Founded in 1834, Tulane is among the most highly regarded independent research universities in the United States, and is ranked by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the highest category of “very high research activity,” that includes only two percent of over 4,300 universities nationwide.
In the fall of 2005, Tulane weathered Hurricane Katrina and emerged from the storm as a stronger institution with a renewed interest in the well-being of its immediate community. This is reflected in the public commitment to the transformation of New Orleans’ public education by Dr. Scott Cowen, then president of Tulane. Under his chairmanship, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission’s Education Committee synthesized the input of local stakeholders and national experts to provide a clear vision of the elements of a world-class public school system. The committee envisioned a new system focused on learning and achievement for all students, fostering a greater sense of engagement between schools, parents and the community, with schools that were empowered and accountable for their performance. To ensure that school leaders would have access to system-wide resources and economies of scale, the committee further recommended the implementation of four organizational cornerstones: a lean district office, school networks, top talent, and aligned governance.
While the commission’s recommendations found support across the board, the task at hand was too pressing for the city to have the luxury of phasing in the commission’s plans. As the driver of these recommendations, Scott Cowen saw the potential for rebuilding a new kind of public school system – but he also saw the risk of the opportunity slipping away, as fragmented school governance and poor finances jeopardized the emerging system of schools. As the largest employer in the city, no one understood the interdependence of the University and its surrounding community better than the University’s President. It is this understanding that drives the Tulane faculty, staff, and students to advance the education of local children. Much of the work carried out at the University today has been shaped by its experience with the hurricane, which has provided faculty, staff and students with unprecedented research, learning, and community service opportunities.
In recognition of President Emeritus Cowen’s vision to save New Orleans’ failing public education system, the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives was founded in December 2006, with a grant from the Lavin Family Foundation. After months of planning, the Cowen Institute officially opened its doors in March 2007. Named for the University President, himself a product of the public school system, the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives seeks to further Tulane’s impact on public education reform, serving as a sustained advocate of urban education system success.