January 18, 2006
Universities are organic entities, constantly changing in reaction to their people, their immediate environment and the educational climate in general. Most change occurs slowly, over time. Unless, of course, something happens -- a hurricane, for example -- to speed things up.
The financial concerns raised by Hurricane Katrina caused Tulane's leaders to step back and look carefully at where the university stood in relation to its peers, and where it needed to go. They also assembled an advisory panel of educators from around the country to help them keep perspective and lend ideas.
"We literally looked at every program, at everything," said Lester Lefton, vice president for academic affairs and provost. "We decided early on that we wanted to focus our resources on programs in which we already excelled or had the potential to become world-class without a major investment."
The academic restructuring approved by the Tulane board on Dec. 8 included measures that supported the university's plan to focus on its strongest programs as well as its desire to maximize efficiency.
The academic restructuring includes the following:
The result of these changes, officials say, is a stronger, leaner Tulane with a bright future and assured success.
"But success comes with a cost," acknowledges President Scott Cowen. "And in some cases our cost has been very high."
The cost in terms of streamlining and reorganizing the academic structure of the university, as well as refocusing its academic mission, has led to the difficult decision to phase out several longstanding academic programs as well as the coordinate college system at Tulane.
The School of Engineering was hit particularly hard, with only its programs in Biomedical Engineering and Chemical and Molecular Engineering remaining and its identity as a separate school removed. "It was a difficult decision," says Lefton of the four engineering programs being eliminated. "We have outstanding individual faculty members and students in each one of those programs."
They are small programs and expensive to maintain, however, and Cowen said a major investment of resources would be required to bring those four departments to national prominence.
The five eliminated majors impact 228 first- and second-year students (out of a total undergraduate population of 6,390) and 53 faculty members (out of a total faculty population of 550, which does not include the health sciences faculty).
For board member Rich Schmidt, a 1966 Tulane civil engineering graduate, the decision was a poignant one. "You are always torn" when facing this type of decision, he said. "I have a tremendous interest in the engineering school. But I think when you have a situation like this, you have to take a step back and look at the overall plan and what's best for the entire organization. There were reductions in almost every college. We tried to be consistent in our strategy and look at those programs with exceptional capabilities and focus on those."
Also difficult was the decision to eliminate the coordinate college system -- Newcomb College for women undergraduates and Tulane College for men. Even though this change will not impact any student academically, both colleges are important parts of Tulane history.
According to board member Linda Wilson, NC '57, the board is very sensitive to the fact that the dissolution of Newcomb College, in particular, would be of concern for alumnae of the 120-year-old women's college. Even though the curricula of Newcomb and Tulane colleges were made uniform in 1979, and the colleges' faculties combined into the Faculty of the Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1987, the two maintained separate administrative offices and functions.
Wilson, along with Darryl Berger, L '72, heads a board task force that is assigned the task of determining how to preserve the Newcomb College and Tulane College names, traditions and endowments within the new structure. She says the integration of all undergraduates into a single Undergraduate College makes sense.
"We needed to be able to consolidate functions such as academic advising and coordination of public-service projects within the new Undergraduate College, without having to duplicate services or having the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing," she says. Joining Wilson and Berger on the task force are board members Sybil Favrot, NC '56; Carol Cudd, NC '59; Jay Lapeyre, B '78, L '78; Jeanne Olivier, NC '75; and Schmidt.
A website has been set up for the exchange of ideas: http://renewal.tulane.edu/traditions.shtml
Board chair Cathy Pierson says the task force will find a way to honor the Newcomb and Tulane College traditions going forward. "We are absolutely committed to it," she says.
The third controversial piece of the academic restructuring is the change to Tulane's graduate programs, which will affect 112 of the university's 5,000 graduate and professional students.
Cowen says the decision was, again, based on the strategy of putting available resources toward areas of proven strength. "Tulane will focus its energy and resources in graduate-level programs that have demonstrated ability to be world-class and, in the sciences and engineering, have the proven ability to obtain competitively awarded grant funding," he says.
From Survival to Renewal
Renewal: The Undergraduate Experience
Renewal: Academic Reorganization
Renewal: New Strategy for the School of Medicine
Renewal: Community Focus and Partnerships
Renewal: Intercollegiate Athletics
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