Laissez le president rouler: Farewell, Prez ‘Scotty C’

Friday morning I received a typical post-grad Tulane Talk from Tulane President Scott Cowen. I usually click in, skim the subject line, and hit the trash icon, but today was different. Today was actual news: Our very own “Scotty C” was leaving Tulane, effective July 2014.

I came in after Katrina, so I won’t pretend I knew what it was to literally weather that storm, but I do know what I came into: school desperate to recruit students of the same, and higher caliber, that they had before the storm; an academic and extra-curricular structure that had a lot of holes due to cuts made in the aftermath of Katrina; a wonderful, vibrant city just re-acquiring its post-storm sea legs, and a university chomping at the bit to help.

Despite missing Katrina, I didn’t go un-hurricaned in NOLA. I was a guinea pig of sorts to Scott Cowen’s post-Katrina communication methods and implementation of new evacuation techniques in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, which ended up being not as bad as the subsequent Hurricane Irene. Go figure we evacuated for one and not the other, and ironically on the anniversary of the Katrina evac. But I have a worrier for a mother and I know she felt as comfortable as she could have been with her little girl leaving a strange new place because of a hurricane, and that was due in large part to the transparency provided by Cowen and his staff during that time.

Nothing is perfect – and that goes for Cowen’s 15 years as President. As is the case for most leaders tasked with making tough calls in times of crisis, Cowen received blow back for his decisions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to reduce the School of Engineering and to co-opt, and thus eliminate, Newcomb College, into Tulane University.

Now, I’ve never been a science girl and engineering was never in my cards, but the choice to take apart an entire sub-sect of Tulane academia is never really a good thing. Tulane’s academic casualties due to Katrina in this department were: mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, environmental engineering, and computer science, and also a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. The university’s recovery plan also outlines that the cutting of twenty-seven of its forty-five doctoral programs and suspended eight NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic programs.

I have, however, always been a girl’s girl. What I mean by that is, I like the idea of Newcomb College and I like the idea of women helping to push, support, and foster the growth of other women. I’ve long denied the label of “feminist” but hey, maybe this is the time to call a spade a spade. Regardless, the merge and elimination of Newcomb College as an entity separate and parallel to Tulane was never something I had an opinion on, possibly because I never knew Newcomb as a separate entity as I know it was designed to be. I used Newcomb lunches as ways to learn and grow outside the classroom and enjoyed the gorgeous cottage that the program called home. Changing old traditions and vestiges of the past is difficult. But then, Katrina was a hurricane that devastated New Orleans in ways that many in America had never seen. New challenges require new, sometimes difficult, solutions. Scott Cowen made those choices in the Renewal Plan. While I understand the fight against the changes, I do not feel Tulane – from a student perspective – suffered for them. But then I only knew the “after” side of things.


In 2006, Cowen wrote:

For Tulane, Katrina has taught us to plan for the worst even as we pray for the best. It has taught us as an institution to stay focused on our mission and goals even in the face of financial and physical crisis. It has taught us the responsibility that comes with our role as the largest employer in our home city — a responsibility to help rebuild our city and heal its people.

I can only assume that it was this responsibility that spurred Cowen to found The Cowen Institute in late 2006 to benefit public education initiatives in New Orleans. I always loved how much Tulane stressed action in the community, and I appreciated being forced to interact outside the classroom in places and with people I may not have sought out on my own.

He leaves behind students – both current and graduated (me!) – who are grateful to him in some part for their success – even if they don’t know it yet. He brought Tulane back from what could have been a far-reaching, and long-term devastating event and he brought it back, to go all Thrones on you, harder and stronger.

My years at Tulane are without a doubt the best four years of my life. Words don’t do justice in describing the people I met, connections I forged, lessons I learned – both in and out of the classroom, and the friendships I now cherish from this wonderful institution. I stumbled into Tulane by chance but my decision to stay was deliberate. Since leaving, the school has flourished. Our rankings are far higher than when I initially chose Tulane – what my friends and I have come to call our choice to get in while the stocks were low – and we are now watching them soar. We’re very happy shareholders, to say the least. And as shareholders and former students, I just wanted to say thank you, Scotty C, for doing what you thought was right, doing it even if it was hard, and making strong once more a little campus in Uptown New Orleans that has nestled itself deep into many of our hearts.

Read the full text of President Scott Cowen’s letter below. (And for those of you without microscopic vision, I’d recommend giving it a click to enlarge it to readable size.)


Cue the next comeback kid of politics: Anthony Weiner is running for mayor of NYC

Well, the timing of the announcement (in the middle of the night) was a bit bizarre, but it’s nothing people haven’t been saying for a few weeks now.

In the ad announcing his candidacy (embedded above) he acknowledges:

Look, I made some big mistakes, & I know I let a lot of people down. But I also learned some tough lessons.

I know NYC never sleeps, but does it forgive?

The trifecta scandals remind me of something Richard Ben Kramer once wrote

In his book (political bible), the late Richard Ben Kramer imparts many truths. One of which has come to my mind many times over the course of this past week as the media picks apart Benghazi, the IRS, and the DOJ/AP “scandals.” I put them in quotes because it depends who you talk to. Most people in my immediate circles apply them to the last two but definitely not the first, for example.

Regardless, I felt the need to remind those of you who may stumble across this blog of these words from “What It Takes.” While they were written about Reagan, Bush 41, and their involvement in the Iran-Contra, they work just as well today. After all, our big questions are still – on all of these three fronts – who knew what, when. He writes:

“Alas, it is the surest sign that official Washington remains a precultural swamp that it has not offered mankind any refinement of language to illuminate its own constant preoccupation, the basic activity of its single industry, the work of its days and the spice of its nights, which is knowing. There are, in the capital, a hundred different ways to know and be known; there are fine gradations of knowing, wherein the subtlest distinctions are enforced. But to discuss this art and passion, we have only the same bland flapjack of a verb that flops each day onto our plates, along with the morning paper: To Know.

About this preoccupation there can be no dispute: knowledge is power, and the capital is a city built on power, which means known and being known. But this is more than a business in Washington. It is life. Only in the bars of Capitol Hill will you hear a normal, healthy young woman responding to the blandishments of her handsome swain with the delighted, breathy question, “You know Kerrey?”…This is knowing in the sense of acquaintance, of connaissance, but this is only the most basic way To Know.

…Then there is the matter of being known, which can be more important than knowing. If a Washington man is well-known as a man in the know, then his knowing is seldom tested. In fact, it is fed daily by people who come to him to see what he thinks about what they know…As a result, he ends up knowing pretty much what everybody else knows, which is usually enough.

…Then there is another shade of the verb, To Know, in the sense of awareness. It is about what’s going on right now, and as such, is Washington’s highest branch of knowledge. Encyclopedia scientia on the theory, history, and practice of progressive taxation in America is nothing, less than nothing, compare to knowing (a week before the vote) Chairman Rostenkowski’s bottom line on depreciation of timber assets. One brand of knowing (scientia) earns a ratty office and a shared secretary at the Heritage Foundation. The other (awareness) bring power, money, fame…

But the highest form of capital-knowing, the quest for awareness is also the most dangerous. Clearly, the lack of this knowing can undermine reputation or power, especially if…one ought to know. To be unaware, to be Out of the Loop, is allied in the tribal consciousness with impotence, inability, imbecility…and ultimately with the fatal affliction of ridiculousness. But there is also, in success, in wide awareness, a danger just as mortal. For this is the brand of knowing that is closest to Eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and can result in expulsion from Eden. When things foul up in a massive way; when The Washington Post, like God, is angry; when Committee Chairmen vie for jurisdiction of the hearing that will make them well known as the scourge of evildoing; then this is the knowing implied in the most portentous of capital questions:

What did he know, and when did he know it?

And so, there has developed, in Washington, a kind of knowing without being known to know, for which there is no word at all. It is a nonoperational, untraceable knowing, which can seldom be proven or disproven. Indeed, its vaguely oriental essence can barely be expressed. It is yin-and-yang, knowing-not-knowing.”

Man. I feel pretty Steve Kornacki, right now.

Report card: Three months after Newtown, how much progress on gun safety?

Today is the 3 month anniversary of the Newtown shootings. And poll data shows that an overwhelming – 91% – of Americans support background checks in gun purchases. Right now, it’s estimated that 40% of purchasers go unchecked. But states trying to close the loophole are facing serious opposition. Read my and Traci Lee’s report card on how public policy support doesn’t always translate into legislative success.

Report card: Three months after Newtown, how much progress on gun safety?