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DePaul University president stepping down

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, DePaul University president (center) is shown in 2013 with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CEO of McCormick Place, Jim Reilly, before announcing plans to develop several hotels and a basketball arena near McCormick Place. | Sun-Times file photo

DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider announced Monday that he plans to step down at the end of the next school year — doing so at a time of mounting racial tension on campus and just days after he apologized to students for not doing more to address the issue.

In an email to faculty and staff, Holtschneider made no reference to the unrest, which culminated May 24 in protesters shutting down an event featuring controversial conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos.

Instead, Holtschneider, who has been at the helm for 12 years, said he initially planned to step down in 2019, at the end of his contract, but decided earlier this year that that wouldn’t fit well with DePaul’s “planning cycle.”

“I believe, therefore, it’s best for DePaul if I step aside in the summer of 2017 so that a new leader can assist the institution to name and ambitiously pursue its next set of strategic objectives,” Holtschneider wrote.

Holtschneider’s announcement comes just days after he wrote a lengthy letter to the entire student community titled, “DePaul must do better.” In the letter, Holtschneider apologized for the “harm that was unleashed by a speaker whose intent was to ignite racial tensions and demean those most marginalized,” referring to Yiannopoulos.

“I’m concerned that my own silence in recent days as we’ve begun a series of meetings to hear people’s feelings firsthand, has been deafening,” Holtschneider wrote in the June 2 letter. “In short, many of our students, staff and faculty felt insufficiently supported by the DePaul community last week, including by me. For all this, I deeply apologize.”

Holtschneider also noted concerns earlier in the year of black students “growing weary” of racism they found at DePaul.

On Monday, Mario Morrow Jr., president of DePaul’s Black Student Union, said Holtschneider’s announcement took him “by surprise.”

Morrow wasn’t particularly critical of Holtschneider, but said he could have done more to address the concerns of organizations like his.

“A lot was planned but a lot of things weren’t put into motion — a lot of things that could have happened, that could have prevented Milo [Yiannopoulos] from coming to speak,” Morrow said Monday.

In his June 2 letter, Holtschneider promised to assemble a task force to examine speech on campus.

After he steps down next year, Holtschneider plans to take a year off before returning to his tenured faculty position at DePaul.