President Manuel inspires and invigorates the DePaul community, creating a renewed sense of mission
By Eve Becker
DePaul University President Robert L. Manuel is all about connection: connection to students, faculty and staﬀ; connection to the city of Chicago; connection to alumni and their communities.
And for Manuel, connection starts with meeting people, which he is doing with vigor in his quest to broaden the impact of a DePaul education and make DePaul a national leader in educational excellence.
Some of those connections have frayed due to the pandemic. “I have come to realize that we are now more isolated than ever and that we need to reconnect to our mission — and each other — if we are to ﬁnd our path forward,” Manuel says.
“My job is to bolster the talent and expertise of our faculty and staff and at the same time build connections with the people who are addressing the large questions in Chicago. Then, we can bridge the two together, to engage in the most pressing issues of the day,” he says.
“The impact will be incredible for research, practice, student engagement and, ultimately, society,” Manuel says. “We will live our mission and also help our Chicago community. Who better to not just engage, but potentially solve, a major issue such as poverty than DePaul?”
Manuel has ambitious goals to expand DePaul’s impact as well as its service to the Chicago community, tying those efforts to DePaul’s Vincentian mission.
“We need to get bold, courageous and self-conﬁdent about connecting what we do in class and research labs to the questions that are animating growth strategies for Chicago,” he says.
“We should be devoted to our Catholic, Vincentian faith tradition and connect it to the healing and progress of the communities we serve,” he said in his convocation address in September. “We should hold our mission ﬁrst in everything we do and plan in a way that secures our future ability to carry that mission out.”
A Genuine Connection
Although Manuel enjoys serious talk about the future of higher education, he also relishes more casual chats with students. From his ﬁrst day on campus, Manuel immediately made his mark interacting with students, high-fiving DIBS and taking a turn behind a video camera at DePaul’s Cinespace Studios.
Actually, photography is his passion. “If I could do anything in this world, I would be a photographer,” he says. With his favorite Nikon D90 camera, he has taken dramatic, color-soaked photos of his travels to Africa, China and India, as well as shots of his three daughters, who are often the subject of his lens.
He’s equally as passionate about jazz and tennis. “Jazz clubs are one of my favorite things,” says Manuel, who is a big fan of the jazz pianist Chick Corea. He also has an impressive tennis serve, learning from the men’s tennis coach at the University of Indianapolis.
Manuel is living with his family at University House on the Lincoln Park campus — a ﬁrst for DePaul. He chose to live on campus because “I want to be immersed in and inspired by the things that happen on the ground at the university,” he says. “That’s where the magic happens. That’s where faculty and student connections are at their best. That’s where our mission lives.”
Manuel is feeding oﬀ that magic in all corners of the university. “I ﬁnd energy in the three anchors of DePaul’s campus: Lincoln Park, the Loop and Wintrust,” he says. “The diﬀerences that exist in those places are part of the magic of being in Chicago. Students can experience an awful lot from our location in the city. Chicago truly is DePaul’s campus.”
Manuel comes to DePaul after serving 10 years as president of the University of Indianapolis. He’s new to Chicago, but he’s catching on quickly, marveling at the city’s past and present during an architectural boat tour and learning that in Chicago you must never put ketchup on your hot dog.
He’s active on social media, posting photos on Instagram and BeReal and commenting on Twitter. Much like a college student, he admits to obsessing over Instagram captions.
“The picture is easy. But I always worry about things like grammar. Did I use the right ‘they’re’ or ‘their’?” he laughs. But, he cautions, don’t expect policies or statements to come out of his Twitter feed. “This is my personality and thoughts. Policies will come out of my oﬃce.”
As active as he is on social media, Manuel prefers a personal connection. “Social media is the door, but we have to engage in person. So, come to events and let’s talk, see each other and create our community again, create our real community.”
For Manuel, connection is not just glad-handing. It’s a way to invigorate faculty, students, staﬀ and alumni, to inspire them to create a palpable feeling of energy throughout DePaul.
“I want you to feel invigorated. I want you to have a renewed sense of purpose and value. I want you to be involved. I want you to own our mission,” Manuel said in his convocation address. “That’s how we emerge from this moment to our spot of national prominence. Today, let’s commit ourselves to live our mission as a community that cares for everyone, serves everyone and has a real impact on the most pressing issues of our day.”
“Today, let’s commit ourselves to live our mission as a community that cares for everyone, serves everyone and has a real impact on the most pressing issues of our day.”
Manuel also wants to engage with alumni, to learn what they value about DePaul. “We have to design a way for the university to stay relevant to our alumni throughout their lives,” he says. Engaging with alumni will help DePaul develop relationships, enhance career development and help alumni connect to current students.
Manuel’s priority areas include enhancing shared governance with input from all corners of the university, showcasing DePaul’s mission and supporting academic distinction. He has already convened a summit to create a plan of action to advance diversity, equity and inclusion within the university.
“It’s important to not just talk about diversity, equity and inclusion anymore. There have to be demonstrated changes that are put into place. Our community — Chicago and DePaul — is ready for action. We’re ready for motion in this space. And we have among our faculty and staﬀ some very smart experts on how this can be done. Connecting them together and believing their voices is what will get us to a point where we make those changes.”
Manuel says he wants to unleash the full potential of faculty, staff and students. He wants DePaul to deﬁne the model of faith-based education for the country, living out its mission as an institution that makes an impact.
In his 18th ﬂoor oﬃce in the Daley Building, overlooking the Loop, he leans forward with calm, focused energy and says, “There is so much capacity here that can be connected and put into action. The kinetic energy here is tremendous. There’s capacity in every oﬃce, classroom and residence hall that, if connected in the right way, can set the world on ﬁre.”
ABOUT PRESIDENT MANUEL
- Name: Robert L. Manuel
- Age: 54
- Hometown: North Adams, Massachusetts
- Education: PhD in higher education administration, New York University; master’s in higher education, Syracuse University; bachelor’s in history and political science, Allegheny College
- Previous positions: University of Indianapolis, 2012 to 2022, president; Georgetown University, 2006 to 2012, associate provost, dean of the School of Continuing Studies; New York University, 2000 to 2006, Oﬃce of the Vice President for Enrollment Services, chief information oﬃcer, assistant dean and clinical associate professor
- Family: President Manuel and his wife, Wilmara, have three daughters: Sophia, Alexandra and Margaux
- Favorite music: Jazz
- Favorite sport: Tennis
- Favorite college class: Chinese Calligraphy – Communication and Art
- Favorite food: Anything Thai, Indian and spicy
FOLLOW PRESIDENT MANUEL
BeReal: @Rob M
President Manuel is active on social media, using it as a way to forge connections across DePaul’s campuses and communities. Here are some highlights from his Instagram feed, @prezdepaul, that show his reach and his personality.