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State of the University Address 2019

September 6, 2019
McAlister Auditorium

Michael A. Fitts
Tulane University President

Good afternoon and welcome, everyone!

What an amazing video! It truly captures the power of Tulane University—and all we have in store for the coming year.

Now, I know how busy we are at the beginning of the fall semester, so thank you, thank you, thank you!

For all you did to make move-in and orientation so successful, for going above and beyond over the summer and for taking the time to be here today—in person, or watching on our live feed, give yourselves a round of applause for a fantastic start to the fall semester!

So two years ago, I launched the Tulane Spirit Awards.

It’s our chance to publicly recognize the workplace champions who go above and beyond, the Tulane staff members who show remarkable ambition and the colleagues who brighten the day-to-day.

Simply put—we’re only as powerful as our staff community.

So, I’m thrilled to recognize some amazing Tulanians—and announce four new Spirit Award winners!

Our first winner is a Tulanian through-and through. She’s worked here since completing her undergraduate degrees from Newcomb and the Freeman School of Business. And she’s currently working in the Taylor Center for Innovative and Design Thinking.

One of her nominations read: “She does not see roadblocks—only challenges to be worked around and through.”

That is the spirit of Tulane!

Rebecca Otten—I’m honored to present you with the Tulane Spirit Award!

Our next awardee has been instrumental in the successful opening of our new hub for student life—The Commons. He’s been there for everything—managing the project from start to finish with a level head and a positive attitude.

Josh Beezley—thank you for all your hard work in service to this university. I’m thrilled to present you with the Tulane Spirit Award!

Our next winner has become a celebrity, of sorts, on the School of Professional Advancement’s Elmwood campus. Her nomination described her “virtual fan club of students who come early to class—or pop in between classes—to check in.” She goes above and beyond to support students through their Tulane journey.

Gina Fortado—I’m thrilled to present you with the Tulane Spirit Award!

Our fourth Spirit Award winner plays a pivotal role in the operations of the LBC and The Commons. She’s a problem solver. As her supervisor put it: “She always works to find a way to get to yes.” I absolutely love that—working to find the “yes.”

Heather Seaman—you are an inspiration. It is my honor to present you with the Tulane Spirit Award!

What an incredible group! Let’s give these four Spirit Award winners a round of applause!

Back in July, Tulane braced for Hurricane Barry—preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

I spent the weekend on campus in the Mayer Residences and sheltering on campus for the weekend reminded me of the intense dedication of the Tulane community.

I saw you go to such great lengths - ensuring that those remaining on campus were safe, well-fed and in good spirits.

And I reflected on the many Tulanians whose response truly inspired our community.

It was an absolute group effort—from Campus Services to HR, Student Affairs to Communications—Really, every single office on campus deserves a round of applause for all their hard work.

Now, I’d like to take a moment to single out a small, but mighty Tulane team.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response is ready at a moment’s notice. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—this team makes some of the most stressful jobs at the university look absolutely effortless.

So, I’m not quite finished honoring Tulane’s incredible staff community.

Meredith Beers—Donald Veals—your hard work is felt on every corner of our campuses, and I’m honored to present each of you with a Tulane Spirit Award!

Tulanians know the value of balancing effort with passion, hard work with innovation and creativity with incredible ambition. That unstoppable combination is at the very heart of the Tulane community.

Now, we’ve all heard the world-famous phrases from New Orleans:

  • Lagniappe
  • Fais do-do
  • And many more

But shouldn’t a university that is so uniquely New Orleanian have a name for the ambitious spirit that’s shaped our 185-year history?

Because we are at an absolutely extraordinary moment—a moment when Tulane is increasingly looked to as the model for world class education and research.

Let’s take that ambitious Tulane spirit and build the future we envision—One of growth, transformation and incredible discovery.

Let’s show the world the spirit of the green wave. Let’s show the world our esprit de l’onde.

That is our new term for Tulane’s ambition!

And in the spirit of the new academic year, I’m hoping we can get everyone in a “back to class” mindset this afternoon.

I decided to take a different approach to the State of the University address

I wanted to highlight all the success we’ve had this year —and what’s to come in the near future.

But, we’re an educational institution so I’m going to give my address while also testing your Tulane knowledge.

A Fitts quiz, per se. So, for the first time in my academic career, I ask that you please pull out your cell phones—and keep them at the ready.

Right now, take a moment to text ‘mikefitts 387’ to 37607 to get yourself set up.

When the time comes, text your answers in and we’ll see how well we know Tulane.

So, what’s happened over the past year that’s so incredible?

  • Our admissions numbers are skyrocketing
  • Our advancement team raised $130 million in total giving through the ‘only the audacious’ campaign—the second highest total in the 185-year history of Tulane
  • And we are attracting the type of innovative, world-renowned academic leaders that will guide us through the next chapter of the Tulane story

And the world is taking notice.

According to this year’s Princeton Review rankings, we are ranked:

  • #1 for community service
  • #2 in students who love their colleges
  • #4 for happiest students
  • #6 for best quality of life
  • And #9 for best run colleges

We are undergoing an absolute transformation!

A transformation led—in part—by the class of 2023.

The most selective, academically-accomplished and diverse group of incoming students in the history of Tulane.

Which brings us to question number one—how many students applied to Tulane this past year?

Did we receive

  • A: 31,330 applications?
  • B: 37,942?
  • C: 40,286?
  • Or D: 42,184?

I’ll give you a moment to text in your answers. Can someone cue the jeopardy theme song?

Correct answer?

D! – We received a record 42,184 applications for the fall 2019 semester.

In 2015, our application numbers were hovering just above 26,000. Our fall 2019 total represents a remarkable 61% increase over the last five years

Surging application numbers allow us to be more selective and competitive than ever before, but what percentage of students who applied in this admissions cycle were accepted?

Did we admit

  • A: 31% of applicants?
  • B: 28%?
  • C: 13%?
  • Or, D: 9%?

Correct answer?

C! Well—roughly, C—we accepted just 12.87% of our applicants for the fall 2019 semester.

That’s 24 applications per open spot—more than peer universities like USC, Notre Dame, Boston University and Emory.

Ask any admissions officer—They will tell you that Tulane’s meteoric rise in admissions is unprecedented and particularly impressive considering the academic profile of our incoming class.

In 2015, the average converted SAT score of a Tulane student was 1412.

Our incoming class scored 51 points higher—to an average of 1463.

Now, these numbers aren’t just a testament to our phenomenal admissions team. It’s a measure for success across the entire university.

And as we recruit and retain the very best and brightest to Tulane, we must continue to focus on building a community that better reflects the world around us.

Students of color and international students make up 30% of our incoming class—a 57% increase over the past five years. It’s an inspiring jump, but one that leaves us with room for growth. When we look back five years from now, the Tulane community will be a better reflection of the world around us.

And as we continue building a more diverse community, our campus needs support systems in place.

That means:

  • Expanding and providing additional resources for the “O” as they move into their new space in Richardson Hall this spring
  • Strengthening the Office of Institutional Equity and the Center for Academic Equity
  • And hiring an Associate Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development—a Chief Diversity Officer to oversee and implement more inclusive academic practices

My administration continues to work on issues surrounding equity and inclusion. It’s just too important to our future.

Because the type of students Tulane attracts—the best, brightest, and most innovative students in the world—will demand a university that mirrors our modern society.

Let me add, these are the same students who prioritize a next-level student experience.

Two years ago, we broke ground on The Commons. I know the anticipation to open was at times excruciating, but hard work and determination across the university once again prevailed.

Because Tulane is a place where students should find their home and discover a new family. And if Tulane’s campus is our home, The Commons is our living room. A place to stay connected with your Tulane family, a place to study, collaborate and yes—eat—in our new campus hub.

That leads me to question number 3.

How many members of the Tulane community can The Commons feed at once?

Is it—

  • A: 400
  • B: 600
  • C: 1,100
  • Or D: 2,200

Correct answer?

C!—The Commons can feed 1,100 people at once—close to 4 times as many as Bruff.

And we are providing a much wider range and higher quality of food options than ever before. Rest in peace, Bruff dining!

Now, The Commons launched a new era for Tulane’s student experience.

One led by a new dean with a laser-like focus on undergraduate education and student success.

Newcomb-Tulane College offers a multi-school undergraduate program that is unique within the higher education landscape.

We sought out an academic leader versed in modern curricula and programs that allow our students to collaborate in new, inspiring ways.

And after an extensive search, we found our dean. She’s a world-renowned scholar of Latin American literature and the former associate dean of the faculty at Claremont McKenna College.

Please join me in welcoming the new dean of Newcomb-Tulane College—Dr. Lee Skinner!

As we transform our undergraduate experience, it’s imperative that we remain focused on Tulane’s unparalleled research and discovery.

We’ve continued to raise our standing with the Association of American Universities. And this past year, Tulane researchers submitted proposals totaling $313 million—the largest total in Tulane’s history.

Congratulations to the researchers, teachers and students who showed such remarkable ambition!

But to continue strengthening our research profile, Tulane required a leader to enhance our mission across every field:

  • Humanities
  • Environmental science
  • Health equity
  • Neuroscience and so many more

We needed an internationally renowned physician, researcher and healthcare executive.

Please join me in welcoming Tulane’s new Vice President for Research—The former Chair of Pediatrics and Director of the Children’s Hospital at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic—Dr. Giovanni Piedimonte.

Last year, I spoke about Tulane’s place in the landscape of higher education.

To that end, we continue improving and expanding the ways we bring our students together.

Question number 4 touches on residential learning communities—housing facilities where students live among peers with similar passions.

So, how many Tulane students are currently living in one of our eight residential learning communities?

Is it—

  • A: 347
  • B: 550
  • C: 714
  • Or D: 1,139

Correct answer?

C!—we have 714 students currently living in residential learning communities.

It’s an encouraging number, but that’s still just 18% of students living on campus.

This academic year, we will break ground on our largest, most ambitious construction project to date

We’re reimagining how students live and learn at Tulane.

Tulane’s new residential quad—where Bruff Quad now stands—will provide 1,800 new beds in spaces where students can grow, collaborate and question—together.

We will also break ground on Steven and Jann Paul Hall—a beautiful new facility at the intersection of health, medicine, science and business.

Once Paul Hall is completed, we turn our attention to Stern Hall—a site at the center of campus with incredible potential for cross-collaboration.

Our commitment to building a new Science and Engineering district will ensure Tulane remains the home for innovative discovery and creative exploration.

And we’re moving to grow on the downtown campus, as well.

Administratively, we’ve done a remarkable job building a downtown core of campus leaders. We currently occupy 17 buildings downtown—with over 3,700 downtown employees.

But we want to make it feel like a true campus—just like uptown. We started with more banners, improved green spaces and new restaurants.

But we need to focus on the bigger picture and that starts with Tulane in the historic Charity Hospital building.

We are in serious discussions to become the lead tenant—at a whopping 300,000 square feet—in a renovated Charity Hospital building.

Charity will allow us to move our downtown community to a central location. A place where Tulanians can focus on what we do best—education and research that will literally change the world.

We envision an extraordinary amount of growth and progress on both campuses.

One of the top priorities of my administration is reducing the environmental impact of our operations and supporting sustainability efforts across the Tulane community. Our climate action plan sets a target of reducing our emissions by 15% by the end of 2020. And we are on track to meet or exceed that goal.

Since I became president, all of our new buildings have, and will continue to be, LEED certified.

Tulane’s recycling system remains the longest running and largest program outside the New Orleans municipal curbside collection.

And we currently have several major infrastructure projects underway to reduce the energy used to cool our campus buildings.

As we celebrate Tulane’s 185th anniversary, it’s essential that we continue to learn from our past.

Over the past year, the Commission on Race and Tulane Values has been hard at work identifying ways to tell the Tulane story.

This fall, we are looking forward to naming the Willow Residences in honor of Dr. Deidre Dumas Labat and Mr. Reynold Décou—the first African-American undergraduates to earn degrees from Newcomb and Tulane.

Dr. Labat and Mr. Décou were unable to join us today. But at the risk of embarrassing her, I’d like to recognize someone in the audience that has shown such intense dedication to the Tulane community.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity, as well as its new space opening in the Richardson Building this spring, will be named after their founder.

A pioneer of diversity, inclusion and academic equity on our campus, the one—the only—Carolyn Barber-Pierre!

This is a top-down commitment to the Tulane story.

The School of Liberal Arts has announced a named lectureship for Bobby Yan, a six-time Emmy award winner and founding member of Tulane’s Asian American Student Union.

And we look forward to establishing a named professorship for Luis Solis, a Tulane graduate and former president of Costa Rica.

We will be honoring these great Tulanians—and many more—across schools and programs throughout the coming year.

It’s a bright future we envision for Tulane.

We’re on the move—From admissions to campus construction, welcoming new faces and honoring our storied past.

The state of Tulane University is strong, indeed and it’s growing stronger literally every day.

But that ambition doesn’t stop with me—or with my Cabinet.

It must be community-wide—in every office, program, department and school.

Very few people get the opportunity to work at a world class institution like Tulane so take advantage of the chance to write your own story.

Every single person in this room has the potential to absolutely transform this institution and we remain committed to you. To your professional growth—and to your families.

I have charged my team with not only maintaining access to early childhood education but to look for ways to grow and expand that access—both uptown and downtown. And on September 26th, we are inviting our staff and faculty community to join us at the Lavin-Bernick Center.

We’ll be holding an all-day workshop to help you connect, grow, and learn to lead together.

So, whether this is your first state of the university, or you’ve been here for 35 years, I want to personally thank each and every one of you for your hard work.

But my enduring gratitude comes with a challenge—To our deans, department heads and program leaders, to our facilities, athletics and student affairs teams, to each and every one of you—the heartbeat of Tulane.

I challenge you to up your ambition even more—To grow, adapt and fully invest yourself in this university, to accept feedback and try new things, to be inspired by your work—and to inspire those around you.

Find it in yourself to take what you do—what we do with such conviction at Tulane—to the next level.

Because the spirit of the Green Wave—that esprit de l’onde—emanates from you—the people who make Tulane University a world-class engine for innovation and inspiration.

There’s only one way to wrap up this event. Let’s hear a Roll Wave on 3—one our students can hear from The Commons!

1 – 2 – 3 – Roll Wave!

I hope you’ll join me for a reception next door at the Marshall Commons—thank you!