The man Time magazine once dubbed one of the nation’s 10 best college presidents has been named a new Case Western Reserve University trustee. Scott Cowen, who retired earlier this year as president of Tulane University, joins the board of the institution he served for more than two decades—first as a faculty member, and then also as dean of the Weatherhead School of Management.
“Scott brings a unique blend of experience within Case Western Reserve and as a nationally respected leader in higher education,” board chairman Chuck Fowler said. “We are delighted that he now will bring us all of that knowledge and insight as a trustee.”
Cowen, who gained national acclaim for his success in preserving Tulane after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, served as one of four members of a 2006 “President’s Advisory Group” formed to provide guidance to the Board of Trustees and Presidential Search Committee during the process that ended in the appointment of current President Barbara R. Snyder. He also returned to campus in 2011, where he gave the commencement address and accepted an honorary degree.
“I care deeply about the success of Case Western Reserve and am honored by this opportunity to give back to the university,” Cowen said. “The university has gained remarkable momentum since Barbara’s arrival, and I look forward to doing all that I can to help continue that progress.”
Cowen, a New Jersey native, earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut before declining a graduate student deferment to enroll in Officer Candidate School with the U.S. Army. He later earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in business at George Washington University, then taught at Bucknell University and the University of Virginia. He arrived in Cleveland as a faculty member in 1978, and became dean six years later. Cowen’s tenure at the Weatherhead School included nationally recognized curriculum reform, significant growth in applications, and a gift from innovative executive and philanthropist Peter B. Lewis to provide a stunning new home for the Weatherhead School of Management.
While at Tulane, Cowen initially made headlines for his advocacy of strong academic standards in Division I athletics. His response in the wake of Katrina, however, propelled him to far greater prominence. He stayed on campus so long in August 2005 that his eventual escape from the rising waters involved a boat, golf cart, dump truck and helicopter.
Working from a makeshift administrative office in Houston, he worked with school leaders to find Tulane students spots at other campuses for the fall semester, and then to ensure Tulane re-opened in the spring despite $650 million of storm-related damage. Doing so involved massive fundraising, reassurance of families, and a drastic Renewal Plan that involved closing the university’s women’s college and a majority of engineering programs, laying off faculty and staff, and eliminating eight sports. In January 2005, more than 80 percent of first-year students returned, and more than 90 percent of all students did.
Beyond his efforts for Tulane, Cowen also engaged aggressively in supporting its city. He served on the Bring New Orleans Back Commission and traveled widely to tout the city’s revival to national leaders. He also directly led efforts to renew New Orleans’ struggling school system. In addition to the honor from Time magazine, 2009 also saw Cowen win a Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award. A year later he received New Orleans’ prestigious Loving Cup for his contributions to the community. He also was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010. This year, meanwhile, he published The Inevitable City: The Resurgence of New Orleans and the Future of Urban America. He and his wife, Marjorie, still call the city home.