Former Tulane President Eamon Kelly dies

Former Tulane President Eamon Michael Kelly died on Wednesday, June 28, at the Tulane Medical Center following complications from surgery. He was 81 years old.

After moving to New Orleans in 1979, Kelly served as Tulane’s chief financial officer, executive vice president, and interim president. He was offered the permanent position of university president in 1981 and served in that role until 1998.

Current President Michael Fitts reflected on Kelly’s impact on Tulane in his “The View From Gibson” email to students announcing Kelly’s death.

“Eamon’s impact on the history of Tulane cannot be overstated,” Fitts wrote in the email. “During his 17-year tenure, the university experienced remarkable growth in its academic stature and reputation as a leading institution of research and scholarship.”

Kelly overhauled the school’s financial system to balance its budget in one year after Tulane’s long pattern of running at a deficit. Under Kelly’s leadership, Tulane’s endowment increased from $50 million to $406 million and its net worth increased from $190 million to $610 million.

Kelly instituted a nondiscrimination policy in faculty and student recruitment and made significant strides in diversifying the Tulane administration and student body. During his tenure, Tulane had the highest percentage of black students of all major private research universities in the United States. Kelly also was remembered for his support of ethics in athletics.

A graduate of Fordham and Columbia Universities, Kelly held a reputation as “a renowned international scholar and an acclaimed higher education leader,” according to Fitts. In the course of his career, Kelly worked for Pennsylvania State University, the Johnson and Carter administrations, and the Ford Foundation.

Kelly received various awards and honors, including the Louisiana NAACP State Conference Distinguished Service Award, the Louisiana Human Rights Campaign Award, the George Washington Lucas Community Service Award for the NAACP and the National Arts Club Centennial Medal for Contributions to Education and Humanity.

Following his retirement, Kelly continued his dedication to public service, co-founding the Payson Graduate Program in Global Development at Tulane.

At the time of his death, Kelly “was still teaching and traveling the world researching his passion — improving organizational leadership and management for the betterment of the developing world,” according to Fitts. 

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