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Friday, August 26, 2022



Dear Tulane Community:

Welcome to a new academic semester and year!

Our spirits are shining brighter than ever, in spite of the many open umbrellas I have seen due to this week’s rain. Sometimes, though, an umbrella isn’t just an umbrella. Sometimes it can mean a lot more – especially at Tulane.

We use umbrellas to stay dry, but we also turn them upside down to catch Mardi Gras beads. We deployed colorful umbrellas at the grand opening of the Tulane Innovation Institute this summer in playful preparation for all the “brainstorms” the Institute will inspire. And at last week’s Convocation, we handed out 1,870 second-line umbrellas to our newest students, encouraging them to fill them with memorabilia as they begin their journey at Tulane.

At Convocation, I also shared the story of Jonas Hanway, a man who had the audacity to use an umbrella in 18th-century London – something frowned upon as a sign of weakness by his contemporaries. But Hanway continued to carry an umbrella during the city’s frequent downpours, and the practice soon became commonplace.

Hanway sounds like a Tulanian, doesn’t he? He thought differently. He stood his ground. By following his own path, he made life better for others. His story is a teachable moment for all of us.

As we begin a new academic year, one thing is clear: our ability to grow and discover, to see problems as possibilities, to improve the lives of others and to transform our city, region and world has never been greater.

The Class of 2026 is the most selective and academically accomplished class in university history. It is also the most diverse, with 30 percent identifying as students of color. The members of the Class of 2026 come from 44 states, two territories and 25 countries. Many are from right here in Louisiana.

This dynamic mix of the best and brightest students, including those who travel farther than any others in the country to attend school, as well as students from our home state, promises an unrivaled synergy and exchange of ideas, perspectives and innovations.
We are also in a far different position now than when we recorded our first campus COVID-19 case more than two years ago. Thanks to our initial robust response to COVID, our high campus vaccination rates and the commitment of our entire community, we have been able to adjust our protocols and look forward to the return of many of our most beloved activities and interactions.

Over the summer, we hired several new leaders for mission-critical efforts ranging from equity, diversity and inclusion to recruitment, retention and innovation. These new leaders, combined with our ongoing efforts to build an environment of excellence through state-of-the-art facilities, are inspiring problem-solving and positive change on a global scale.

Our campuses are abuzz with the sights and sounds of progress. Phase One of The Village, the exciting new student residential learning community on the former site of Bruff Commons, will be completed by January. Construction continues on Steven and Jann Paul Hall, the new home of the School of Science and Engineering. Richardson Memorial Hall, home of the School of Architecture, is in the midst of an historic restoration and expansion.

Downtown, where the university already occupies 21 buildings, work is currently underway to transform the long-dormant Charity Hospital, filling it with state-of-the-art labs, classrooms and the Innovation Institute, which promises to bring life-changing scientific discoveries to New Orleans and keep the vast economic impact of those discoveries here. As a result, more Tulane students will likely remain in the city after they graduate.

One-third of all local start-ups are already the product of Tulane graduates. We want to grow that percentage ever higher. So, we are not building for the sake of building; rather we are creating a vibrant future of learning, discovery and progress that students, faculty and staff can begin experiencing today.

The content of this letter may seem quite a bit to fit under one umbrella, but collectively, I know we will succeed. As I told our students at Convocation, like umbrellas, minds work best when they are open – to new ideas, new possibilities and innovative solutions. Which reminds me of another use for umbrellas – second-lining. So, be sure to keep your parasols ready for a parade of possibilities. We will have plenty to celebrate this academic year.

Signature of Mike Fitts