June 17, 2002
Mary Ann Travis
A decade ago, when Tony Cummings came to Tulane to interview for the dean's position, people repeatedly told him that the College of Arts and Sciences needed a stronger identity. At first, it wasn't clear to Cummings what that elusive objective meant. But he soon grasped the challenge--and jumped on it.
Now, Cummings and his college occupy renovated Robert C. Cudd Hall, renamed for a 1958 alumnus. In the Aron Common Room, named for alumni brothers Peter ('69) and Robert ('66) Aron, portraits of all the deans of the college line the wood-paneled walls.
Banners proclaim "Tulane College 1847." There's no doubt that this is the home of a distinguished academic institution with a distinct identity. Cummings says he tackled the intangible goal of a stronger, sharper identity for Tulane's undergraduate liberal arts and sciences college for men by keeping a consistent and persistent focus on that one main issue.
"You have to pick a few things--the right things, the global things--and be single-minded about accomplishing them," he says. "Less is more." Cummings took on no less than changing the name of the College of Arts and Sciences to Tulane College in 1993. "Naming it for a person gave it some personality. It connected us to Paul Tulane, with all the legacy and lore," Cummings says.
Cummings looked for other ways to give the college a strong-er identity. He set to work with the help of Henry Fry, director of campus planning, and Alice Walther, a former campus architect, to design an architecturally welcoming home for the college in a building originally built in 1901. By 1999, Cummings and the college staff moved back into the reconfigured Cudd Hall after a 16-month renovation.
Cummings has continued to pursue an identity for Tulane College beyond academic advising by instituting college publications, dean's coffees, dinners and colloquia along with co-curricular activities such as student summer travel and internships. All the while, he has raised money to individually endow many of the programs.
Tulane College students' SAT scores have risen along with the college's profile. Next fall's freshman class will post the highest SAT scores of any of the university's undergraduate colleges. The college's enrollment also has steadily grown, from entering classes of 400 students in the early 1990s to more than 500 first-year students in fall 2001.
"You can't prove this," Cummings says, "but you have to believe that there is a relationship between the improvements in development and admission and all of the things that have transpired here."
Questions about the college lacking an identity don't come up anymore, says Cummings. People don't talk about how the college isn't celebrating all it has to celebrate in the accomplishments of its students and alumni.
"It's not even something that would occur to students, which tells me that something is working," he says. Cummings sees the 10-year mark in his tenure as dean as a "logical moment" to move on to new challenges. T.R. Kidder, associate professor of anthropology, will serve as interim dean during the next year.
And on July 1, Cummings will start a one-year sabbatical before he returns to teaching in fall 2003. During the past year, Cummings also served as chair of the music department. He has simultaneously held the rank of associate professor of music since he came to Tulane as dean. During next year's sabbatical, Cummings will finish a book that traces the beginnings of the Italian madrigal to early 16th-century Florentine salons.
He also plans to travel to Italy to explore another research project--early opera. But Italy and Europe don't pull Cummings as much as they once did. Early New Orleans jazz has worked its magic on Cummings.
"I've gotten interested in early jazz and in a jazz studies initiative. I think that one can take the same scholarly approach that I've used in my European musicology and apply it to early jazz." If he finds that what really engages his interest is jazz, then he says, "Maybe I'll become an Americanist and work in jazz history." With a single-minded focus, of course.
Mary Ann Travis may be reached at email@example.com.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org