We’re living in a world in perpetual crisis. Since stepping down as president of Tulane University in 2014, I have been talking and writing about crises in higher education as the new normal. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and suddenly the whole world was in disarray. Yet, I have always remained a stubborn optimist, for I believe in silver linings and the transformative power of leadership.

I was no stranger to crisis well before the pandemic turned our world upside down. In a way, it seems that I have been honing my crisis leadership skills all my life—as a student with undiagnosed dyslexia, an infantry officer in the military, a young business school dean, and later, as a university president. When Hurricane Katrina happened seven years into my 16-year tenure as president of Tulane University, I can’t say I was prepared—one never fully is for a sudden crisis of such magnitude—but I was ready to “show up.” That meant balancing hope with reality, trying my best to find solutions despite great uncertainty, and making tough decisions to ensure that Tulane would not only make it through but emerge stronger and better.

cowen-classEvery crisis is a call to action. In order to truly move past a crisis and bring about positive change, however, it is paramount to learn from the experience and reimagine what is possible. That’s how Tulane became the first major research university in the U.S. to make public service part of the core curriculum and an even more distinguished institution after Katrina. This mindset also inspired and informed my leadership as interim president of Case Western Reserve University in the 2020-21 academic year.

I have made it my mission to share my lessons learned with a focus on leadership, higher education, board governance, and resilience.

Since publishing my two most recent books, Winnebagos on Wednesdays: How Visionary Leadership Can Transform Higher Education and The Inevitable City: The Resurgence of New Orleans and the Future of Urban America, I have been focusing on writing articles and opinion pieces for a range of publications.

My teaching at Tulane and CWRU seeks to untangle the theory and practice of leadership and leave students with a firm understanding of what makes a great leader and how they can develop their own leadership skills.

Advising & Mentoring
I have been fortunate to have great mentors in my life and pay it forward whenever I can. I especially enjoy being a mentor to my current and former students as well as students in the Cowen Scholars program at Tulane. I’m also a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group in their Public Sector area and work with institutions of higher education in the U.S. and abroad.

I regularly make time to be a guest speaker inside and outside of academia to share Tulane’s Katrina story and my insights on leadership, higher education, board governance, and resilience.

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