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Tulane's Balancing Act

June 15, 2003
New Orleans Times-Picayune - Point of View
copyright 2003


In recent weeks, you’ve heard a lot about the evolving story of intercollegiate athletics at Tulane University. You’ve heard and read options revolving around divisions, football and finances.

But the Tulane story was not just about athletics. It reached much deeper and brought out a number of questions that emerged during the board discussions and the community response. At the heart of those questions is the very identity of Tulane University as a national institution and as a citizen of New Orleans and Louisiana.

There were two questions in particular that stood out.

How does a university balance its priorities as a national university with its roots and the expectations of its community?

And how does a university find a balance between the often-conflicting expectations of its various stakeholders and the ongoing mission of the institution?

Tulane University has been a part of the New Orleans community and the state of Louisiana for nearly two centuries. Its gradual transition from a “streetcar college” to a nationally renowned academic institution has inevitably brought changes. On the surface, it might appear that the roles of a national university and of a local university are at odds. In truth, however, these roles are complementary. It is in the long-term best interest of New Orleans that Tulane University continues to achieve distinction as a national university while cherishing its ties to its hometown. Tulane and New Orleans need each other.

As a national university, Tulane attracts to New Orleans a community of scholars and students that would not otherwise come to this area. Our national standing helps us bring in the research and development dollars and projects so vital to the city and state. Our status as a leading research university helps us attract favorable attention to the area in terms of publicity, reputation and economic impact.

As a result of our national standing, Tulane University is a huge economic engine for the city of New Orleans, and our people and programs touch every corner of this city each and every day. We are the city’s largest private employer, and our faculty, staff and students work throughout the community in hundreds of clinics, organizations and programs. Our students and employees have a tremendous economic impact through local spending, and our partnerships with other New Orleans institutions have attracted millions of research and educational dollars to the area. A strong and robust Tulane University is in everyone’s best interests.

As for the second question, all universities have multiple stakeholders—faculty, students, staff, alumni, donors, parents and community members—and, at times, those stakeholders have different expectations for the university. The university must use its basic mission and goals as a rudder, steering its decisions accordingly.

During the Tulane board’s look at intercollegiate athletics, those different stakeholder expectations became very apparent. But throughout the process, the board remained focused on the university’s primary purpose as a national research university and a center of learning and discovery. That identity was never at issue, but only how intercollegiate athletics best fit into it in the long term given the university’s priorities and resources.

Tulane University is stronger for having gone through these recent discussions. They have reaffirmed our mission and aspirations, articulated our values and priorities and communicated that to our community.

The discussions also have made us aware of how many people in New Orleans and around the country who have a stake in Tulane, who care about its future, who truly want to see it succeed and who will provide the tangible support for our dreams to become a reality.

That awareness can only lead to better things as Tulane seeks to accomplish its academic mission and achieve its goals while also building support for our Green Wave athletics.