Live Chat with President Cowen--December 9, 2005

 

President Cowen:  Good afternoon. By now you are aware of the renewal plan, designed to build a stronger Tulane University during these challenging times. We consulted with some of the most respected authorities in higher education about the plan, which allows Tulane to pursue world-class excellence and at the same time manage the financial challenges caused by Hurricane Katrina.

It is a comprehensive strategy and I ask you to consider it in its entirety, not just in parts and pieces. Together, it charts a course of excellence for Tulane University. But it comes at a cost. Unfortunately, we were forced to make some difficult reductions in programs and personnel. We worked as hard as we could to minimize those reductions and are indebted to the men, women and student-athletes who have served Tulane University over these years.

I am sure you have many questions, so let's begin…

 

gf:  What are the odds that returning freshmen will be able to remain housed on campus through their senior year?

President Cowen:  Normally any student who wants to be housed on campus for all four years has been accommodated in the past, and we believe we can do that in the future.

 

Zack S:  What are the specific undergraduate majors that are getting cut?

President Cowen:  We are phasing out the programs in civil engineering, environmental engineering, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. Exercise and sports science is another one. These programs will be phased out over the next 18 months. All other undergraduate programs remain as they were before.  There is a complete list of phased out programs listed on our website.

 

Matthew:  What happened to the $60 million donated to the School of Engineering and Tulane from David Filo and Jim Clark?  It seems like a joke that you would take millions from them and then cut the programs they're most for supporting.

President Cowen:  Initially, the $60 million donated by David Filo and Jim Clark was actually given to the university as an unrestricted endowment to support undergraduate students throughout the university. However, at the request of the university, David Filo earmarked his donation for scholarships in the School of Engineering, while Jim Clark did it for all other areas. David Filo's gift will continue to be earmarked for engineering students in the future and may also include those in the sciences.

 

Ginny:  Was this reorganization of the undergraduate colleges something that had been “in planning” for some time before Katrina? Or was it born entirely of the disaster?

President Cowen:  The reorganization was born out of the disaster of Katrina. Katrina forced us to have to develop a new vision and strategy for our future while also addressing any financial challenges we had. This required us to make some very difficult decisions – decisions that secured the university's future both academically and financially.

 

sir:  Given that you wish to make the university more "campus-centered," and since there will be fewer off-campus opportunities, are there any plans to extend the hours of facilities such as the Pavillion, the Reily Center, and Howard-Tilton Library? Thank you.

President Cowen: I know we have not explicitly discussed this, but you raise a very good question. We will see what we can do before you return in January.

 

G Chapman:  What graduate programs are being eliminated from the School of Arts and Sciences? It appears that the PhD in English is being eliminated, is this true?

President Cowen:  We are eliminating the doctorate programs in economics, English, French, historical preservation, law, political science, sociology, water resources planning management and social work, as well as five in engineering. All remaining programs will then be consolidated into 18 remaining ones. It is the university's intention to invest more heavily in those programs over time so they can achieve national prominence if they have not already done so.

 

Steve Peitler:  First, I would like to say "Great job!!! by you and your entire team," and second, I have two questions. (1) Can you break down, by percentage, the number of kids returning? (2) With the financial problems facing the University do you foresee a large increase in tuition for the next few years? (My daughter is an incoming freshman.)

President Cowen:  I do not foresee any increases for the next few years that would be any larger than what we've had in the past several years. Second, based on information we have today at least 87 percent of our undergraduates will be returning in January. And that includes 80 percent of the first-year class.

 

lost without Tulane:  I'm a junior planning on returning and planning on graduating on time! My majors are English and environmental policy. Now those are in two colleges. Am I grandfathered in or what do I do now?

President Cowen:  Yes, you don't have to do anything. Those majors are retained. The changes have no impact on you.

 

Chris Tu:  What are plans for University College Students?

President Cowen:  University College will be renamed the School for Continuing Studies. Current full-time University College students will have five years to complete their program of study with the exception of exercise and sports science, which will have two years. The School for Continuing Studies will admit full-time students for Fall 2006. New full-time students entering in Fall 2007 will go right into the Undergraduate College.

 

Scott Kensell:  I am a freshman who was planning on majoring in either electrical or mechanical engineering (and nothing else). What are my options?

President Cowen:  You could either decide to change your major at Tulane and we will assist you on other options that will take advantage of your interests. Or if you feel you need to transfer in the future, we have hired a staff person to assist you in making that decision. In the meantime, you can continue your studies in this program until June 2007.

 

alumna:  Dr. Cowen, could you please, in as explicit financial and statistical terms as possible, explain to the current students and alumni, the reasoning behind cutting the core out of the engineering school, as it would seem that the affected programs of study would be most beneficial to the continued reputation of academic excellence that Tulane endorses, as well as to the rebuilding of the city itself?

President Cowen:  Our decision about which programs we need to eliminate or retain was based on advice we were given from national experts and others. They suggested that we make all our decisions strategically and focus all future resources in schools and programs that were either nationally prominent or had the potential to be nationally prominent in undergraduate education, research and graduate education. This forced us to make some difficult decisions about which schools and discrete programs fit this criteria. It was on this basis that we made our final decisions.

 

Eng Tulane Alum:  Dr. Cowen, surely you have contacted your two largest contributors, Jim Clark and David Filo. Can you tell me what their response has been to the canceling of the Tulane engineering program?

President Cowen:  Both of the individuals understand the extraordinary situation and context in which Tulane University finds itself and have been supportive of the university making whatever decisions it needs to secure its future financially and academically.

 

Disappointed:  How can you claim that a recovery plan that cuts out some of the most productive and successful programs while retaining revenue-losing athletics will "ensure our continued academic excellence"?

President Cowen:  The issue of athletics versus academic programs is complex. And one is not related to the other. So no one should assume that a different decision with respect to athletics would have resulted in a different decision with respect to engineering or any other program we're eliminating. Secondly, you do not build a national institution primarily on satisfying the needs within a particular region only. If you were to do this, it would require a massive investment of resources to develop the critical mass of people and expertise needed to address local problems and simultaneously address national issues needed to gain national prominence.  At this time, Tulane does not have those investment dollars.

 

John Marshall:  Could you elaborate on the future of the MD (doctor of medicine) program at Tulane? With all of the layoffs and the focus of Tulane's literature on the research-intensive programs, it is hard to get an idea of how the university envisions the MD's future.

President Cowen: The MD program will be as strong, if not stronger, in the future. We have retained an excellent core of faculty to meet our educational, research and clinical needs. There is no reason to believe that our MD program will be adversely affected by the separation of faculty in the School of Medicine.

 

David Illig:  Why were so many engineering programs cut for the renewal program? This decision seems to have killed off the engineering school. With this decision, I no longer have any intention of returning to Tulane, and I imagine many other engineering majors feel the same way.

President Cowen:  First, I answered the first part of your question earlier in this chat. I refer you to my answer. Second, the two remaining engineering departments will be combined with all the other sciences to form a new School of Science and Engineering with strong synergy across all these disciplines. This platform will be excellent to build strength over time in both the sciences and engineering.

 

Chantal:  I'm a Tulane alum and am now living in Plano, TX. Is there a Tulane rebuilding fund going on? I received a blank envelope in the mail and have since misplaced the envelope.

President Cowen:  Yes. Please send your check to: The Tulane Rebuilding Fund, Tulane University, Department 572

P.O. Box 4869, Houston, TX 77210-4869.

 

Robin:  Does the School of Social Work still exist?

President Cowen:  Absolutely. They're having their commencement on December 16 in New Orleans.

 

sshea:  President Cowen, this is a very sad and difficult moment for us parents of electrical/computer/mechanical engineering students. I am a parent of a freshman. What types of transfer assistance will be provided?

President Cowen:  First, I understand your sadness and disappointment with this decision. And I hope you understand that it was a difficult one for us to make and was only done after very careful consideration. We will have an advisor available at the university to assist your son or daughter if they decide to transfer. If you want assistance right now you can call (888) 862-8799. We will also advise you about other possible majors at Tulane that you might be interested in. Specific information for first- and second-year students in engineering will be released early this week.

 

rgalum:  Until yesterday's announcements, I was 100 percent comfortable sending my Tulane student back for January. While I fully intend to do so I am concerned that the picture that was painted to us over the past few months was less than above board. While I understand that the process is ongoing, I am waiting to see when the next shoe will drop. Can you please comment?

President Cowen:  First, I have been quite open for several weeks if not months about the fact the university would have to reinvent itself for the future as a result of Katrina. Second, our plan is a bold one intended to address all the issues that we face. We have no reason to believe that there is another shoe, especially since we have now told you what the future will look like and that we will address our financial issues. The last point I would like to make is that this plan ensures that the undergraduate programs will be even stronger in the future and a greater point of focus for us.

 

TUGFC:  What is the housing situation going to be like for grad students next semester? Will most be on the boats or in trailers? Will there be separate activities for grad students, or is the focus going to be on undergrads? Thanks for everything, President Cowen.

President Cowen:  I hope by now you have already registered for housing because you will be on either a ship or in modular housing or an apartment. Therefore, I suggest that you immediately register online for housing if you have not already done so. Finally, there will be activities geared towards graduate students.

 

rgalum:  If 86 percent of the students have registered, then how do you account for the anticipated one-third drop in student population as has been stated in The Wall Street Journal?

President Cowen: The Wall Street Journal is wrong and they have no basis for stating that information.

 

Brian:  Could you discuss approximately how many students are impacted by the elimination of 14 doctoral programs and five undergraduate majors, and the suspension of eight athletics teams?

President Cowen:  About one-third of the doctoral students will be impacted, only four percent of the undergraduates and one-third of the student-athletes.

 

Texa Tulane:  One question I have is regarding the housing...if freshmen and sophomores have to live on campus, what happens to upperclassman that wish to reside on campus. Will there be enough room for all of us?

President Cowen:  First, the requirement for freshmen and sophomores to live on campus takes effect in fall 2007. At that time we anticipate having additional rooms on campus that would also allow third- and fourth-year students to live on campus.

 

TU:  Regarding cut or downsized programs (i.e. many engineering majors and graduate programs), do you think it's possible to rebuild these departments if we regain some financial ground after a few years?

President Cowen:  By creating a separate School of Science and Engineering we have created an ideal platform on which to build in the future. When that time comes we will build in areas where we have the opportunity to develop national prominence over time in undergraduate, research and graduate education.

 

TU:  I know the Board has created a "task force" to determine issues relating to the creation of the Undergraduate College, including the endowments and tradition. Was there any examination of these issues before the decision was made?

President Cowen:  The Board of Administrators task force you are referring to will focus on Newcomb College. The task force will decide how we continue to honor the Newcomb legacy and name and how the use of the endowments should be focused in the future given the new collegiate structure.

 

Abel:  We hear that Tulane will create a new track of instructors designated as Teachers of Practice. What does this designation mean?

President Cowen:  Professors of Practice excel in undergraduate teaching and devote 100 percent effort to that very important part of our institution. This new track will further enhance the undergraduate program and demonstrate our commitment to full-time faculty in the classroom.

 

RogersL:  Exactly what will Tulane do to enhance the campus experience for undergraduates?

President Cowen:  We're planning on offering a full array of extracurricular activities, and we're hoping the students will help us decide what those should be when they return. 

 

chelle:  Will the scholarships of current student-athletes be honored? For how long and at what level?

President Cowen:  They will be honored until graduation at their same level as long as they remain in good academic standing.

 

ptm32286:  Why wasn't the drop of the engineering majors announced before the housing cancellation deadline? Can I get my deposit back because this?

President Cowen:  Yes, you can get your deposit back but we hope that you will continue at Tulane because I think it will be an even more exciting place after we reopen. The reason we did not announce this earlier is because we wanted to make sure that we got the best advice from people around the country regarding our plan. And that took us some time under the extraordinary circumstances under which we were operating.

 

ers:  The division of academic majors, according to the new plan, places my son in the School of Science and Engineering. Will he also be assigned new advisors?

President Cowen:  For this semester he will have his current advisor. And then, after July 1, he will be advised through the new Center of Academic Advising, most likely with the same advisor he had before.

 

Robin Sontag:  How are class size and quality of lectures going to be affected by staff cuts and the enrollment of students from other New Orleans universities?

President Cowen:  We anticipate that class size will be no different then it was pre-Katrina. And in fact, we will have more full-time faculty teaching undergraduates than before the storm. The other universities will have no impact on enrollments because they will only be able to take classes on a space-available basis.

 

gcplude:  Will the spring semester withdrawal date be extended as a result of the downsizing announcement?

President Cowen:  If you mean the December 15 withdrawal date, that will not be changed.

 

abcd:  How will the number and level of funding of individual Distinguished Scholars Awards and Founders Awards be affected by the aftermath of Katrina?

President Cowen:  They will continue as they currently are. Our commitment to academic excellence remains unchanged.

 

cerbie:  How long do students who have already declared majors in these cut programs have to finish their degree?

President Cowen:  They have until June 2007. However, additional information for first- and second-year engineering students will be sent to them early this week so they can be aware of all the options available to them.

 

grad Dad:  How will fundraising be affected by the renewal plan?

President Cowen:  We anticipate it will have a very positive effect because we have a very compelling vision and strategy for the future. And we believe people will rally around that once they truly understand its positive impact on the institution. Finally, Tulane is really the only large-scale institution in New Orleans, at this time, that has taken control of its destiny.

 

Lexington:  Considering the huge challenge, why not require freshman entering this January to work in the community as a graduation requirement? And if not required, how will you encourage their participation in rebuilding Tulane and NOLA?

President Cowen:  I like the spirit of your suggestion and we will make many opportunities available for students to participate in public service.

 

Tulane Forever:  Will Tulane remain in Conference USA?

President Cowen:  Yes.

 

Pilar:  In light of Tulane's financial problems, will the University Center and new residence hall construction projects be continuing?

President Cowen:  Absolutely. The residence hall is part of our strategy of making the experience more campus-centered.

 

clarice TU:  Do you expect tenured professors to warm to the idea of focusing more on undergraduate education?

President Cowen:  Yes, I do because we have exceptional undergraduates who are very exciting for faculty to interact with.

 

Artist: What about the Newcomb art programs in glass, pottery, print-making, etc.? Will they still exist?

President Cowen:  Absolutely, we're very proud of those programs.

 

Abel:  Junior faculty in the arts and sciences are nervous about losing their jobs.  Should they be worried? Are more faculty cuts coming?

President Cowen:  We do not anticipate additional faculty cuts. This is why it was so important for us to make an announcement, so that those people remaining at the institution would feel more confident about their future.

 

Kathy Tek:  Will the Payson Institute of International Studies remain at Tulane?

President Cowen: Yes.

 

KathleenK:  My son is a junior at Tulane College. I assume that if his current major it not on "the list" it will be discontinued after spring 2006. Will his degree plan be honored/allowed/etc. if he graduates 2006?

President Cowen: The phase-out of the coordinate college system does not impact anyone's course of study. Every student will receive a letter next week clarifying this issue for them, but I want to assure all students of Newcomb and Tulane colleges that their program of study continues.

 

Clark:  Do you anticipate additional staff layoffs in the near future?

President Cowen:  I cannot answer that question at this time because it is dependent upon how many of our staff members return to work on December 19.

 

Donna:  Will Tulane's 'study abroad' programs be affected by the recent financial restructuring?

President Cowen:  No.

 

Sandy:  Do you plan to lower the number of admitted students? What is your target class size for the future?

President Cowen:  It is important to us that we maintain our academic standards and we will only lower the number of admitted students if that were necessary to continue our standards. At this moment in time, applications for next fall are up by 12 percent and we are very encouraged by this news.

 

Whitney:  How was the decision made as to which majors would be phased out?

President Cowen:  I answered this question earlier in our live chat and would refer you to that response.

 

Clay Kirby:  Do you think that biomedical engineering and chemical engineering will be able to maintain their accreditation without the support of the other programs?

President Cowen:  Yes. These issues were reviewed as part of our process in making a final decision.

 

Blanca:  Will I get a degree from Newcomb at graduation in May? What will my diploma say?

President Cowen:  This May you will get a degree from Newcomb College at graduation.

 

Melissa:  What will happen to endowment funds specifically designated for use at Newcomb College?

President Cowen: We have created a task force comprised of several alums from Newcomb College and have asked them to make a recommendation to us on the use of these endowment funds in light of the new collegiate structure.

 

Georges:  How do you plan to house all freshmen and sophomores on the campus if you don't have enough space to accommodate them?

President Cowen:  We plan to have enough space to accommodate them. I would refer you to an answer I previously gave to a similar question.

 

zzzeeebb:  Exactly how many sports programs will be cut?

President Cowen:  Eight.

 

Harrison:  At the start of the 2006-2007 school year, will the business school continue to operate as they had planned, with freshmen taking business classes in their first year?

President Cowen:  Yes.

 

Tulane Student:  On September 18th, you said "The needs of Tulane students remain a central priority as we work through these difficult days. Our students represent our greatest asset." Do you still feel this way? I have a hard time convincing some engineering students that you do.

President Cowen:  I do understand why engineering students would be disappointed at this time. However, the decisions we made were to ensure the long-term vitality of the institution. And in many ways will further enhance our commitment to undergraduate education and our students.

 

Donna427:  Will University College become part of the overall undergraduate program or will it remain separate?

President Cowen:  University College will be renamed The School for Continuing Studies and will focus on its traditional mission of part-time programs and students.

 

ALDO:  I can't scroll back to your previous answers. Will there be a transcript posted?

President Cowen: Yes, a transcript will be posted Monday afternoon.

 

Gary Kirk:  It seems that despite the optimistic tone you have set from the beginning of the recovery, the survival of Tulane is and will continue to be a “near” thing. How close was Tulane to not being able to reopen?

President Cowen:  In the first two weeks after the storm I was very concerned about our future. Upon the announcement yesterday of our renewal plan I believe our future is secure in all ways.

 

President Cowen:  I want to thank you all for joining me today. I plan to do another live chat on December 16 at 5 p.m. central time. In the meantime I anticipate that we will continue to correspond via e-mail and our website. We are anxiously looking forward to your return in January and are well prepared for it to be an extraordinary educational opportunity for you. The plan announced yesterday is bold and courageous, and it did require us to make some difficult decisions. I am sad if it had any adverse impact on your lives and we will do whatever we can to facilitate a smooth transition back to Tulane – or to another institution in the future if you feel that is necessary.

Tulane: Thank you for attending this Tulane community chat. Please continue to monitor www.tulane.edu for the latest information, and join us again Friday, December 16.

 

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