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Sharing expertise – Xavier University’s partnership with Tulane University on public housing – Interview

What strengths does Xavier University bring to this partnership with Tulane University?

Our faculty and students have had a strong volunteer commitment, and
his has been true for the last ten years. What they brought to this
partnership is that sensitivity, that commitment, and that
identification with the you people in the projects. That’s not to
suggest that just being able to “identify” was sufficient, but in fact,
they understood the youngsters. They, themselves as students, have been
well-trained in their respective fields, as well as the faculty.

So what they brought to this project was what we call a diversity
that Tulane didn’t have, and it complemented the expertise that tulane
had in various fields.

Tulane and Xavier have a partnership that predates the CAP program. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Actually, about twenty years ago, Xavier and Tulane decided to do a
joint MBA program. Ten years prior to our starting the cooperative
arrangement, Tulane had graduated one African American in its graduate
program, its MBA program. And when they collaborated with us, with the
number of students we had, we [created] what you call a three-one-one.
A youngster in business administration at Xavier would spend three
years at Xavier, one year at Tulane and Xavier, and in their five year
go totally to Tulane. In the first ten years [of the program], they’ve
graduated thirty African Americans [as compared to] one in the previous
ten years.

So that was the start of a collaboration where we were able to
combine what I call respective and complementary strengths…. That was
our first collaboration.

After that. we joined with them in the while environmental program.
Again, Tulane has [done]great work and research [on] the environment.
We had youngsters in the sciences who wanted to study the environment,
who wanted to get involved in the environmental programs and the like.
And so we created a research project and then we created a center,
called the Center for Bioenvironmental Research. Now we have joint
appointments of faculty from Tulane and Xavier…. We have a lab up on
Tulane Avenue, which is across from the Medical Center, where we have
offices for faculty and students.

And so here again, we expanded the opportunity for our young
students to get a broader range of experiences than we could give on
the research level as well as in the graduate programs.

How did the CAP partnership come about?

[Our collaborations] started with business [and] went to science,
[so] it was a natural [by the time] we talked to then-HUD Secretary
[Henry] Cisneros…. Mayor [Marc Morial] was talking to Cisneros about
the housing authority. We [had] already started talking about how and
what we [might] do in working with the projects — and in particular,
the C.J. Peete project. We were looking at a comprehensive approach.
The value there, which again was a collaboration between the two
universities, was [that] universities have a lot of people with
different backgrounds and different skills to offer.

Heretofore, most housing authorities were providing a place for a
resident to live and to sleep, so to speak. Our feelings were there
ought to be a broader concept; there ought to be other services that
are not being provided right on site. Some of those would be tutoring
for the students, job placement, and the kinds of things that [act] as
a catalytic agent [so] we could connect the residents with health
services and social services. We took on the C.J. Peete project. So
this CAP program was a natural transition for partnerships with Tulane.

How does the CAP partnership benefit Xavier as an institution? How does it benefit students?

Every school says in its mission that a part of what they want to do
is to educate young students to be able to live the good life, earn a
living, and to serve others. You don’t always achieve that unless you
are conscious about what opportunities you provide [for them] to serve
others. Because [when] you think of going to college [you think you’ve]
got to go to class, got to go to lab, got to do [your] homework, got to
get through exams, and you wouldn’t normally think, “Where is that
opportunity and encouragement to give leadership?” You could say
student government, to a degree, but student government is [only] one

The community is a larger arena. [It] gives a student an
opportunity to work in what I call a measurable project that meets our
commitment and our mission to develop leadership and service. So, we
see the college experience at Xavier as not simply a classroom

Many times, universities forget that … they’re citizens of a
community. And just like any other citizen, they ought to be concerned
about how that community grows, how it thrives, and what one can do in
it…. We had youngsters volunteering in a lot of things, but this gave
us a direct measurable opportunity to give students the experience of
leadership and community service. And so it wasn’t just, “Well, we’re
going to do something good for the people.” We did a lot of good things
for ourselves. It’s a part of our total education.

Can you describe your relationship with Tulane’s president Dr. Eamon Kelly? Why have you been awe to work together?

You know in any collaboration — and particularly when you’re
talking about CEOs and chief executives — there’s got to be a
synergism. There’s got to be a compatibility and the like….

I’ve known Eamon for eighteen years. Eamon came to Tulane as an
executive vice-president … and I got to know him working with a
collaboration of businessmen and economists and the like before [his]
presidency. We like a lot of the same things: going out to sporting
events, going out to get a beer a couple of times — his family, his
wife, and mine. We were good friends. He became president, and that did
not interfere with our relationship. In fact, it increased that

And what I find in him, which is very much like myself, is that we
were not — how should I put it — we were not enamored with the role
of being a president. Some people get to be a CEO and they almost wear
it on their chest. “You know I’m the president,” they say. That’s not
true of Eamon. That’s not true of myself. And we have the same, I
think, approach to things. You got a problem? What is it? How do we
solve it? And what people do we need to give the responsibility to and
let them go?

We both saw our role as sort of like cheerleaders and supporters.
And in almost all the projects we had, we got good people to give us
leadership. We gave them the authority to do it and all we did was say,
“What do we do to help?”

Our personalities have melded tremendously. I can say to you that I
haven’t seen an arrogant or an [egotistical] part of Eamon, and it
worked very well for us.

But there’s something else about Eamon that I appreciate. Eamon
grew up in the Bronx. He had a good background working in the Ford
Foundation, in particularly in what we call minority community
underdevelopment. I knew of him before he came — not in person, but by
his work. He funded from the Ford Foundation a group of farmers from
southwest Louisiana. He gave them money to let them be able to develop
their crops; market their crops; bring them to market and the rest. And
that told me that here was a guy who understood how the rubber hit the
road, and what was important to do for minorities in particular. He was
at ease and comfortable with everybody, and he made it easy. We could
tell each other how exactly we felt, and not get offended. it has
worked very well.

Has the CAP partnership allowed Dr. Kelly and you to continue a positive working relationship?

Absolutely! In fact, he and I probably see more things we ought to
be doing, would like to be doing — but that’s just part of our nature.
We are always two steps away from where we are allowed to be because of
the limitations of personnel, funding, and the like. I would say that
Eamon is a visionary. He sees things that other people don’t think

I kid him every now and then: he was mayor of a little town in New
Jersey, so he came through the political process. I’m not an educator
by training, I’m a lawyer. So again,…natural backgrounds [that have]
worked very well [together].

And I must say as I look to the future. I met the new president
[Dr. Scott Cowan] and he has committed to me almost the same way Eamon

Are you optimistic the CAP program will become a national model?

I would hope the CAP program would become a national model because,
number one, we’ve got housing units in projects all over the United
States [and] we’ve got colleges and universities all over the United
States. It seems to me we ought to use the resources of those
universities in cities where we have housing projects to be able to
improve the quality of life for people who live in the projects as well
as perhaps look at the whole concept of the housing project.

We’re [already] doing this kind of thing, in a sense. Ron Mason,
who is a staff member at Tulane, is the monitor, so to speak, of the
housing authority. He and his staff are looking at how to deliver
housing services in a different way. I would hope that this would be
done in other cities as well. These are resources that should be used,
and they’re there — certainly the student side is there [the] faculty
side is there.

And [there’s] something else we get out of it. I can’t imagine a
faculty member who teaches sociology, social work, psychology, [or] any
field [in] public health not growing and learning from seeing the kinds
of realities of those disciplines in the community, and not being
motivated [and] inspired to relook at the textbooks they’re using [and]
the experiences they’re talking about. It’s a reality check, in a way,
that you can marry academics and the real world. And to me, it’s a
win-win [situation].

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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