The Myth of the Ivory Tower

From the Dean

By Ira Solomon, dean, A. B. Freeman School of Business

A few weeks ago, I was discussing the strategy behind the Stewart Center CBD, our new facility in downtown New Orleans, when a colleague casually referenced a concept we’ve all heard before: the ivory tower.

His point was that the Stewart Center CBD — through both its location and programming — stands in sharp contrast to the stereotypical notion of a university detached from its community. That observation brings up a fact that I think too few of us truly appreciate: Tulane University has never been an ivory tower.

The Medical College of Louisiana, the precursor to Tulane, was founded in 1834 not as an elitist citadel but as a practical response to the very real — and very local — threats of cholera and yellow fever. Eighty years later, Tulane University’s College of Commerce and Business Administration was similarly established not to ruminate on economic theory but to provide local businesses with employees equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills to compete in a changing, post-Panama Canal world.

Since then, both Tulane and the A. B. Freeman School of Business have continued to tackle problems of local significance and global proportions. You see it in our research. You see it in our academic programs. You see it in our service learning and community outreach. And you see it in our alumni, who use their Tulane experience to take on the world’s greatest challenges.

And therein, I think, lies part of the problem: People sometimes confuse our focus on global issues with a lack of concern for the local. In actuality, the very opposite is true.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Tulane University recognized that the health of the university was inextricably linked to the health of the local community. Through a renewed focus on New Orleans, Tulane could
help ensure the long-term survival of this remarkable city while developing real-world expertise and better preparing students to address society’s most pressing challenges.

When I became dean of the Freeman School in 2011, I embraced the notion of using New Orleans as a laboratory for learning, research and innovation. Since then, we’ve worked vigorously to build strong connections between Freeman and the business community: Our Business TIDES students work with local nonprofits like Upturn Arts to implement marketing strategies. Our MBA students work with local companies like Zatarain’s to explore new product opportunities. Our Master of Business Analytics students recently worked with the New Orleans Pelicans to analyze attendance patterns and recommend data-driven marketing strategies. And through our Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, we support and help grow the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through programs like the Tulane Business Model Competition and New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

By focusing on New Orleans, we are providing extraordinary learning opportunities for students while helping to build a stronger, more vibrant economy, one that will ultimately benefit us all.

The Stewart Center CBD, which opened in January 2019, is an essential component in this strategy. This stunningly restored facility places us in the heart of the city’s business, technology and hospitality districts, strategically positioning us to more effectively deliver programs serving the area’s more than 65,000 working professionals. In addition to serving as the new home of our executive MBA program, the Stewart Center CBD will house custom non-degree executive programs, enabling us to meet a growing demand for short-term courses that inculcate the applied knowledge and skills needed to compete. We also hope to leverage our proximity to the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute to deliver programs related to our new initiative on entrepreneurial hospitality. Finally, the space will enable us to host events that bring our students closer to working professionals, building connections that can lead to jobs, new business ventures and, ultimately, a greater sense of community.

For more than 100 years, the Freeman School has enjoyed a close relationship with the New Orleans business community. With the opening of the Stewart Center CBD, we hope to build on that relationship and become an even more central part of the city’s economic revitalization.

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