Cowen in Transition

March 1, 1998

Nick Marinello

If you haven't noticed, Scott Cowen has been all around campus. Since January, when he was named president-elect of the university, Cowen has entered into a kind of mutual discovery period with the university in which each can get to know the other.

Saying he plans to "hit the ground running" when he takes office July 1, Cowen, who has been spending three to four days each month in New Orleans (in addition to daily phone calls and e-mails to campus), hopes his periodic visits to campus will help him "develop a deep understanding of the institution while giving those on campus an opportunity to get to know me."

Along with his regularly scheduled monthly meetings with President Eamon Kelly, Chancellor John LaRosa, the Executive Working Group, the president's faculty advisory committee and the deans of all schools and colleges, in February Cowen also met with the faculties of liberal arts and sciences, law and architecture, attended a Staff Advisory Council meeting and a Student Leader Lunch, and had several dinners with members of the Tulane Board of Administrators.

Making himself available to a curious constituency and broadening his understanding of the university are two of six "key objectives" Cowen has outlined for himself during the hectic period before he takes office. Other objectives include developing a good working relationship with the board of administrators, developing a thorough understanding of Tulane's financial situation, prioritizing an action plan for his first year as president, and refining his initial assessment of Tulane's competitive positioning, as well as its future needs and directions. Cowen admits that presidential candidates have only limited exposure to an institution.

"All you can do is hope that your initial favorable impressions are right. As I spend more time on campus I am gaining a great appreciation and real fondness for the campus, the people and what you are doing."

Cowen believes in the importance of understanding an institution's "culture" and rejects the notion that cultural assessments are merely buzzwords and new-fangled management jargon.

"The culture of an organization really embodies the belief system, the philosophy, the way people think and act toward situations," he says, adding that any person in a new leadership role ought to "try and get a sense of whether the culture is an obstacle or catalyst for changes and the discussion of new ideas."

Cowen says he sees the willingness to change as part of Tulane's culture. "That is not to say that all change there has been viewed as positive or constructive, yet there is a culture that change is necessary. I consider that to be a huge positive."

Cowen has designated the Executive Working Group as his transition team and will maintain an ongoing dialogue with its members to develop a transition plan. The group comprises Chancellor LaRosa; Martha Gilliland, provost; Bill Bertrand, vice president of innovation and technology; Ron Mason, senior vice president and general counsel; Yvette Jones, vice president for operations and finance; Tony Lorino, senior vice president for finance and chief financial officer; Julie Walker, vice president for institutional advancement; and, for the purpose of transition planning, Sandy Barbour, athletic director, and Debbie Grant, director of public relations.

Lorino has been appointed by Cowen to chair the group. Along with providing background information on the university and identifying key members of the Tulane constituency, the Executive Working Group is also assisting Cowen in developing an "action plan" for his first year in office.

"A lot of times, a new president will take a year just to figure things out," said Cowen. "I want to have a lot of that done before I get there. "By next fall I want to share my insights with people and get their reactions to my assessment. Based on that we will start to do serious thinking about the future."

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000