The Dean of the College of Education (COE), Paul Zionts, announced on September 23 that he will step down from his position on December 31. His decision to step down from the role makes COE the fourth DePaul college in search of a new dean, including the School of Music, College of Communication, and Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media.
“I didn’t plan to do that until I was 80,” Zionts said. “At this point, I plan to come back to teaching and I’m going to put everything into it, just like I put everything into everything else I do.”
Zionts is currently serving his 14th year as Dean and is in his third term. Before DePaul, he worked at three universities, including Dean of the University of Michigan at Dearborn. Although Zionts has been involved in education for over 50 years, he believes this has been the case Coincidence that brought him into the field. While awaiting feedback from his draft committee during the Vietnam War, he accepted an offer to attend a master’s degree in education and then work at a reform school.
“I came here because I was interested in working with faculty and staff to build partnerships in the city and do really meaningful work,” Zionts said. “Almost all my expectations were met.”
Zionts has been instrumental in expanding undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs, increasing the scholarship programs for the COE, and championing diversity within the college. He cites the college’s faculty and staff as the reason for these achievements and believes it was his job to support them.
“I like to say often that these fabulous people fall into my lap and my chance is to make sure they don’t fall out,” said Zionts. “They make us look good, they make college look good, and I think our reputation has really improved over the past decade because of them.”
COE professor Jason Goulah believes Zionts’ success is due to expanding the college’s reach and connecting with Chicago through the Vincentian Mission. He also cites the increasing diversity of the college under Zionts’ leadership as another aspect of his success.
“He has seen many difficult times in education: interest in teaching as a profession has waned, we have had the time of COVID-19, racial segregation, political and social divisions and economic cuts,” Goulah said. “He was able to guide the college in a way that we got through all of this and stayed strong with our enrollments. He was great for the College of Education and I’m sad to see him go.
Ultimately, despite praise from staff and faculty, students felt disconnected from Zionts, citing his position as administrator as the reason. Little did they know that he also resigned from his role after his announcement.
“There’s a lot of change going on in the administration and maybe it would have been nice to spread that,” said Audrey Blackwell, head of early childhood education. “I would like to see the new dean become more involved in the classroom and give more personal attention to the students. I don’t think we’ve seen that at Zionts.”
Criticizing the numerous open college deanships at DePaul, Goulah assures students that this is the nature of science and that this is not indicative of a problem at DePaul.
“It’s the natural rhythm of people who are in these positions,” Goulah said. “When deans come in, they serve one, two, maybe three terms. The exciting thing is that we have a brand new President. I think it brings together all the constituencies of the university and speaks of a shared sense of purpose, identity and mission.”
As new administration is rolled out across DePaul, Zionts is confident they will look for a successor who will support the faculty with the similar values of transparency and honesty that he practiced. While the provost is still seeking nominations for an interim dean, Zionts hopes one will only be needed for the six months he has left until the 2023-24 school year.
“I thought it would be better for the college if we had someone new on board who could work with the president to take the college even further,” Zionts said. “It’s very exciting to be with DePaul right now because there’s a whole new generation of deans. They are a great group and this transition will be great.”