LINCOLN PARK — Two dozen members of the DePaul University faculty signed a letter to the school's president objecting to a proposed deal with the city to build a basketball arena near McCormick Place as the school faces economic instability.
The letter signed by 24 DePaul faculty members — including the heads of the math and English departments and the past math department chair — urged school President Dennis Holtschneider to withdraw from the project, claiming it is "wildly out of line with other university priorities."
DePaul would contribute $70 million for construction of the arena, or about half, with the rest coming from the McPier bond fund, according to the mayor's office.
The letter focuses on DePaul's fiscal situation, specifically a cap and temporary postponement of annual raises and the "unprecedented" levels of student debt faced by students.
This year "for a lot of reasons, not the right time to get into this," said Craig Sirles, an associate professor and chair of DePaul's English Department.
The professors also objected to the possibility that a casino could be built near the stadium.
"The university that, with a gambling casino, co-anchors a convention center entertainment district … is not the image DePaul should evoke," the letter states.
Holtschneider addressed the letter during a faculty council meeting Wednesday afternoon, Sirles said.
The president said "he wished it was an opportunity that could come up in three or four years down the road," Sirles said, but told the faculty council he thought this was an opportunity that would not come up again.
University officials would not immediately comment on the meeting or the letter.
A group of DePaul students and alumni protested outside the faculty council meeting, passing a petition stating that it is unjust for the city to fund part of the stadium while closing 50 public schools.
"It is completely against everything I learned here," said Erika Wozniak, a DePaul graduate who now teaches at CPS's Oriole Park Elementary on the Northwest Side. "The education that I got, this happening is completely contradictory."
Wozniak started the petition, which has gained more than 1,000 signatures.
During Wednesday's protest even one of the team's basketball players, junior forward Cleveland Melvin, signed the petition, but refused comment.
Undergraduate DePaul students said the campus seems split on the arena.
Most agreed the trek to Rosemont is what keeps attendance numbers low to men's basketball games, and that the new arena will not only boost student attendance, but will make the school more attractive to recruits.
The question is the timing of the move.
"They are raising tuition. They are on a hiring freeze," said 22-year-old senior Corey Kendrick. "I don't see where they are getting the money."
The 10,000-seat "events center" at McCormick place would be anchored by DePaul University men's and women's basketball games and host conventions and trade shows throughout the year.