State of the University Address 2018 Speech

September 14, 2018

McAlister Auditorium

Michael A. Fitts

Tulane University President

I have a confession to make: No matter how many times I watch this video, I still tear up. It reminds me of those old commercials, where the parents surprise their kids with a trip to Disneyworld. But, to these students, a Tulane acceptance letter is just as exciting. Because Tulane has never been a hotter-ticket among college applicants.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, a national poll of students ranked Tulane as being:

  • the #1 college city in America;
  • the #2 campus for students engaged in community service;
  • the #4 happiest student body;
  • and – this is a good one – we were ranked #4 out of 382 universities for students who love their college.

I also want to make sure to note the ranking that everyone in this room should really be proud of. For the second year in a row, these students ranked Tulane in the top-10 for “best-run” universities.

Tulane has always been a destination school. But today, we’ve become a dream school – a “fingers-crossed,” Hail-Mary to tens of thousands of young people around the world. That is because of your hard-work and passion. Tulane is an amazing place because you make it so.

Tulane is a dream school... a “fingers-crossed,” Hail-Mary to tens of thousands of young people around the world

At last year’s State of the University Address, I launched the “Tulane Spirit Awards,” to recognize the day-to-day workplace champions, who collectively push us all forward. This past year, I received countless nominations. Your letters were heartwarming in every way.

You nominated colleagues who treat co-workers like family;  the Monday-morning warrior who surprised the office with boxes of donuts; and the workhorse who always stays late and never misses a deadline.

This year, we’ve already honored three Tulanians with Spirit Awards. Since we’re all together, I think we might as well embarrass them.

Please join me in congratulating

  • Hope Anderson from the School of Professional Advancement;
  • Maria Villafranco from the Office of Human Resources;
  • and Kelly Venable Carroll from Campus Services.

Congratulations to all of you! Now, it’s time to add to the list!

I am excited to announce that I have three more Spirit Awards to give out. So, without any further ado, let’s meet our first awardee.

Several months ago, I received an email from the parent of a student. Said the parent: “I need to tell you about a star on your staff. Dede Lawrence investigated and resolved a water leak in my daughter’s dorm-room. She is a jewel of Tulane, and her work went way beyond the water fix.” This is just one example of the dozens of times that Dede stepped up to the plate last year. Dede, you make a challenging job look easy, and we are all grateful for your service. I’m honored to present you with the Tulane Spirit Award!

Our next awardee is someone more used to giving out awards, than receiving them. Every December, I spend a fun morning delivering staff and team excellence awards to Tulanians all across the city. Christina Wallace does a fabulous job coordinating every detail of those deliveries. Sometimes, the people who work diligently to recognize others for their good work, don’t get recognized themselves. But today, I want to make sure you know that I see you, and Tulane sees you. Christina Wallace, I’m thrilled to present you with the Tulane Spirit Award!

Our third and final awardee is Tulane’s very-own “Mr. Dependable.” For 32 years, Avian Washington has done it all. Today, you can usually find him at the LBC, always willing to jump in, lend a hand, or solve a problem. Avian, thank you for your leadership. Congratulations for this well-earned Tulane Spirit Award!

This year, remember to continue sending me your Spirit Award nominations.

In keeping with that theme, my address today is all about recognition: To see where we are succeeding; how we’re improving; and where we're building for the future.

When we last met, I told you that Tulane had just experienced what was, by the numbers, one of the most successful years in our history.

  • We had balanced the budget.
  • Our admissions numbers and campus diversity levels were higher than ever.
  • And, our fundraising efforts shattered historic Tulane records.

As a university, we had a choice to make: We could rest on our laurels. Or, we could set our sights on something even greater. When you’re already doing well, it’s easy to coast. The greater challenge is to build on your momentum and move up to the next level. And that's exactly what we've done.

Thanks to everyone in this room, here’s some of the great news I've been sharing.

  • Tulane just welcomed its most academically accomplished and diverse class in history, and the number of incoming applications for 2019 are even higher. We've never been more popular.
  • Our faculty just submitted the most research funding proposals in university history.
  • And, for the second straight year, we shattered every fundraising record in the books.

Because of your hard-work and sheer determination – as well as the guiding leadership of my Cabinet – the Green Wave is rising on every single level.

Each and every one of you, whether you patrol our campus, maintain our labs, or teach our students, is essential to our shared mission.

Every university expects to face challenges. But Tulane is in better shape than ever before. In a lot of ways, this particular moment in time reminds me of Lebron James. Hear me out!

For those unfamiliar, Lebron James is one of the greatest basketball players in the world. Today, he is 33 years old, and just a couple months away from the start of his 16th season. In basketball years, Lebron is very old. He’s even started to display all the usual signs of aging:

  • He bought a house in Florida.
  • He’s talking about politics on the internet.
  • And, his hairline resembles a 3-point line.

But, the unusual thing about Lebron is this: Every season, for 15 years, he has found new ways to elevate and evolve his game. In doing so, Lebron has outpaced nearly all of his rivals. So, right now, I’m prepared to make a bold statement. Tulane University is the Lebron James of higher education!

We are one month into our 184th season. Like Lebron, we are getting better with age -- adapting and improving faster than any of our peers. This is the beginning of a new era for Tulane University: “the Lebron Era.”

We are getting better with age -- adapting and improving faster than any of our peers.

To officially usher in this era, I’d like to introduce you to four of the newest members of Tulane’s starting lineup. They are academic trailblazers; cross-field collaborators; and all-around rock-stars -- dedicated to the kind of earth-shattering, innovative research Tulane specializes in. They came here from around the country, drawn to the creative, innovative spirit of this university.

So, please join me now, in welcoming Tulane’s four new deans.

  • In the School of Architecture, we welcome internationally acclaimed architect, Iñaki Alday.
  • In the School of Science and Engineering, we welcome the pioneering researcher, Kimberly Foster.
  • In the School of Liberal Arts, we welcome leading global scholar, Brian Edwards.
  • And, in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, we welcome national expert on equity and health – and the holder of Tulane’s first endowed Presidential chair -- Thomas Laviest.

I couldn’t be more excited to add these four new deans to our team. We are continuing to build on the great legacy of our current senior deans.

One important, ongoing area we will need everyone's help in, is our commitment to eradicating sexual violence on campus. Last year, as we shared the results of the climate survey, we launched the Wave of Change campaign to inform and engage the community. We sought insights and recommendations from students, faculty and staff, and from a panel of national experts.

Thanks to their contributions, this fall, we are implementing new programs and activities to improve prevention and to address underlying cultural challenges that make sexual violence possible. We’re

  • hiring new health professionals and educators focused on prevention;
  • introducing new courses on ending sexual assault;
  • creating guides for parents and professors to encourage discussions about sexual assault;
  • and convening coalitions of students, faculty, staff, and university leaders to plan future prevention strategies.

The best way we can make this change is by working together. At Tulane, we are all involved. We are all instrumental. And we are All In to stop sexual violence in our community.

Another key initiative is improving overall public safety. In just the last year, we have:

  • expanded our lighting and camera coverage;
  • partnered with Allied Security;
  • and moved forward on the construction of two new police stations.

Downtown, the new station will be located in the Deming Pavilion. And, we will be moving forward with a new uptown station that will be located on Broadway.

Over the last three years, reported crime across Tulane’s campus has dropped by 36%.

And let me also say, in the spirit of ensuring everyone is safe, we are continuing to monitor Hurricane Florence, and its impact to our neighbors on the east coast. We’ve started thinking about the ways Tulane can be helpful, and we will keep you informed of those efforts as the storm passes.

Tulane is also working diligently to find new ways to invest in more meaningful support for every member of this university. Last year, we launched a study to look at our overall compensation, and we took a look at every salary across the university. We found Tulane’s salaries are generally competitive. But in response to those that weren't, we authorized increases. And we’re not done. I have directed the Office of Human Resources to continue to seek new ways Tulane can better support its staff and faculty, and we will keep you updated on those efforts.

I also want to talk about diversity. As I said, thanks to the hard work of the admissions team, the incoming class is the most selective and academically qualified group of students Tulane has ever enrolled. It is also Tulane’s most diverse. I’m proud that Tulane continues to become a more inclusive and global campus, and this year, we’re doubling down on those efforts.

What can Tulane do to be a better home to students, staff, and faculty of every background, perspective, and ideology? This year, we created a new position – the Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development – to help us answer that question. The President’s Commission on Race and Tulane Values is also helping us move the needle.

To date, the commission has been very successful. Between launching the Center for Academic Equity and adding an undergraduate course requirement on Race and Global Perspectives, Tulane is doing more today to support first-generation students and students of color than ever before. But the fact of the matter is, our physical campus isn’t representative of our diverse population. We have an opportunity to change that.

This year, we are finding ways to better recognize, on the campus, the diverse melting pot of people who have contributed to Tulane’s history. The commission is leading this effort, and you will soon receive an email with more detail on our progress, as well as how to get involved. This is just the beginning of how we are transforming our campus in remarkable, meaningful ways.

The outside world is responding to our overall momentum; Tulane’s fundraising campaign is moving full-speed ahead. We’re at the halfway point, and it’s clear that Tulane’s promise is resonating with donors and alumni around the world.

Without getting into all the details, what you need to know is this: The Advancement team, with vision, strategy, and a lot of late nights, has once again shattered every Tulane University fundraising record, raising over $150 million this past year.

Tulane’s total number of alumni donors has also increased by 22%, bucking the national trend which is seeing declining alumni participation rates at most universities. This is our moment to step on the gas pedal – to inspire even more support. Because we are channeling this energy and enthusiasm for Tulane in amazing ways.

As the bulldozers in front of Howie-T make clear, we’re busy creating a physical campus as innovative and pioneering as the people who call it home. But instead of simply telling you about these plans, I think it is better to show you instead.


Wow, isn’t it amazing to see everything that is happening on campus? Buildings are made of steel, brick, and mortar, but their true strength comes from the people who inhabit them. As Winston Churchill famously said: “We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us.

On Tulane’s campus, our buildings induce the electric spark of collaborative innovation – the kind that moves mountains. With it, Tulanians are finding new ways to touch the world.

Just look at all we are doing:

  • Two doctors are narrowing in on a vaccine to treat Lassa fever.
  • A geologist is heading to Antarctica to measure the impact of sinking glaciers on global sea rise.
  • A professor is unraveling the mysteries behind “high temperature super-conductivity.”
  • And, a team of archeologists is uncovering the hidden ruins of an ancient Mayan city in Guatemala.

Examples like these go on, and on, and on.

Buildings are made of steel, brick, and mortar, but their true strength comes from the people who inhabit them.

Tulane is a place where, every day, members of our community fundamentally fuel the flames of extraordinary change. Every day, we get to work at a place that, for two centuries, has shaped the future in magical ways.

So, whether this is your first year at Tulane or your 30th, I want to personally thank each and every one of you for your hard work. Thank you for all of the early mornings, long nights, and weekend shifts. But most of all, thank you for your love of this remarkable institution. The state of Tulane University is strong, indeed. And I cannot wait to see what we will accomplish together this year.

You are Tulane, and Tulane is you.

So let's hear Roll Wave on 3:

1 – 2 – 3 Roll Wave!!