February 21, 2000
In his 1986 album, Graceland, songwriter Paul Simon summed up the pervasive nature of technology with the line, "These are days of lasers in the jungle." Almost 15 years later that sentiment could be restated, "These are days of everything online."
It's a sentiment with which Tulane President Scott Cowen would not disagree. "I think Tulane increasingly will move away from paper in communicating with our constituencies," said Cowen, who has just seen his president's report uploaded to the university's Web site.
The report, which Cowen calls a "mainly future-oriented document about where we are headed strategically," is directed to an external audience of Tulane alumni and friends, and is being distributed exclusively on the Internet. That is a departure for the administration, which has typically sent out Cowen's external communications through the mail.
"We could have published a glossy annual report," said Cowen, "but I think that is the wrong way to go in the future. I want to condition people that we are going to do more things online."
"Scott's biannual 'letter from the president' typically covers the high points of the year," said Debbie Grant, assistant vice president for university communications. "We wanted to take a fresh approach for this report."
The report, which is entitled "Great Explorations at Tulane University, The Future Begins Now," is a concise update on strategic planning that, through animated design and interactive text, explores the plan's four main initiatives: development of human resources, focus on education and research, commitment to community outreach, and development of the university as a resource for technology and knowledge and model for leadership.
Grant, who said that all of Cowen's external communication would eventually be available online, acknowledges that there is some risk in abandoning a print version of the president's report.
"It is taking a chance," she said. "It is using technology and creativity to go to places where we haven't been before."
"There may be some people who are excluded from getting it," said Cowen, "but I think people are generally overwhelmed with the amount of paper they receive through the mail and we may have a better chance of capturing their attention electronically."
A brief letter mailed to Tulane alumni and friends alerting them to the on-line report as well as the new, redesigned Tulane Web site will mitigate some of the risk, said Cowen. "We will let them know that they should be regularly checking in with us electronically."
Grant, who oversaw the redesign of the university's Web site and has a link through which people browsing the site can contact her, said she is "amazed" at the scope of Internet use.
"I used to think I was Internet savvy, but now I realize the extent to which people are using the Internet," she said. "I now receive e-mail messages at 3 a.m. from people who want to access information about graduate programs and from someone else in Argentina wanting to download an image from a faculty member's site."
The president's report was designed by Tana Coman, manager of graphic design and publication services, and edited by Suzanne Johnson, manager of editorial services. Both work in the Office of University Publications.
While Grant said there would also be a place for "good quality magazines such as the Tulanian,." the university magazine that that office also produces, she said she was fascinated by the distribution potential of the Internet.
"What mostly intrigues me is the reach we will have," she said. "Right now we work from established mailing lists of board members, students, faculty, staff, etcetera. With something like this we have the potential to reach thousands of people we would not reach through traditional mailings. This is exciting." The report may be viewed at http://www.tulane.edu/~pres99.
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