Cowen Responds To Crisis

October 30, 2001

Nick Marinello
Phone: 865-5714

From his observations, Tulane President Scott Cowen said that Americans have generally reacted to the Sept. 11 attacks in three distinct ways. "To a certain degree there are some who are in complete denial," he said. "They want to live their lives exactly as they did before the 11th."

On the other end of the spectrum are those who have been profoundly impacted both psychologically and emotionally. The third group, said Cowen, comprises the many people in between. And it is from this middle ground that Cowen and his senior staff will be operating Tulane as the university moves through the uncertain environment of the coming months.

"When an event like this happens that is so totally unforeseen, it is our responsibility to be as proactive as we can in responding to possible consequences of the tragedy," he said. "I don't think it is appropriate to say, 'Well, this happened and there is going to be no impact on Tulane University and life goes on as it was before.'"

Yet, Cowen is quick to add that an administration should not overreact, and say the sky is falling, put on the breaks, and stop everything. Cowen shared this philosophy in a memo sent to deans, directors and department heads on Oct. 2. In it, Cowen writes that the university should follow a particularly prudent, focused approach toward the management of the university in the weeks and months ahead.

In an interview in mid-October, Cowen said there are two objectives for his administration in the near future. First is to focus university priorities. If there are 30 priorities you wanted to achieve prior to the 11th, maybe the list should be narrowed to the six or seven most important things. The second objective is to react to events in a prudent and conservative way.

Cowen points to the strategic plan as a guide for any budget tightening. The strategic plan clearly articulates our priorities. And clearly those priorities pertain to people, academic enterprise and our community. Though he said he has no reason to doubt that the United States is headed for an economic recession, he does not want Tulane employees to be concerned for their jobs.

"The most important thing for me is to ensure security for those people currently at the university," he said. Beyond that, Cowen said he remains ultimately optimistic about the economy. "The economy is cyclical. I don't know the duration of the recession, but we do know it will be followed by prosperous times."

Furthermore, he said he is optimistic that the record-setting trend of high schoolers going into college will hold the course over the next decade. Finally, he said he believes the financial position of the government will remain strong enough to support ample government funding of research and education.

"While Tulane isn't taking special measures to bolster campus security, it has made clear that any incidents of harassment will not be tolerated," said Cowen. "Student consultation through Educational Resources Counseling and the Department of Health Services has been set up to deal with the anxieties students may be feeling. Also, we are encouraging students to get more involved in community service," said Cowen. "It is particularly appropriate to give back to the community."

Cowen said he felt that, during this time, the university should be particularly cognizant of how celebratory events relate to the university's mission. "At a time like this, I would hope we would never come across as frivolous and that university events are appropriate in the light of what's going on in the world."

At the same time, Cowen said he wants to continue to move the university forward. "You don't want to stop doing everything," he said. Cowen admitted that it was hard to have to re-evaluate short-term plans but said that gaining the right perspective helps to deal with it.

"What happened on the 11th is affecting everybody. Tulane University did not get singled out. One of the responsibilities of leadership is to respond to the events that are around you. I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on what I cannot control. Still, it's tough. I am deeply saddened by what happened on Sept. 11. Yet, I am optimistic that we will ultimately be stronger as a nation and a university. I am as committed as ever to assuring Tulane's future."

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