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Stronger and Better

August 27, 2003

Scott S. Cowen, President, Tulane University
scowen@tulane.edu
Michael DeMocker

The Tulane Board's review of intercollegiate athletics, and the resulting outcome, will make the entire university stronger and better. Of this, I have no doubt. One of the characteristics of a great organization is its ability to identify and address significant issues facing its future, regardless of how difficult or controversial the topic. In confronting the topic of athletics, the board dealt with one of the most emotionally laden and provocative subjects in a university setting.

tulsum03_strongerAs the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once asserted, "That which does not kill you makes you stronger." All of us involved in this review can attest to the veracity of this observation. Four years ago, the Tulane community developed an ambitious 10-year plan for the university's future. Every school, college and department, with the exception of athletics, was deeply involved in the planning process.

This publicly disseminated plan (which can be read on the university website at tulane.edu/strategicplanning/) is the community's compass by which priorities are set, resources allocated and decisions made. Each year we measure our progress within the context of the plan and publicly report accomplishments via the Internet (tulane.edu/strategicplanning/accomplishments.cfm), university publications (see the spring 2003 issue of Tulanian), and a Web-based annual report (tulane.edu/administration/president/annual-reports.cfm).

The discipline of developing a plan and closely monitoring its implementation, including accomplishments, has served us well as a community. Today, Tulane University is as strong academically and financially as it has been in decades and is considered one of the truly distinguished national universities in the country and one of only a handful in the Deep South.

In recent years, Tulane has realized historic highs in a number of areas: student applications, enrollments and quality; funded research; total private giving; university employment; hours committed to the community; and endowment performance, despite a very soft stock market. These milestones have been realized despite limited resources, especially in comparison to those of our competitors, because we are focused and careful in our allocation of resources.

We are proud of these accomplishments, yet we believe we have only scratched the surface of the university's potential. After three years of successfully implementing our plan, it became clear that it was time to review the Department of Athletics. Our academic plan was working, a new athletics director was firmly in place, student-athlete academic performance was impressive, and our teams were competitive on the field.

Yet, each year, we were losing money in the department and these losses, while comparable to those at other non-BCS, highly selective private schools, were consuming a disproportionate amount of the university's resources. This situation had to be addressed and resolved if we were to continue our progress in building the academic quality and reputation of the entire university. With this strategic context in mind, the key question guiding the review of intercollegiate athletics was: Given the changing landscape of Division I-A athletics and the university's mission, aspirations and limited resources, what type of athletics program best fit within the university?

To answer this question, those involved in the review process had to be thoroughly versed in the university's vision, mission, aspirations, plans and resources, all of which had been addressed by the board as part of the original planning process. This knowledge base was essential to the successful resolution of the strategic question. The Tulane Board, with its in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the university, was the proper group to conduct a thorough athletics review.

Additionally, the board has fiduciary responsibility for the university --a role that is unique to its members--and is the only university body that represents all Tulane stakeholders. Ironically, throughout the last two months of the process, which turned out to be the public phase, only once was I was asked--by someone outside the university-- how the athletics situation affected the overall university and its ability to accomplish its mission.

Yet, this question goes to the heart of the importance of the athletics review and explains how and why the board organized the review as it did. During the entire athletics review process, the board never lost sight of the resources, goals and aspirations of Tulane as an educational institution, and Tulane is stronger and better as a result. Our board established an important precedent by undertaking such a difficult review, clearly indicating its willingness to confront key issues facing the university's long-term future.

This behavior bodes well for the future. The decision to retain a Division I-A program was not an endorsement of the status quo. The board established clear expectations regarding the academic performance of student-athletes, the program's integrity and financial performance. If all expectations are met, as we anticipate them to be, the athletics program will be congruent with the university's mission, aspirations and resources.

In essence, Tulane can have it all--an athletics program that operates at the highest level and fits within the academic and financial environment of the university. It must be remembered that any type of athletics program--not just Division I-A--would realize a financial loss for the university. Each option the board reviewed had clear advantages and disadvantages, and no one solution was clearly preferable to another when all factors were considered. The decision ultimately made has significant upside potential for the entire university, if expectations are met and sustained on a long-term basis.

Tulane is also stronger following this review because the public dialogue created a valuable educational opportunity for everyone with an interest in athletics to get informed on the key issues. The review uncovered the passion and support of so many people for Tulane that it cannot help but make the university stronger. It also established an important point many people external to the university had taken for granted, that is, how vital the support of alumni, students and the community is to the continuation of a major athletics program.

Finally, the review not only led to a stronger Tulane, but also pointed the way in helping us take a key role in building a stronger national climate for intercollegiate athletics. The review clearly indicated deficiencies in the overall system of Division I-A athletics that have a negative impact on other universities as well as Tulane. The lessons learned from the review are helping us address these larger issues to the potential benefit of higher education in general.

These issues focus on greater access to postseason play in football, increasing the academic performance standards of student-athletes, and finding ways to lower the cost of competition. If Tulane can be successful in addressing any of these wider issues, the resulting benefits could accrue to all Division I-A colleges and universities. The finalization of the intercollegiate athletics review is the last piece of the university's 10-year plan.

This comprehensive plan is the university's roadmap for the foreseeable future. Its continued successful implementation will allow Tulane University to further enhance its national and international reputation as a university of distinction, impact and caring for those communities and people with whom it interacts.

Tulanian

Citation information:

Page accessed: Sunday, September 21, 2014
Page URL: http://tulane.edu/news/tulanian/stronger_and_better.cfm

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu