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Cowen in Focus

July 1, 1998

Suzanne Johnson

In physics, "work" is defined in terms of force and motion that, when applied to an object, result in energy. Tulane University's new president has come to work. In the six months that have elapsed since he was named president-elect in mid-December, Scott S. Cowen has become a familiar figure on campus during regular visits to familiarize himself with the people and programs that make up Tulane.

Three or four days each month, the former dean of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University would start his day in New Orleans with a breakfast meeting and end with a dinner meeting. In between were, well, meetings and more meetings--plus an occasional free moment to stroll around campus and interact with people informally, often entering an office with a simple handshake and pronouncement: "Hi, I'm Scott."

Now, as he officially takes on the presidency July 1, Cowen says, "I'm ready for it." The 51-year-old New Jersey native brings with him a sense of humor, an informal and direct management style, an infectious enthusiasm for his work, and the ability to converse about anything from the state of higher education in America to the future of the Cleveland Indians.

He's an unabashed positive thinker, performance-driven and will be the first to tell you that he often has unrealistic expectations of both himself and others. Energy, he has in abundance, and it has already made itself felt at Tulane in a number of initiatives: a streamlining of the administrative structure; plans for a universitywide commencement ceremony; and development of a theme, "A Renaissance of Thought and Action," that will kick off not only his own inaugural-year activities but also set the stage for the university's long-range, strategic planning.

So what else is ahead for Cowen's first year? The answer to that question is one that has been six months in the making.

"In the very beginning, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I'd been selected for this job, and it seemed so daunting that I felt like I'd never be able to get my arms around it or grasp the organization or know where to get started," he says. "But after spending several months on campus and getting to meet people, all of a sudden it began to take focus and shape, and light began to shine at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I've had a great opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of people on campus, and everyone has been gracious and welcoming. What I feel needs to be done is becoming clearer to me and more in focus. Now I am ready to hit the ground running."

Cowen has established some priorities for the first year of his presidency. First, he wants to begin the strategic planning process. "We have to develop a shared concept of what we want the institution to be and how we're going to get there," he says.

He also will continue working to design and implement a decentralized management approach that would give more autonomy--and more fiscal responsibility--to the individual schools and colleges, incorporating financial incentives to encourage excellence. Tulane's external constituents--from alumni to legislators to donors--will also receive Cowen's early attention.

"The last six months as president-elect, I spent virtually all of my time internally. Now, though, it's time to also begin to identify and develop relationships outside the university, both locally and nationally."

Finally, Cowen will spend his first year at Tulane getting to know more people and helping them develop a campuswide sense of community. Cowen seems to genuinely like people, and he wants the people of Tulane to work together and feel part of a single university community.

"Community is very important to me," he says. "It's part of developing a culture for the institution to get people to say, 'Well, we're really all in the same boat, we're all headed in the same direction, and we're all dependent on one another.' "

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