DEPAUL — A. Gabriel Esteban was named the 12th president of DePaul University Thursday.
Esteban, who comes over from Seton Hall University, was introduced to students, faculty and staff Thursday morning in the Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave. The president-elect is set to assume the office July 1.
He is the first lay president in the 119-year history of the university. Bill Bennett, chairman of the university's board, which unanimously selected Esteban after a nationwide search, said it was significant he had broken the same ground at Seton Hall, and that he was expected to enhance DePaul's outreach and fundraising.
"Fundraising is going to be key, obviously," Esteban said.
Bennett said it was essential to "keep tuition reasonable, absolutely," adding, "Financial aid is so important."
Bennett said Esteban "has quite a good track record in that" at Seton Hall, which invested almost $150 million in infrastructure under Esteban's tenure over the last five years, raising $40 million just in the last 1½ years.
Bennett said while Esteban might not be from the Vincentian order, he nonetheless shares many of the same core beliefs.
"He's very dedicated to serving the mission of the urban poor. He's very student-orientated," Bennett said. "He's totally dedicated to educating students who come from first-time families going to college, lower economic areas."
"DePaul's a great institution, let's face it," Esteban said. "DePaul is the largest Catholic university in the country, and their mission is something that's very important. They use higher ed as a public good. That's very, very refreshing."
Esteban said the university plays a critical role In "social mobility," and that studies had shown that DePaul was already among the top five Catholic universities in raising the economic status of their students.
"I think that's a wonderful thing. That's something we should embrace going forward," Esteban said. "It's one thing to bring them in. You also want them to become alumni and get jobs."
Esteban succeeds the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, who announced last year he'd be leaving the university at the end of the 2016-17 school year. Last month it was announced that he'd be joining Ascension Health Care.
"I'm thrilled that he accepted our invitation," said Holtschneider, who was applauded with a standing ovation by students and faculty when he was announced Thursday.
Holtschneider's 13-year tenure was marked by growth at DePaul, including the creation of two new colleges: communication and science and health. But he was also recently embroiled in controversies over free speech on campus and the new DePaul arena at McCormick Place.
Esteban said he would oversee a new strategic plan to target additional areas of growth, adding, "Your competition is not standing still."
He said he expected the university's upcoming 125th anniversary, in 2023, to help spur fundraising.
Since June, the university conducted what it called "a comprehensive national search" to replace Holtschneider, led by Jim Ryan, vice chairman of the board.
More recently, Ryan said board members were looking for "a proven academic leader, strategic thinker and visionary who is unfazed by DePaul's size and complexity," adding they were seeking "the best possible candidate" and not necessarily someone affiliated with the Catholic Church or the Vincentian order.
Esteban lauded DePaul's "excellent academic reputation" and said he was honored "to have the opportunity to shape its future in partnership with the university community."
"In my conversations with DePaul's students, faculty and staff, the distinct commitment to the university's mission and values strongly resonated with my own personal beliefs," Esteban said. "My family and I look forward to joining the DePaul community."
Esteban and his wife, Josephine, are natives of the Philippines who came to the United States as academics. While at the University of Central Arkansas earlier in his career, Esteban said, he and his wife made regular trips to Chicago as "our favorite city." They were also lured here by the presence of their daughter, a medical resident at the University of Chicago.
"It's Chicago. We've really enjoyed our trips to Chicago," Esteban said. "I know lots of places to eat, which is our weakness in life, so to speak."