Michael A. Fitts has served as the 15th president of Tulane University since 2014. Fitts is recognized as one of the country’s foremost legal scholars on administrative and constitutional law, particularly matters relating to separation of powers. A trademark of his scholarship, consistent with the values he later brought to his academic leadership roles, has been its interdisciplinary compass, drawing insights from political science, psychology, game theory, philosophy, economics and history in challenging conventional wisdom about legal institutions and governmental powers. Fitts also holds the position of Judge Réné H. Himel Professor of Law at Tulane Law School. In 2018 (a year early), the Board of Tulane announced President Fitts’ renewal for a second five-year term.
Tulane has extraordinary natural strengths with its range of disciplines, size and distinct character. When joining Tulane, President Fitts saw an opportunity to build on these strengths to create a leading model in higher education. He seeks to create the most interconnected living and learning environment and interdisciplinary research that takes on the most profound local and global challenges. Under Fitts’ leadership, Tulane has advanced its reputation as a world-class academic environment that fosters pioneering research, intellectual cross-pollination, transformative teaching and an unmatched student experience.
Building Academic Collaborations across Disciplines
In his first year as president, Fitts convened the Task Force on Academic Collaborations to evaluate opportunities for excellence and consider how a leading research university of Tulane’s size and ambition could combine disciplines to address these issues. Since 2015, Tulane has seen a significant increase in research activity. He has overseen the hiring of seven new academic deans, two endowed presidential chairs, a new director of the Tulane National Primate Research Center and new vice president for research. Under his leadership, Tulane has launched a number of interdisciplinary academic hubs including the ByWater Institute, the Brain Institute, the Center of Cellular and Molecular Diagnosis, and the Center for Environmental Law. These centers and institutes combine faculty from the breadth of Tulane’s schools and disciplines to work on the world’s most pressing problems while providing unique research opportunities for the student population.
Enriching the Undergraduate Experience
President Fitts believes students and higher education institutions can set themselves apart in a fast-changing world and ever-shifting economy through the combining of different fields and skills. Under Fitts’ leadership, the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience was assembled to advance Tulane’s position as a world leader in educating students for the 21st century’s increasingly complex landscape. Fitts implemented a number of the task force’s recommendations to enhance the student experience including a restructuring of the honors program, deepening opportunities for long-term interdisciplinary research and community service to connect theory with practice, investing in services and programs that support faculty pedagogy, and increasing the number of residential learning communities. President Fitts also oversaw the formation of Mussafer Hall, a transformative space that unites career programming, academic advising, and success services for students all under one roof.
Attracting the Best and Brightest while Creating Opportunity and Diversity
President Fitts is committed to attracting the best, brightest, and most diverse students from around the world to Tulane. In 2015, Fitts formed the Commission on Race and Tulane Values – comprised of faculty, staff and students – to craft the reforms necessary to make Tulane a racially diverse, inclusive community, one in which all students learn the Tulane values of respect and equality. In 2018, Fitts created a new subcommittee of the Commission: the Committee on Campus Recognition. Its charge is to celebrate accomplished Tulanians from diverse backgrounds through the naming of buildings, spaces, faculty chairs, lectureships, and other honors. Fitts has invested in diversity and equity initiatives by increasing funding and support for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Gender & Sexual Diversity, creating the Center for Academic Equity to support first-generation students and all self-identified underrepresented or non-traditional students, and actively investing in other pipelines of support for students of all backgrounds. Under Fitts’ leadership, each incoming class has broken all previous records as Tulane’s most academically-qualified and diverse first-year class ever.
Building a Vibrant, Renewed Physical Campus
When he joined Tulane, President Fitts initiated a campus master planning process with a 21st century vision of spaces redesigned to promote connections. Fitts has presided over a number of additions and upgrades to Tulane’s campuses including the Commons, the Goldring/Woldenberg Business Complex, Mussafer Hall, the downtown police station, the Stewart Center for Executive Education, and a surgical facility and imaging center at the Tulane National Primate Research Center. Other projects underway include the Steven and Jann Paul Hall for Science and Engineering, a new residential living quadrangle for students, and the redevelopment of historic Charity Hospital, in which Tulane will be the anchor institution with research space, classrooms, housing for students and administrative offices on the downtown campus.
Ensuring a Secure and Robust Financial Future
As the largest private employer in Louisiana, Tulane has enormous economic impact in the region, supporting close to 18,000 total jobs (14,000 in New Orleans alone) with an overall annual impact of over $3 billion. Recognizing that the fates of Tulane and New Orleans are inextricably linked, President Fitts has worked diligently to ensure Tulane will benefit from a secure and robust financial future. Through the Only the Audacious campaign, over $1 billion has been raised, breaking all school records. In 2015, Fitts conducted an operational review and restructured the university’s budget, entering the 2017 fiscal year with a balanced budget and newly-created fund for facilities renewal. Fitts also stewarded the university’s transition to a responsibility centered management financial model.
Prior to coming to Tulane, Fitts served 14 years as dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he also served as Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law. As dean of Penn Law, Fitts was recognized for greatly expanding the school’s offerings in interdisciplinary education. He presided over a quadrupling of Penn Law’s endowment, a more than 40 percent increase in the size of the Law School faculty and a doubling of all forms of student financial aid. He oversaw the rebuilding or renovation of the entire law campus. The Law School’s Board of Overseers named a faculty chair, a scholarship and an auditorium at the school in his honor.
Fitts’ teaching career began at Penn Law in 1985. He has written extensively on presidential power, separation of powers, executive branch decision-making, improving the structure of political parties and administrative law. He served as president of the American Law Deans Association. He has published numerous articles, book chapters and reviews in the nation’s leading law reviews, including the Yale Law Journal, Michigan Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
President Fitts grew up in Philadelphia. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University in 1975. Inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird and its heroic protagonist Atticus Finch, he attended Yale Law School. He was an editor of the Yale Law Journal and received his juris doctorate in 1979.
He served as a clerk for federal judge and civil rights advocate Leon Higginbotham, who became a mentor to him. Fitts then worked as an attorney in the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which serves as outside counsel to the President, White House and Cabinet.
President Fitts and his wife, Renée J. Sobel, Esq., have two adult children.