shooting up.

BM: Is it possible that we're looking at the evaporation of that portion of the American dream?

JR: That's a hard one. But I would say that there is still great access, even a rather broad choice, for the students who want higher education. Take a look at our incoming students; the number of middle-income people--by which I mean people with a gross income of not more than $30,000 to $35,000--is still a very large number.

BM: Are you assuming that most of those students will need loans?

JR: Yes. As I see the evolution of higher education in this country--before World War II it was the preserve of the upper- income family. With the GI Bill you had a tremendous surge in enrollments, followed by a drop in enrollments. The federal government saw the value in it and started supporting it. They made higher education available to qualified people. But it's getting too expensive, which is why colleges and universities are picking up part of this. If that's what you mean by the dream, then yes, I think the dream is endangered.

BM: I assume you have formulas to figure out what the family should theoretically be able to afford.

JR: Yes. We look at the family's financial statement. We might divide the cost--about $15,000 [per year] now--into four almost equal parts: family contributions, work, loans, and grants.

BM: But don't those loans sometimes cripple students financially?

JR: This is making students and potential students think twice before making that kind of commitment to loans. But overall your statistics would show that in less than ten years the difference in earning power would cover very large loans. It's a question of an investment now.

BM: A lot of press has been given to professors who don't teach, who spend all of their time on research. Do you have any of those at DePaul?

JR: Not that many. That's generally more the situation in the research universities. We have an average teaching load per year of seven and a half courses. If we have any faculty members who don't teach, it's because of a particular assignment in a given term or a given year. We have a couple who are working in Europe this year--they're under a special grant and externally supported.

BM: Do you think it's a problem elsewhere?

JR: I do. Yes, I do. Part of the problem of increased costs is competitiveness between institutions; they're competing for researchers, and their researchers are competing to get large grants. The top research people are not going to want to spend that much time teaching; on the other hand, a lot of money follows those people.

BM: When the professors are involved in researching, students--particularly undergraduates--frequently get stuck with teaching assistants. In some fields most of those TAs don't even speak passable English. Are those students being cheated?

JR: Yes. I would put it less harshly than that. I would say that the students who benefit most are graduate students working with top faculty. Undergraduates are less likely to work with the top faculty. One exception, I believe, is the University of Chicago, which doesn't allow graduate students to teach or at least to be responsible for any classes. I know that there's mounting public pressure to reemphasize undergraduate teaching. That's certainly true in the public universities in Illinois, where a stand has been taken by the overall board of higher education, which recommends policies for all those institutions.

People from all over the world would like to study in American universities because of the quality of the research done here. There's a question of whether we can continue to afford this and a question of whether undergraduates can continue to subsidize studies at the graduate level.

BM: While we're talking about professors, what's the future of tenure? Judging from what I read and see, many colleges and universities are reflecting the broader society in going more and more to free- lancers.

JR: As of December 31, 1993, federal statutes will not permit [mandatory] retirement for reasons of age. This law is already in effect in other areas; colleges were exempt for seven years. Now the age limit is off, and we're all going to be looking very carefully at tenure.

BM: That's certainly going to make things harder for younger people coming up. And there are always going to be those whose abilities have declined, but who won't leave. If they're tenured, how will you get rid of them?

JR: I think tenure will continue, but it will change. It has created a sort of crisis mentality as we approach that date. There are different types of experimentation with maintaining tenure. You can have a review of your tenured faculty--annual, or every two, three, or four years--that's much more vigorous than what we have now. The quality of performance becomes much more important for compensation, and if there is deterioration it will be a record which can lead to removal, even with tenure.

BM: I've been reading a lot lately about academic "gypsies," who may teach at two or three different schools in the course of a year, or who get hired for two or three years and then move on. They're not paid very well, and they have absolutely no security. Is that a concern within academia?

JR: Right--and there's quite an amount of concern outside academia too.

BM: But the world of the university was always considered immune from that.

JR: [Free-lancing] is increasing in higher education, and it's increasing because of the fear of being tenured in. When you've got 65, 75, 85 percent of your faculty tenured, the possibility of bringing in new blood, new life, becomes more dangerous. Now we have the "nontenure" track. [Those teachers] are given a contract, but will never get tenure; their employment is on an annual basis.

BM: Is this a healthy trend?

JR: I don't think it's healthy for the professoriate. It inhibits a person sinking deeper roots into an institution and having proprietary feelings toward it. Moreover, with some programs whose future might not be that secure the university might be reluctant to hire people if it might terminate the program. If an individual is tenured, the university must take a lot of steps to see if he could fit into another program before he's terminated.

BM: What's your rate of tenure at DePaul?

JR: It's relatively low--slightly more than 50 percent are tenured. Probably 10 to 20 percent are on a special nontenure track. The others are eligible for tenure. Our percentage is much lower than the national average because of our growth.

BM: Isn't there a rule that you normally work seven years and are then either tenured or let go?

JR: Yes, that's the rule. There are some problems with the integrity of the institution if people are maintained for more than seven years and not offered tenure. I'm speaking of full-time teachers, of course. When that happens you have two different classes of faculty, and that's not good.

BM: Is the concept of tenure bound for extinction?

JR: Now that the age cap is off, some institutions will probably do away with tenure. There's less challenge to academic freedom now than there was when tenure was brought on. The whole scene has changed. Various issues--tenure, promotion, rank--are now protected by civil rights.

BM: We read a lot about multiculturalism kicking out the established canon: "politically correct" speech, and classes, and so on. Where do you and DePaul stand on these issues?

JR: I think political correctness is an extreme, an extreme that comes from the sudden tossing out of so much of what had been the cultural center of our education in the past. I think there is a large middle ground, and I think there are very few institutions which are not pursuing that middle ground.

BM: Isn't there a danger of debasing the curriculum?

JR: I think it depends on how far the faculty goes in pursuing a curriculum. Take our music department. Our curriculum is still centered on the classical music of Western civilization. The dean is talking about bringing in more third-world music. It's pretty difficult to see how we could enlarge our program to include more of that without cutting back on traditional music.

BM: Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

JR: I think it's a good thing.

BM: But aren't we losing something in replacing the great works of Western civilization with things of questionable value, just because they happen to be "multicultural"? Aren't we losing, among other things, a certain continuity with the past?

JR: We may be cutting back on our roots, but we're learning more about the roots of other people. And curricula change. Look at Harvard College in the 17th century--they had a lot of classical history and very little science. I think there are decided benefits of broadening this, as well as losses.

BM: What about such academically spurious areas as "Afrocentrism," which holds, among other things, that the Greeks stole civilization from a black civilization in Africa?

JR: I can see the attractiveness that has for African Americans. They're trying to build this up. I can't see an institution adopting this.

BM: Yet a number of institutions have, including some very prestigious schools.

JR: Well, that's a position for extremists--and it's a shame when higher education gives in to extremists.

BM: Do you have any final comments about your tenure at the university?

JR: I'm very pleased with what's happened at the university. I'm very pleased with the collegiality that we have here, the acceptance of DePaul's mission by the faculty and staff, the recognition of what DePaul is doing for the community.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/John Sundlof.

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