President Fitts embraces Tulane’s culture and community in his first month on campus

Emma Discher, Senior Reporter

Connection, community and experience have become President Michael Fitts’ new favorite words. Though he has been on the Tulane University campus a mere two months, he is already looking at the big picture.

Fitts traveled from University of Pennsylvania Law School to Tulane to take on the role of university president in July. He spent the last two months adjusting and planning for the semester and years ahead.

The adjustment

Fitts said his transition thus far has been “wonderful,” and he likened it to the freshman experience, with which he identifies.

“Picking up and moving 2,000 miles is an experience,” Fitts said. “Getting to know another city and another institution requires 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it’s exciting. It’s just incredibly exciting meeting a different group of people, getting to know the culture and food of New Orleans and the spirit of New Orleans and of Tulane.”

Fitts said he has made a point to try everything.

“I eat all the way from the top to the bottom, so I’ve been to Popeyes several times,” Fitts said.

Fitts said he was pleasantly surprised to find that the summer weather was not as hot as expected but that the people have been even warmer than anticipated. 

“August was not as hot and humid as I expected,” Fitts said. “So many people had warned me about it, so I was over-prepared. The quality of the air conditioning is second to none in the world. The only thing unexpected is just how warm and welcoming everyone is.”

When asked what brought him to New Orleans, Fitts simply said “Tulane,” because of the opportunities for him and the university moving forward.

“Being president of Tulane is the opportunity a lifetime,” Fitts said. “It’s always been one of the world’s great universities. We’re living in a time of change in higher education, and Tulane is exquisitely poised over the next five to 10 years to be really a leader on a lot of different levels. The ability to be a part of that and help make that happen is irresistible.”

Connections and community

As Tulane moves forward in this time of change, Fitts said he wants to encourage connections and build community within Tulane in order to enhance the undergraduate experience.

Within academics, Fitts said he especially wants to focus on a fluid and collaborative integration of various programs.

“It starts with Newcomb-Tulane College where you come in without a major and you can fan out across a bunch of schools,” Fitts said. “That’s unheard of, and it’s exactly what everybody should be doing in terms of integrating their curriculum and offerings across arts and science departments, professional schools. We’re ahead of everybody in that regard, and I think we ought to build on that.”

Fitts said he sees other opportunities for community growth outside of the classroom but still on campus through shared spaces.

“We’re in a major city, but we have this really beautiful, compact campus,” Fitts said. “We need to build on that. [We need to] bring more students back onto campus in terms of living, dining and the experiences they have.”

One of these common experiences is athletics, which he said will be emphasized with the opening of Yulman Stadium and the introduction of on-campus gamedays.

“Athletics are a wonderful way to draw a community together, to build on the connections between people, especially a university that has different schools and often people in different directions,” Fitts said. “Having our athletic facilities on campus, bringing them back on campus and making them more of a focal point for the undergrad experience I think is great.”

Though he is a self-proclaimed sports fan, Fitts said he will probably not dye his hair green for sporting events like Scott Cowen did.

“That’s Scott’s,” Fitts said. “That’s him. That’s his tradition.”

Moving forward

Fitts said he wants to hear what those at Tulane think, want and need in order to get to know each other and build a stronger undergraduate experience.

“I’m going to be spending a lot of time this year getting to know people on campus,” Fitts said. “[I am] going out to all the different schools at the university and various undergraduate groups. [I am] talking to them about Tulane and getting a feel for what they love about Tulane, what their hopes are and what they don’t like about Tulane. It’s a period of time for me to get to know the entire university on a very close level and for them to get to know me.”

Throughout all of this planning, Fitts said he most looks forward to becoming a Tulanian. 

“[What I look forward to most is] becoming a Tulanian in my personality and spirit,” Fitts said. “There is a quality to people at Tulane. They’re engaged. They’re spirited. They’re public-interested. They’re fun loving … I only took this job because of how special I thought Tulane was, the opportunities and because my personality fits so well with the Tulane personality.”