Letter from the President: Spring 2016

This text is adapted from the inauguration speech delivered by Tulane President Mike Fitts on March 17, 2016.

We often say that Tulane is different — and special. I want to explain to you why. Our difference has deep roots.

Most universities, historically, have been inward-looking. Tulane, on the other hand, has always looked outward, focusing on solving problems.

In a world with increasingly little use for boundaries, Tulane, from the beginning, has leapt over them. At a moment when society is demanding that higher education demonstrate its relevance and its value, Tulane provides the answers.

This does not represent the latest academic trend for us, but the code of our DNA. We cross boundaries, and we transform lives.

Tulane crosses the intellectual boundaries within our own campuses. It crosses the boundary between our campus and the city. And Tulane crosses boundaries all across the globe.

Crossing boundaries between fields

Tulane began by connecting medicine and public health. It understood from its inception that the hardest problems require solutions that cross fields.

Many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been found only by making connections between different areas of knowledge. As Walter Isaacson, a great friend of Tulane, has said, “Innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors.” This is the future of higher education and research.

We have exciting interdisciplinary centers in the humanities, such as the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South and the Murphy Institute for Political Economy. Our computer science department works entirely in conjunction with other fields. And we see this spirit embodied in so many of our faculty.

Tulane is perfectly poised to lead the way to a future of higher education in which we cross-pollinate our research and teaching. Already, 70 percent of our students pursue a major and a minor, and 35 percent of our students are double majors, pursuing wonderful combinations like neuroscience and dance. Our undergraduates enter Newcomb-Tulane College with a license to explore before they choose a school.

We are creating wonderful residential colleges in which students engage with each other on issues that cut across disciplines. We will use our new Bernick faculty grants to make interdisciplinary training and research a part of everyday life. We will appoint presidential professors who bridge diverse fields. And we will invest in academic collaborations that reflect our strengths and are the defining issues of our time, from energy and the environment to health and bio-innovation.

We will dig deep into interdisciplinary studies of regions from the Gulf South to Latin America. This is our past — and it is our future.

Crossing boundaries between campus and community

Tulane has always embraced New Orleans. And 10 years ago, the flood washed away any walls that had crept up between the city and our campus. The binding of our fates became absolute.

Let me describe just one example, an exciting example: the Small Family City Center. It is a community design center located near its clients. Students work in teams. They translate their clients’ desires into physical reality. They make the world a better place.

When we work in the community, theory and practice converge. They mold each other. They reflect each other.

Our philosophy students use Socrates to coach middle school debate. Our under-graduate neuroscience majors work in labs alongside graduate and medical students, studying the effects of medications on the brain and how infants learn. That’s the reason the program was recently recognized in the top ten in the country.

We can accomplish far more. We will be a national model for connecting service learning and doctrinal knowledge. We will continue to bring the extraordinary concentration of brainpower on this campus to bear on issues facing not only New Orleans, but the whole world.

Crossing boundaries around the world

Tulane has, from the beginning, been an utterly global institution.

Tulane scholars created the first archeological maps of ancient Maya. They founded public health schools across sub-Saharan Africa. They looked for the origins of human-kind in a cave near Johannesburg and shaped disaster response in Haiti.

And Tulane brings the world to our campus. Tulane’s law school focuses on the civil law systems used by 80 percent of the countries in the world. We have the nation’s most important Latin American academic centers. We have a thoroughly international public health school. And our business school partners with colleagues around the globe.

School of Architecture students in the master of preservation studies program developed proposed uses for the old Carrollton Courthouse in New Orleans.

The 1855 building was named one of America’s most endangered historic places. Students researched the building and suggested alternative uses in a public presentation.

We must have this focus to support our students as they compete in a truly global economy. Already, a third of our undergraduates study abroad and no other university sends more graduate students to the Peace Corps than Tulane.

We can do even more to encourage our students to venture overseas and to embrace the unfamiliar. We will broaden their horizons by bringing the world to Tulane with more undergraduate international students. And we will partner with more of the finest universities around the globe.

Building a brilliant future

Finally, while I have described to you all of the ways that Tulane uniquely crosses boundaries and solves problems, we have one great hurdle left. We have not yet bridged the racial and economic barriers within our own community.

We must diversify our students, our faculty and our administration to build an institution that mirrors the society around us. We simply cannot fulfill our mission of creating great leaders when there are people missing from our table. We will not be whole until we have all of our best and brightest.

As I reflect on the inaugural event, it reminds me of the grandeur of universities. Their unrivaled stability and strength are built on their ability to adapt and change. They must prove relevant to the outside world.

Tulane is the university that the 21st century needs.

Together, we will make Tulane a place that is known worldwide for instilling creative combinations of knowledge in all of our students. We will create campus spaces that function like bustling open markets, connecting people and ideas more seamlessly than ever before, or anywhere else. We will grow Tulane’s global traditions into a fully international center for intellectual pursuits.

It is a great and humbling responsibility to lead any university. It is the privilege of my life to lead Tulane.




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