By Mike Strecker
Michael A. Fitts, dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, has been named the 15th president of Tulane University. Fitts will begin his term on July 1, when current President Scott Cowen retires after 16 years of service.
“After an exhaustive national search, which attracted many incredibly talented candidates, we found the individual who is uniquely qualified to guide, inspire and lead Tulane,” Board of Tulane President Darryl Berger said. “This is an exciting day for everyone who loves Tulane.”
A native of Philadelphia, Fitts earned a bachelor of arts from Harvard University in 1975. Inspired by the film To Kill a Mockingbird and its heroic protagonist, attorney Atticus Finch, Fitts enrolled in law school at Yale University. He became an editor of the Yale Law Journal and earned his juris doctor in 1979. Fitts began teaching at Penn in 1985 after serving as a clerk for civil rights advocate Judge Leon Higginbotham and as an attorney in the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. He was named law dean at Penn in 2000.
Fitts says his idealism is one of the things that brought him to Tulane.
“I’m excited and honored to join the Tulane community,” Fitts said. “Located in one of the world’s most dynamic cities, the university embodies a rich tradition of leadership and innovation in higher education. As a preeminent academic and research institution with a deep commitment to public service, Tulane is making a distinctive difference in the world. Our potential is unlimited.”
Under Fitts’ deanship, Penn Law has become a national leader in cross-disciplinary legal education, with 35 degree and certificate programs offered in partnership with other divisions of Penn, including its business and medical schools. He also increased the law school’s endowment by more than 250 percent, grew the number of law faculty by 40 percent and doubled all forms of student financial aid. Further, he created partnerships with institutions from Bangalore to Beijing and expanded public service opportunities for students and graduates.
“When we began this search back in June of last year, we made a wish list containing the characteristics of an ideal candidate. Mike not only meets these aspirations, he far exceeds them in every respect,” said Rick Rees, co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee, which was unanimous in its choice of Fitts. “He has a proven record of success at the top levels of higher education. He is extremely smart but unbelievably humble. He promises to be a great leader for Tulane and the city.”
“Mike possesses the rare combination of an affable personality and a keenly perceptive mind that will enable him to lead Tulane during this time of profound change and evolution in higher education,” said Andy Wisdom, co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “A leader like him does not come along very often. We were extremely fortunate to find such a perfect fit for Tulane.”
Fellow search committee member Laura Levy, vice president for research and a professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane, noted Fitts’ success in fostering collaboration between different schools within Penn.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about our President-elect,” Levy said. “His career has been marked by expertise in forming vital academic and research partnerships between seemingly disparate departments and schools at one of the nation’s leading universities. This interdisciplinary approach is the future of higher education and the key to reaching a new level of success for Tulane.”
Fitts has also written extensively on administrative law, presidential power, the separation of powers, improving the structure of political parties and executive branch decision-making. In 2013, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Board of Overseers announced a gift of $4.2 million to establish the Michael A. Fitts Distinguished Professor of Law, an endowed faculty chair named in his honor.