Elaine Borawski was a graduate student when she first met Scott Cowen more than 30 years ago.
Then dean of Weatherhead School of Management, Cowen immediately impressed her with his kindness and humor.
After he left to lead Tulane University in 1998, she recalled: “I remember thinking it was too bad we couldn’t have held onto him.”
So when Cowen agreed to serve as Case Western Reserve’s interim president starting Oct. 1, Borawski, now a longtime medical school faculty member, was thrilled.
“And when COVID-19 hit,” she explained, “I felt like he came back exactly when we needed him most.”
Borawski was one of nearly 400 faculty, staff and students who responded to university leaders’ request last week to share memories and expressions of appreciation as Cowen completes his last day as interim president.
The comments repeatedly featured words like brilliant, empathetic, and authentic—as well as calm, positive and inspirational. The phrase ‘Thinking Out Loud’—a reference to Cowen’s bi-weekly emails— appeared more than 350 times; more than 150 of those responding indicated that they had not met Cowen, but felt they knew him through those writings.
“Every time I read one of his Thinking Out Loud messages,” Digital Video Specialist Mike Becher wrote, “I felt like he was speaking directly to me.”
Oviatt Professor of English Kimberly Emmons added: “I particularly appreciated the time President Cowen took to share his thoughts and experiences with the CWRU community—the ‘Thinking Out Loud Messages’ were a way to connect in utterly dislocated times.”
And Matt Burdett, the medical school’s assistant director for facilities, noted: “I loved that Scott showed the university that he was human through his writings.”
Several others emphasized that Cowen was as engaging and caring in person, whether “Zoom-bombing” to present a faculty member with a teaching or mentoring award or spontaneously pitching in on part of a spring campus admissions tour.
For Samantha Ciriaco, the law school’s director of experiential opportunities and outreach, Cowen’s opening comment when meeting with the Staff Advisory Council’s Executive Board stood out most.
“He started with the question: ‘How are each of you doing?’” she recalled. “He put us first… It was a genuine question.”
Just as importantly, many observed, Cowen’s actions demonstrated the sincerity of his words. Several praised the university’s testing program, as well as the efforts to provide vaccinations to the Cleveland and campus community.
“Thank you for taking quick action to combat COVID-19 and providing vaccines for students, faculty, and the community,” wrote one undergraduate who wished to remain anonymous. “Thank you for also… making the university a better and safer place.”
Added another: “Thank you for being the best introduction to CWRU I could’ve asked for! As a first-year who has never been to campus, I will always look at Cleveland through your eyes.”
Cowen will receive a compilation of all of the comments submitted later this year, but Fred DiSanto, chair of the university’s board of trustees, did not want to let Cowen’s final hours as interim president end without expressing his own gratitude as well.
“Scott steered Case Western Reserve through the worst moments of the pandemic, supporting campus-wide testing, community and university vaccinations, and health protocols that always put safety first,” DiSanto said. “We will always appreciate the wisdom, strength, and compassion he demonstrated during this difficult time.”