Kelly Resigns Presidency

March 1, 1997

Mary Ann Travis

Now is the time," said Eamon M. Kelly as he made the Jan. 8 announcement of his resignation from the presidency of Tulane University, effective July 1, 1998. Citing the end of the capital campaign, the implementation of the 1990 six-year strategic plan and the beginning of a new long-term planning process, Kelly echoed an early 1980s fundraising campaign slogan, "the time is now," when he informed the local media and Tulane administrators that he would step down from the presidency of the university after 18 years at the helm.

Ambassador John Weinmann, chairman of the Tulane Board of Administra-tors, said the board regretfully accepted Kelly's decision. Weinmann said, "The fact that Tulane is one of the most competitive and selective universities in America is due to the outstanding efforts of this perceptive individual." Kelly intends to join the ranks of the Tulane faculty, whose quality he said is "truly extraordinary" and whose increase in prestige he listed among the main accomplishments during his tenure as president.

That Tulane fulfill its mission as a research university has been a primary objective for Kelly, and he noted that Tulane had almost $100 million in research activity last year. Other goals cited by Kelly include the increased diversity and accomplishment of the student body, which is most easily measured in the shorthand numbers of Scholastic Achievement Test scores. The SAT average of Tulane's entering freshmen in its four undergraduate colleges has moved from 1080 to 1275 since Kelly took office in 1981.

Kelly's financial acumen and his training as an economist also served Tulane well. The university's endowment grew from $73 million to $406 million under his management. The net worth of the university increased from $180 million to $610 million. Kelly said while he was pleased with the progress of the university, it is now time "for someone else to take Tulane to the next and the highest level." Boatner Reily, a former chairman of the Tulane Board of Administrators, praised Kelly's management ability.

He said, "Dr. Kelly has done so many wonderful things for this university, always by planning ahead carefully. He has completed two major capital campaigns, has reached the academic goals he had set out for, and is now leaving the university in the same way he has managed it during the last 18 years: by careful consideration and planning for what is best for the university through an orderly transition of management." John G. Phillips was chairman of the board of administrators when Kelly was hired. Of Kelly's abilities, he said, "Eamon was superb in achieving the scholastic and financial objectives that Tulane needed despite the widely divergent views of the university community.

"In other words, he's a great politician," said Phillips, adding, "that's what you need to be as president of a university. There's so many people going in different directions." Mike Mislove, professor of math, who has been a faculty member at Tulane for 27 years, said Kelly moved Tulane from a "backwater, minor player, not even on the national scene, to being a major, private, research university. And he did this almost by sheer will." Mislove was here in the 1970s, the "lean years. This place was in serious financial difficulty," he said, adding that Kelly took over the presidency, set high goals and achieved them. "I'm not sure where Tulane would be without him," said Mislove. "These 18 years have been the most extraordinary in Tulane's history."

Kelly's wit and intellect, which Mislove described as "charming and disarming," have made him an exceptionally successful fundraiser. Sixteen buildings on campus have been constructed in the Kelly years and eight on-campus buildings renovated. Robert Boh, a former chairman of the Board of Administrators, who was on the board when Kelly first came to the university in 1979 as executive vice president, said, "I remember well the condition of the university at the time he arrived and know the impact he has had. I feel tremendous admiration for what he has achieved."

Kelly's tenure has had its share of crises, including the difficult and controversial unifying of the liberal arts and sciences faculty from the separate Newcomb College and College of Arts and Sciences faculties in 1987. Last year's work of the Graduate Council, which involved prioritizing the reallocation of resources for all the Graduate School programs, was an internal issue that sparked much angst among faculty.

However, Graeme Forbes, philosophy professor, said, "Kelly's style was very effective. It's a collegial style that kept Tulane a calmer place than it would have been if he'd had an autocratic style." Paul Barron, law professor and former vice chair of the University Senate during the latest round of restructuring, agreed. "Eamon is extremely talented and politically astute. He has a unique way of processing ideas with various constituencies to get them to buy into them. I'm not sure that anyone else could have accomplished at Tulane what Eamon has. We are a lucky university that he was our president."

The basketball scandal of 1985 was undoubtedly the most public crisis Kelly faced as president. He adroitly handled the point-shaving, gambling incident that tainted the basketball team by disbanding the sport altogether at Tulane for four years. He then reinstated the program with higher academic standards for student-athletes, leading the way for reforms for other National Collegiate Athletic Associationmember teams. While intercollegiate athletics are highly visible, hot-button issues for a university president, other areas of the university also demand his attention.

John LaRosa, chancellor of Tulane University Medical Center, said, "Dr. Kelly always recognized the importance of the medical school. He's helped us politically and in many other ways to accomplish much." About Kelly, LaRosa said, "You don't often see such courage of convictions. He puts his money where his mouth is. "The diversity you see at Tulane," said LaRosa, "is no accident. Dr. Kelly is pragmatic, but he has tremendous vision. He believes in certain things, and he acts on those beliefs. That is more important than saying things with eloquent flourishes."

Norman Francis, president of Xavier University, with whom Tulane has forged partnerships in several endeavors including the Center for Bioenvironmental Research, said the collaboration between the two institutions "has brought great credit to the city by demonstrating how universities can work together. I hate to see higher education lose the great leadership talents [of] Dr. Kelly."

There's another partnership that Kelly acknowledged in the press conference. It was the one with his wife, Margaret. He said, "These university presidencies are partnerships, and the spouse of a university president is a full-time job. "Margaret has done an extraordinary job and made a tremendous contribution to the university, as the board knows, in many ways much more than I have." The Board of Administrators will now appoint a search committee to find a replacement for Kelly.

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