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Presidential Search Update

February 4, 2014

Ivy League law dean named new president of Tulane University

Michael A. Fitts, dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, has been named the 15th president of Tulane University. Fitts will begin his term on July 1, when current President Scott Cowen retires after 16 years of service.

"After an exhaustive national search, which attracted many incredibly talented candidates, we found the individual who is uniquely qualified to guide, inspire and lead Tulane," Board of Tulane President Darryl Berger said. "This is an exciting day for everyone who loves Tulane."

A native of Philadelphia, Fitts earned a bachelor of arts from Harvard University in 1975. Inspired by the film To Kill a Mockingbird and its heroic protagonist, attorney Atticus Finch, Fitts enrolled in law school at Yale University. He became an editor of the Yale Law Journal and earned his juris doctor in 1979. Fitts began teaching at Penn in 1985 after serving as a clerk for civil rights advocate Judge Leon Higginbotham and as an attorney in the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. He was named law dean at Penn in 2000.

Fitts says his idealism is one of the things that brought him to Tulane.

"I'm excited and honored to join the Tulane community," Fitts said. "Located in one of the world's most dynamic cities, the university embodies a rich tradition of leadership and innovation in higher education. As a preeminent academic and research institution with a deep commitment to public service, Tulane is making a distinctive difference in the world. Our potential is unlimited."

Under Fitts' deanship, Penn Law has become a national leader in cross-disciplinary legal education, with 35 degree and certificate programs offered in partnership with other divisions of Penn, including its business and medical schools. He also increased the law school’s endowment by more than 250 percent, grew the number of law faculty by 40 percent and doubled all forms of student financial aid. Further, he created partnerships with institutions from Bangalore to Beijing and expanded public service opportunities for students and graduates.

"When we began this search back in June of last year, we made a wish list containing the characteristics of an ideal candidate. Mike not only meets these aspirations, he far exceeds them in every respect," said Rick Rees, co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee, which was unanimous in its choice of Fitts. "He has a proven record of success at the top levels of higher education. He is extremely smart but unbelievably humble. He promises to be a great leader for Tulane and the city."

"Mike possesses the rare combination of an affable personality and a keenly perceptive mind that will enable him to lead Tulane during this time of profound change and evolution in higher education," said Andy Wisdom, co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee. "A leader like him does not come along very often. We were extremely fortunate to find such a perfect fit for Tulane."

Fellow search committee member Laura Levy, vice president for research and a professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane, noted Fitts' success in fostering collaboration between different schools within Penn.

"I can't tell you how excited I am about our President-elect," Levy said. "His career has been marked by expertise in forming vital academic and research partnerships between seemingly disparate departments and schools at one of the nation's leading universities. This interdisciplinary approach is the future of higher education and the key to reaching a new level of success for Tulane."

Fitts has also written extensively on administrative law, presidential power, the separation of powers, improving the structure of political parties and executive branch decision-making. In 2013, the University of Pennsylvania Law School's Board of Overseers announced a gift of $4.2 million to establish the Michael A. Fitts Distinguished Professor of Law, an endowed faculty chair named in his honor. For more information, please visit President-elect Fitts’ website at

September 16, 2013

It is with great pleasure that we write today to provide you with an update on our Presidential Search. As you know, a Search Committee was appointed by the Board of Administrators in mid-June following the announcement by President Cowen of his retirement effective July 1, 2014.

The Search Committee was busy earlier this summer interviewing and subsequently hiring a search consultant. We announced in early July that the Committee had selected the firm of Russell Reynolds Associates, one of the world’s leading executive recruiting firms, as its search consultant. We are fortunate that Ilene Nagel, the head of the firm’s higher education practice, is leading the search for Russell Reynolds.

The Search Committee, with significant input from the Board of Administrators, administrators and other constituents, completed the Position Description.

The search is very much on schedule. As a result of our efforts to recruit a national pool of outstanding leaders, we now have a significant number of individuals who have agreed to discuss this exciting opportunity with us in strict confidence. We expect the pool to continue to grow as the search proceeds. The candidate pool currently includes individuals nominated by members of the Tulane community, those recruited by our search consultant and those who have responded to our position advertising. This distinguished group features a diverse set of backgrounds and academic disciplines. It is also populated by men, women and minority candidates, the vast majority of whom are presently in leadership positions in AAU research universities and other distinguished colleges and universities. We encourage you to continue to submit nominations until the process is concluded. You may do so via the presidential search feedback form.  

We are delighted with the input our Committee has received from faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of Tulane. In order to further inform our process, we will be hosting three town hall meetings to solicit additional input. The first meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 14 from 5:30-6:30 p.m., and is intended for uptown campus faculty and staff. The meeting will be held in the Qatar Ballroom in the Lavin-Bernick Center.  On Tuesday, Oct. 15 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. we will host a town hall meeting for downtown faculty and staff in the Tidewater Auditorium. Finally, on Oct. 15 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. we will host a town hall meeting for students in the Kendall Cram Room in the Lavin-Bernick Center. You may view the schedule of town hall meetings. We encourage you to attend these meetings with members of the Search Committee.

We anticipate we will begin to interview candidates within the next 60 days, with a goal of selecting our finalists by the end of the year. Rest assured, the Committee will perform significant reference checking on the finalists and will spend considerable time with each candidate before making its recommendation to the Board of Administrators. We believe we will be in a position to announce a new President early in 2014. 

We are pleased with the progress we have made and with the quality of the candidate pool, which is a testament to the outstanding reputation of Tulane. That said, we are still in the early stages of this search, and a number of candidates are in multiple searches, so we and our search consultant will continue our efforts to recruit and attract outstanding candidates and work diligently to make Tulane their number one choice.

We will be providing additional updates as appropriate, which will be posted on the Presidential Search website. As ever, please feel free to make your thoughts and comments known to the Search Committee via the feedback function on the Search website.

Rick Rees and Andy Wisdom
Co-chairs, Presidential Search Committee

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