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Talking with the Next President

January 1, 1998

Nick Marinello

Last month, after a nearly yearlong search, the Tulane Board of Administrators announced the selection of the next president of Tulane University. In the coming months the entire university will begin to get to know him. He is Scott Cowen, dean of Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.

On July 1, 1998, he will become the 14th president of Tulane and will arrive with an academic background in accounting and management, more than 18 years' experience as an administrator, and a reputation as a strong institutional and civic leader.

"It's rare when a business school dean becomes the president of a university like Tulane," said Cowen, 51, during a phone conversation held shortly after the board's Dec. 5 announcement. "Once people get to know me, however, I think they will feel very comfortable with me and my core values. They will come to understand that my interests and experiences span many, many different areas of university and civic life."

During his 22 years at the Weatherhead School, Cowen has been active in universitywide service and governance, chairing the Library of the Future Committee, provost search committee, School of Dentistry planning task force, University Commission on Information Sciences and Faculty Senate Budget Committee.

In tending to his own backyard, Cowen either chaired or was a member of numerous committees at the Weatherhead School and, as dean, led the school in three fundraising campaigns, raising more than $80 million in private donations. Under his leadership, the school's endowment increased from $6 to $75 million, with research funding jumping from $250,000 to $2 million.

Cowen is also credited with guiding the school to innovative approaches in curriculum design, management education within the university and adult learning. With more than 50 articles and four books under his belt, Cowen has turned his attention in recent years to issues dealing specifically with institutions of higher education. His most recent book (1995) is entitled Innovation in Professional Education: Steps on a Journey from Teaching to Learning.

"We are headed for very interesting times," said Cowen, who has a five-year contract with Tulane. "Higher education will continue to change and go through a transition over the next 10 years unlike anything we have ever seen before."

According to Cowen, there are several steering currents aloft in the academic environment: globalization through technology, the "devolution" of economic support from the government to the private sector, a growing trend of a cost-conscious society to look at education as a commodity, and the "partnering"--or blurring of lines--between not-for- profit and profit-oriented organizations (Tulane Medical Center and Columbia HCA, for example).

"When you add all these things together you realize that higher education is going through a significant period of change as profound as anything we have seen in the past," said Cowen, "because any one of those factors by itself would be significant. Add them together and you have an interesting future ahead of you."

As for Tulane's future, Cowen said he could not now, obviously, be specific as to what changes his administration would bring to campus. He offered some broadly outlined hints, however.

"I philosophically believe that private institutions should be decentralized because the action occurs at the school or unit level," he said. "Therefore, I will arrive with a strong feeling that decentralization of a private institution is positive, and that it can be a good thing for the deans and faculties to have more freedom of action. What there needs to be is a strategic, academic and financial architecture throughout the central level that guides the decentralization. I go into this with that bias and will be asking if that fits with Tulane's culture and its strategy for the future."

Speaking of strategy, Cowen acknowledged the strategic planning process initiated by Tulane's provost Martha Gilliland and a committee of academic administrators. "I want to understand how that process is working," said Cowen, "and make sure that my own ideas about strategic formulation dovetail and influence current efforts."

"As president," continued Cowen, "it is part of my responsibility to work with my colleagues on campus to develop a vision and a strategy for the future of Tulane. Once that is articulated, it is my charge to be the person who can talk about it externally to our various constituencies and marshal the resources for us to realize our aspirations. I like to engage in discussions about strategies and ideas and how to make institutions even better than they are."

He also likes beginnings, the time of transition when a new administration takes shape. If, after 18 years with Eamon Kelly at the helm of the university, Tulane is a little rusty in these matters, Cowen said he is not.

"When I took over as dean of the Weatherhead School there had been someone in place for 13 years," he said. "I also have extensive work experience with for-profit and non-profit organizations and have worked with CEOs in helping them with their own transitions."

Cowen sits on the boards of Rubbermaid Inc., American Greeting Corp., Forest City Enterprises Inc., and Fabri-Centers of America Inc., and is a member of a number of community organizations. He serves as a consultant to a host of Fortune 500 companies, privately held companies and local, state and federal government agencies.

For the next six months Cowen expects to spend several days each month at Tulane, meeting with members of the community and developing a transition plan.

"I will have some visibility," he said, "but obviously Eamon is president until June 30, so I will not be intrusive. If anyone looks to me for input, I will try to be helpful, but I think I am going to use this time period as a way of just getting the lay of the land and meeting people."

He said, however, he anticipated reviewing the budget assumptions for fiscal year 1998/99, to "see from whence they came and the implications of them."

Cowen and his wife, Marjorie, are parents of four grown children, all of whom are pursuing careers and will not be relocating with their parents. Marjorie Cowen is an administrator with more than 16 years of experience with Case Western Reserve University. Though she will not be employed by Tulane, Cowen said, "I expect I and others will look to her for help on many issues. She has a vast amount of university experience and is the kind of person who will lend a hand where it is needed."

Cowen admits that he has been only an occasional visitor to New Orleans, but that he has been made well aware of the singular nature of the city's culture. "I am looking forward to learning about the city," he said. "I'd like to believe that I've not gotten so old that I can't adjust to new things. I go into this with a smile on my face and welcoming the opportunity for a new set of experiences."

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