New Orleans is a special place. I am not the first to say this, and I certainly won’t be the last. Despite its challenges and quirks, there’s nowhere else like it. It’s been an honor and a privilege to contribute to its rich history for almost a decade. As I reflect on my time at Tulane University and New Orleans, and the journey ahead, I want to extend a big thank you to the entire city for your support and partnership.
When I arrived in New Orleans in 2014, I quickly learned that Tulane’s success stems from its location in one of the world’s most interesting, magical and beloved cities. I also realized the possibilities of partnering with our hometown to achieve a brighter future for New Orleans, our state and region.
I am humbled, grateful and thrilled to continue to be part of Tulane and the Crescent City following a recent vote by the Board of Tulane to extend my term as president of Tulane. My enthusiasm is due to those of you who are reading this. No city on earth celebrates its hometown teams or institutions like New Orleans. Nothing we have achieved as a university would be possible without the dedication, commitment and partnership of New Orleans-area residents. This includes the most incredible students, faculty and staff anywhere.
We have experienced several hurricanes, a global pandemic, social and political unrest and numerous other challenges together. But we have also known the ever-present joie de vivre that pervades our hometown and the unflagging hope that seeks better days ahead. As I look ahead, I believe a real game changer for New Orleans is poised to take place in the heart of its downtown.
The American landscape is filled with cities from Pittsburgh to Nashville, from Raleigh to Austin, and numerous points in between, that have been transformed from their core outward by the presence of a major national research university downtown. This is the destiny of Tulane and New Orleans.
We are currently investing more than $1 billion in construction and renovations in New Orleans. Much of this effort is focused downtown, where the university already occupies 17 buildings. This includes the recently opened Thirteen15, a vacant hotel on the edge of Duncan Plaza that is now a modern apartment building quickly filling up with students, scholars, doctors and researchers.
Work is also currently underway to transform the long-dormant Charity Hospital building into a thriving center of innovation, education and discovery. This New Orleans icon will soon house state-of-the-art labs, classrooms and an innovation institute that will help boost breakthroughs and discoveries from Tulane and other local universities and lead to the creation of new businesses that will bring these inventions to market faster. This promises to spur economic development, including well-paying jobs, throughout New Orleans and the region.
Our downtown campus, located in the heart of New Orleans’ BioDistrict, offers a once-in-a-generation chance to elevate our national standing as a research and innovation powerhouse and support the growth of small businesses. We can become home to not only great food and music, but a center for discoveries such as the rapid COVID-19 tests created at Tulane or our advances in brain science. The city that care forgot can produce diagnostics, therapeutics and treatments to heal our world as well as economic opportunity for all.
Such a city will keep graduates of LSU, UNO, Xavier, Dillard, Loyola, Holy Cross, Delgado and other Louisiana universities and community and technical colleges here in our home state, while welcoming new residents.
With the help of New Orleanians from all backgrounds and leaders in local government, business, research and educational institutions, we can move our beloved city forward via a new path paved by innovation and research-based entrepreneurship.
In the age of pandemics and graying populations, in the time of CRISPR and other revolutionary advancements, the need and opportunity to create such a city has never been greater. A city rooted in the past and focused on the future and the promise of discovery cannot help but achieve greatness. We just need to join together as one team to ensure victory for ourselves and our children.
I look forward to working with my fellow New Orleanians in the years ahead on this most important of endeavors — and I thank you for all you’ve done so far.
Michael A. Fitts is president of Tulane University.