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Wall funding jump starts strategic plan

September 15, 2000

Nick Marinello

A year ago, when President Scott Cowen announced to the Tulane community the windfall of an $18 million gift to the university, he predicted that a portion of that money would be used to "make the strategic plan come alive."
This month the university is getting the first inkling of how that prediction is coming true with the announcement of five newly funded projects that Cowen says "align with high priority initiatives in the strategic plan."

The projects includes the creation of a fund to establish a model for startup packages to attract and retain high-quality faculty, particularly in sciences and engineering; support for interdepartmental cooperation for academic education and research in the areas of environmental engineering and health sciences; support for the implementation of three undergraduate living-learning communities; implementation of a center to cross- link faculty, researchers and clinicians working in areas of renal and hypertension research and care; and establishment of a neuroscience center that expands on existing research strengths in neuroendocrinology and cognitive-sensory neuroscience.

A review committee established by Cowen last January culled the five initiatives from more than 120 submitted proposals, said Yvette Jones, senior vice president for planning and administration and a member of the review committee.

"These are the first five to be awarded," said Jones. "We are going to do at least four more rounds over the next two years and will send out a call for proposals in October."

Of the $18 million donated to the university by the late Lallage Feazel Wall of West Monroe, La. (see Inside Tulane, Vol. 19, No. 3), $9 million has been set aside for the university's endowment. The balance has gone into funding the strategic plan, said Jones, with $3 million earmarked for facility projects and $6 million for grants to strategic projects that have "sustainable, positive impact" on the university.

Of the strategic project funding, the initial $1.5 million used to fund the first five greenlighted proposals is money well spent, say funding recipients. For John Clements, professor and chair of the microbiology and immunology department, the creation of a startup and cost-sharing fund will be a real shot in the arm for research at Tulane.

"The reality is there is a direct correlation between research success and resources the institution offers individuals as startup packages," said Clements, who drafted the proposal with Gary McPherson, associate dean of liberal arts and sciences and professor of chemistry, and Carla Fishman, executive director of research administration and technology transfer.

The seed money from the Wall Fund awards will enable Tulane to provide a "formal mechanism" to offer competitive startup packages in terms of lab space, equipment and high-tech support, which will, in turn, encourage successful research. And this, said Clements, is in tune to the strategic plan.

"Look at the message to the university from President Cowen," he said. "He talks about Tulane having the highest quality faculty. The only way to do this is to offer competitive startup packages."

Amy Koritz also sees the Wall funding directly supporting strategic objectives. Kortiz, an associate professor of English and director of the living-learning communities, sees the investment in undergraduate living-learning communities as symbolizing "the university's commitment to a holistic and distinctive undergraduate experience."

The funding will help implement three living-learning communities-the Urban Village, which is already online in the Willow residence hall, the Global Village, which is being implemented as a pilot program on one floor of Willow residence hall, and the River Village, which is currently being planned. Koritz, who drafted the proposal with Carol Reese, assistant professor of architecture, and Denise Taylor, director of housing and residence life, knows, however, that the Wall funding is only a seed grant and that the ultimate goal is to create long-term sustainable funding for living-learning initiatives.

Koritz believes additional funding may come from private donors and academic units who see the benefit of such residential communities for their students. "But you have to be able to demonstrate that you have a successful program on the ground, and this funding will help do that."

All five initiatives are budgeted for periods ranging from one to three years and the principals of all five must draft an annual report that contains measurable positive outcomes. Cowen, who admits that gaining Wall funding is a "very competitive process," encourages participation in the upcoming call for proposals.

"We will always be interested in proposals that align with priorities in the plan," he said. "These funds have allowed us to jump start the planning process and create an opportunity for advancement at a pace not possible without this funding."

With Jones, members on the Wall Fund Review Committee include Paul Barron, interim senior vice president for academic affairs; Paul Whelton, senior vice president for health sciences; Jack Grubbs, special assistant to the president and chair of the undergraduate educational council; Tony Lorino, senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer; and Jane Bickford, vice president for institutional advancement.

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