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From Survival to Renewal

January 18, 2006

Suzanne Johnson

From Survival to Renewal FlagIn the mid-1860s, Southern higher education was in shambles. Universities throughout the South struggled to survive after the Civil War, faced with physical destruction, a decimated population and financial ruin.

Desolate, University of Alabama president Landon Garland wrote: "The university buildings are all burned.... I do not know that the University of Alabama will be rebuilt -- if at all, it will be several years hence."

When the university attempted to reopen in 1865, only one student -- the governor's son -- enrolled, and it was forced to close once again. Its plight was repeated in universities throughout the region.

Universities were forced not only to re-establish their campuses physically but also to appeal to the new demographics in postwar America. The universities who best succeeded met the practical needs of their areas, offering programs to help rebuild the economy, train people to succeed in profitable jobs, and appeal to a broader segment of the population than just the "gentleman-scholar."

In other words, they reinvented themselves.

Fast-forward to New Orleans -- Sept. 1, 2005. A powerful Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 29 provokes the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to undermine levees and send floodwater surging across 80 percent of the city, where it will sit for weeks in stifling 90-degree heat. The downtown health sciences district, including Tulane and Charity hospitals and all the buildings of the Tulane University School of Medicine and School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, are sitting in four feet of oily, fetid water. Uptown, the oak-shaded Tulane campus is dry on the St. Charles Avenue side and under as much as six feet of water on the South Claiborne Avenue side.

With damage on campus and city services down for months, Tulane has no choice but to suspend operations for its fall semester.

The cost to get the campus dried out, rebuilt, cleaned up and ready for a January reopening -- including ensuring that faculty, staff and students have available housing and schools for their children -- is more than $200 million. The losses don't end there: how many students will return in January? Common sense dictates that it will be fewer than the 13,000 enrolled for fall. The fate of Tulane and Charity hospitals, which are so intertwined with the Tulane School of Medicine, remains in doubt, at least for the short term. Projected losses for Tulane's immediate future total about $70 million per year.

Polariod of President Cowen As President Scott Cowen and his emergency administrative team operating in Houston worked toward reopening Tulane for the spring 2006 semester, it became apparent that Tulane stood at a crossroad in its history.

The options: wait and see what happens, dip into endowment funds and risk an uncertain -- perhaps even unlikely -- physical and financial recovery; lower academic requirements to appeal to a broader base of students in order to keep the numbers up and the money coming in; or hold fast to its ideal of world-class quality and make changes that will both support the ideals and lend support to the recovery of the city of New Orleans. In other words, reinvent Tulane University.

Cowen and the Board of Administrators chose to preserve the university's ideals through reinvention, announcing on Dec. 8 a series of broad, sweeping changes across the entire university that they believe will not only ensure Tulane's long-term financial health but will result in a smaller, more focused university with more academic muscle.

"We developed this renewal plan to detail the steps we must take in order to achieve financial viability in the post-Katrina environment while remaining true to the long-term goals of the university," Cowen said. The board worked with an advisory panel of highly respected national educators to develop the plan.

Those goals: to focus the university's resources on programs and research in which it already excels or has the potential to achieve world-class excellence, to offer an unparalleled undergraduate education, and to take the lessons learned from Katrina to help rebuild New Orleans and then extend those lessons to other communities and institutions.

Articles on individual aspects of the renewal plan can be found on the following pages, but a brief summary of major elements of the plan includes:

  • Starting in fall 2006, all full-time undergraduates in all majors will be enrolled in a newly formed Undergraduate College.
  • Five undergraduate programs -- four in engineering and one in University College -- will be eliminated at the end of the 2006-2007 academic year.
  • The faculties of engineering and the liberal arts and sciences will form two new schools, the School of Science and Engineering and the School of Liberal Arts.
  • Effective fall 2006 with the formation of the new Undergraduate College, the coordinate college system of Newcomb College for women and Tulane College for men will be discontinued as administrative units.
  • All full-time faculty at Tulane will be required to teach undergraduate students.
  • The development of a residential college system at Tulane will be accelerated. All first- and second-year students will be required to live on campus in the residential communities by 2008.
  • The Graduate School will be eliminated as an administrative entity; graduate programs will be administered within the schools and colleges.
  • In order to focus resources into programs of existing strength, graduate programs are being reduced from 44 to 18.
  • The School of Medicine will refocus on its traditional strengths of education and research, with a reduction in its clinical operations in response to the decreased population in its service area.
  • Beginning in fall 2006, Tulane will reduce its participation in intercollegiate athletics, fielding six teams in eight sports in NCAA Division I-A rather than the current 16. Both the NCAA and Conference USA have pledged to exempt Tulane from Division I requirements for a five-year period.
  • Beginning in fall 2007, University College will no longer accept full-time students; they must enter through the new Undergraduate College. University College will be renamed the School of Continuing Education to reflect its traditional focus.

Overall, the plan eliminates 230 faculty positions from the university, following earlier layoffs of 234 staff members and hundreds of adjunct and part-time faculty and staff. Clinical medical faculty account for 180 of the 230 faculty positions eliminated.
Board chair Cathy Pierson, G '78, SW '89, echoes the sentiments of the administration when she says she views the new plans with excitement tinged by sadness. "In order to ensure the survival of Tulane University we had to make changes. We had to cut the budget in a significant way in order to survive. So there is a degree of sadness in what we have to do.
"At the same time, however, there is excitement about and belief in this plan. When you are dealt a situation like Katrina and are forced to make changes, you do a disservice to the university unless you think boldly about how to build the best research and educational institution we possibly can."
Renewal: The Undergraduate Experience
Renewal: Academic Reorganization
Renewal: New Strategy for the School of Medicine
Renewal: Community Focus and Partnerships
Renewal: Intercollegiate Athletics

Winter 2006

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