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Statement by Tulane University President Scott S. Cowen

June 10, 2003

As President of Tulane University and as a member of the Board of Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund, I fully endorse and support the resolution approved by the Board today.

I support this resolution because it unequivocally states that the board is committed to maintaining Tulane's place among the nation's outstanding institutions of higher education. In addition, the resolution clearly states that the university aspires to continue operating a Division I-A athletics program that is:

  • A model in terms of the academic performance and graduation rates of its student-athletes.
  • Financially viable on a sustainable basis so as not to impede the basic mission and goals of the university.

This process has not been an easy one for any of us, regardless of our individual positions within the university community or our opinions on the issues being discussed. But it is the mark of a great organization that it is willing to show the courage and willingness to undergo a serious self-examination.

I personally want to thank and express my gratitude to all our alumni and friends who took the time to write thoughtful and substantive comments to the university. I want you to know that your comments had an impact on me. I now implore you to convert your passion and commitment to sustainable, tangible support for all parts of the university.

In my lifetime, I have been fortunate to work with a few extraordinary leaders in great organizations. Great organizations like these share at least four characteristics, whether they are universities, cities or businesses.

First, a great organization must be willing to adapt to significant changes in the outside world without compromising its core values and basic mission. That means the organization must be flexible, forward-looking, and able to discern which environmental trends are transitory and which are likely to be persistent.

Second, a great organization must always focus on accomplishing its mission and realizing its aspirations--and allocating its resources accordingly. Deviation from this focus can lead to mediocrity in everything and excellence in nothing.

Third, a great organization must constantly challenge the status quo. To do otherwise is to live in the past at the expense of the future.

Finally, a great organization listens to those it seeks to serve, when the voices are thoughtful, understanding of the complexities of leading and managing a large organization, and are responsible in thought and deed. The open and free exchange of ideas and thoughts in a civil and professional manner is not only the hallmark of a great organization; it is also a core value of a university.

Now, let's briefly look at those characteristics in light of the board's review of intercollegiate athletics and its ultimate decision.

From the very beginning, the board's discussions were guided by a single, very important strategic question:
Given the changing landscape of Division I intercollegiate athletics and the mission, aspirations and resources of Tulane University, what intercollegiate athletics program is best for the university?

To answer this question:

  • It required the board to look at the external environment governing intercollegiate athletics in America.
  • It required the board to recognize and acknowledge that the university's mission--first and foremost--is one of learning and discovery.
  • It required the board to embrace our desire to stand among the most outstanding universities in the world when it comes to academic achievement and impact.
  • It required the board to understand that we have limited resources in comparison to those universities with which we compare ourselves academically.
  • And it required the board to understand that the university has numerous stakeholders, many of whom have conflicting expectations of the university.

The conclusion of these discussions is that Tulane University wants to have a Division I-A program consistent with the expectations articulated in the board's resolution, and that everyone associated with these expectations will be accountable for their realization.

Is this aspiration for Tulane's athletic programs realistic? The optimists will say yes, the cynics will say no. Only time will tell. But I do believe the successful outcome will be worth the effort we put into it. It is a goal worth pursuing, particularly within the current athletics environment in America, one that is increasingly at odds with the academic goals and values of a university.

Everyone associated with Tulane University should draw great comfort from the fact that the board has set a very high standard for the future in its willingness to confront and address difficult issues that impact the extraordinary potential of this wonderful university. This uncompromising approach makes me optimistic that Tulane University is on the path of transformation from being a very good university into being a great one.

What comes next is a challenge, and that is for all of us who refer to ourselves as Tulanians, who believe strongly in Tulane, to put any disagreements aside. It is a time to convert our expressed passion and commitment to the university into tangible, sustainable support. Most importantly, it is time for us to come together as a single community in pursuit of a single goal: the advancement of Tulane University as a world-class institution that is proud of its role as a leader in higher education and as a citizen of its community.