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My letter to the Board of Administrators

 
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wckirby



Joined: 10 Dec 2005
Posts: 355
Location: New Orleans

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 1:11 pm    Post subject: My letter to the Board of Administrators Reply with quote

I wrote one basic email. I altered a few things for each email. I sent each one individually. I know a few of the board members, or at least I know a little about a few of the board members, so I tried to add in things to their individual emails I thought they might be interested in (like complimenting Newcomb to the Newcomb grads). It's a form letter, but not quite a form letter. Each one got a personalized touch. And it only took a couple of hours. We'll see what sort of responses I get.




Dear Mr./Mrs./Dr. [Board Member],

My name is Clay Kirby. Iíve been a part of the Tulane community ever since I was born. I remember going to Tulane/LSU baseball games when I was 5 years old and yelling ďLSU stinks like poo, put those tigers in the zoo!Ē I originally wanted to go to Georgia Tech or the Naval Academy for college, but I changed my mind and came to Tulane. Iím so glad I changed my mind. Iíve been happy at Tulane ever since. I love Tulane.

Iím a good friend of Dr. John Karlem ďDuckyĒ Riess, who is more of a Tulane institution than the buildings at Tulane. Iíve known Ducky since I was born. Dr. Riess was key in convincing me to come to Tulane. I am the one who has chaperoned Dr. Riess to commencement the last few years. At the last commencement exercise, he leaned over to me and said he wished he could die right there, because then he would die happy. Over the summer, his health really started to fade, but I visited him almost every week.

Unfortunately, Ducky passed away in the aftermath of Katrina. The way he died still haunts me. I called everyone under the sun to find where he had been evacuated to, only to find out he was at the Caddo Parish Coronerís office. I had the regrettable task of telling his sister that Ducky was dead. I served as a pall-bearer at his funeral. Tulane has lost a valuable member of its community.

I will soon take my role in the city as an engineer protecting the future of this great city I call home. But first, I, along with the engineering students, faculty, alumni, and friends, will prevent Tulane from doing something that will cause as much harm to the long-term health of the city and Tulane as the engineers who constructed the 17th Street Canal.

Engineering is absolutely crucial to the long-term survival of New Orleans. Without Tulane importing good engineers from across the nation, New Orleans will succumb to the natural forces of coastal erosion, subsidence, wetland loss, etc. Your decision shows a total lack of understanding and lack of respect for the forces arrayed against New Orleans. Your decision amounts to nothing less that a blow to the city of New Orleans. Tulaneís School of Engineering has a chance to become an internationally renowned center for coastal restoration, wetland restoration, and flood protection like it was when Albert Baldwin Wood graduated.

Some have asserted that Tulaneís engineering program was too small to make a difference. I believe that couldnít be further from the truth. Itís precisely because of the small size that Tulane engineering has produced so many quality graduates who have made a real, lasting difference in New Orleans and all over the world. Albert Baldwin Wood. Robert Boh. Waldemar Nelson. The list goes on and on. Many of you personally know some of the engineers Iím talking about. You know what theyíve done for this city. Itís because of the excellent undergraduate engineering education they received at Tulane. The small class sizes and intimate nature of the small-sized engineering school have been key factors in their education.

Engineering has also been a magnet to attract the best and brightest students to Tulane. 9 out of the past 10 years, engineering has had the highest average SAT score of any academic unit at Tulane (Newcomb is a close second). Even students who arenít in engineering are attracted to schools with strong engineering programs and make no mistake, Tulaneís programs are very strong. In my department, mechanical engineering, professors generated an average of $225,000 in grant money per professor. This put them ahead of many other nationally prominent programs including Rice, Vanderbilt, and Duke. Donít forget that because of Tulaneís 48.5% tax on all incoming grants that they generated a lot of money for the university and given all the grant money thatís being handed out to local universities to study the effects of Katrina, that amount would only increase. One of my favorite professors, Dr. Calvin Mackie, was even part of the group that toured the levees in the Netherlands with the Louisiana congressional delegation.

On a personal note, I know every one of my professors and every one of them knows me. Not just my name, but they actually know who I am and care about me. The School of Engineering is so small I know almost every student in the entire senior class. At almost all other engineering schools, students are numbers who canít even get the time of day from the faculty.

It is also because of the small size of the programs that the financial savings resulting from the elimination of the core engineering programs is actually quite small. According to the university senate, the total savings from all engineering programs is only 6.1 million dollars a year out of a total university budget of well over half a billion dollars and even that savings wonít even be fully realized until 2008. Weíre really talking about 1% of the budget here. According to statements made at a recent public appearance by the President, the savings are even less than that. When those savings are arrayed against other factors, including the donation rate of engineering graduates, the loss of prestige, grant money the engineering could be pulling in as a result of Katrina, and the very real possibility of various legal challenges, I believe the elimination of engineering will be more costly to Tulane than its preservation. I believe that to implementing the Renewal Plan in its current form would kill Tulane University.

One problem you might not be aware of is the impending faculty exodus. Before the Renewal Plan was announced, only one professor wasnít returning. The Renewal Plan and the way it was carried out constitutes a betrayal of trust by the university towards the faculty. Within days of the Renewal Planís announcement, 10 faculty announced they werenít returning. Currently, the count stands at more than 40. The administration has estimated 10 percent of the faculty will leave before the start of the fall semester. The faculty that are leaving are among the stars of the university. The best professors are the ones most likely to get new jobs. What will happen if the biggest grant producers for the university leave? Just put yourself in the shoes of the students who are seeing their favorite faculty vote no confidence with their feet. What are the students to think? If the faculty exodus continues at the current pace, it will cause massive numbers of students to withdraw and go on to other universities. Other universities are seeking to poach Tulane of professors and students. Some, including Johns Hopkins, have been quite open in their attempts to poach students and faculty. I have several friends who have been contacted about transferring out of Tulane and they are all seriously considering leaving Tulane. Unless the Board takes decisive action, this Board could go down as Ďthe Board that killed Tulane.í

Itís a shame Ducky isnít with us anymore. You might not be aware of this, but Dr. Riess was a huge supporter of the engineering school. His father was a civil engineering graduate who constructed the home that protected Ducky from the worst ravages of the storm. Knowing Dr. Riess for almost 22 years, I can safely say that even in the bedridden state he was in just before Katrina, heíd be writing a very similar letter to each and every board member.

Fortunately, Iím just as stubborn as Dr. Riess. Iíve been fighting the Renewal Plan ever since I first learned about it and I donít plan on giving up anytime soon. There is always another way and I will help you come up with alternatives. No plan, especially the Renewal Plan, is perfect. Thereís always another way. Even if you do not reinstate engineering, I call on the Board to use the breathing room the reopening of Tulane has bought them to pause, really sit down and think about the entire Renewal Plan. Letís do this the right way. From everything Iíve read, seen, and heard, I believe this move was based on worst-case projections made in October and November and doesnít incorporate enough new data on the current state of affairs. I would love to see the entire Renewal Plan reviewed in detail with all of the facts by a panel of faculty, students, alumni, and board members. Letís just sit down, go through the plan piece by piece, and see what parts need to be kept, what needs to be altered, and what parts need to be reversed.

I will now close this letter with a story from my ministerís recent sermons.

The Southern Live Oak. Quercus virginiana. We enjoy their shade, but we donít truly appreciate them. Oaks have evolved over millions of years to resist rot, fire, wind, water, flood, and even hurricanes. Oaks are a symbol of durability. We need to also give thanks to the people that planted these trees. They never lived to enjoy the shade. It takes 50 years for an oak tree to mature. Planting an oak tree is nothing less than an act of faith in the future. Oak trees are the anti-quick fix.

Recently, Tulane has adopted a policy of not planting oak trees. Theyíre a constant headache for maintenance. They tear up sidewalks and attack foundations. But the biggest reason Tulane doesnít plant them anymore is they donít have an immediate payoff. The landscaping people would rather plant a few weed-like trees and move on.

Please, plant oak trees. And Iím not just talking about the ones made of wood.


Sincerely,


William Clay Kirby
4th generation Tulanian
11th generation New Orleanian
Mechanical Engineering Class of 2006


PS- Iíve learned that the administration is preparing a form letter for the Board members to respond to letters about the Renewal Plan. I took the time out to write a very personal message. I would prefer not to get a form letter written by someone else. Iíd like just a simple, ďthanks for your commentsĒ or even no response at all to someone elseís words.
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Clay Kirby
11th generation New Orleanian
4th generation Tulanian
Mechanical Engineering Class of '06
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Chris



Joined: 20 Dec 2005
Posts: 15

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 6:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Clay,

Your letter is phenomenal. I wonder if you shouldn't also copy it to the press group and perhaps send it as a letter to the ed at the TP. I would love to share this letter with Newcomb alumnae, as well, if you are willing (email or PM me).

You made me tear up, and I hope you don't mind if I steal a bit from your oak analogy for a final note to the BOA, myself.


Chris
Newcomb 91
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NC'91
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wckirby



Joined: 10 Dec 2005
Posts: 355
Location: New Orleans

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 7:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Share it with whatever you want and feel free for any creative theft you want. I've already gotten a couple of responses from the Board that I know weren't a form letter. Some of them actually READ my letter.
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Clay Kirby
11th generation New Orleanian
4th generation Tulanian
Mechanical Engineering Class of '06
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perturbed1



Joined: 12 Jan 2006
Posts: 87

PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 7:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That was a well written and powerful letter. It deserves a thought out and easoned response. I don't know if it is going to get one, but for now we have to have faith that this board will do the right thing. You don't take generations of history and tradition and flush them down the drain. That is not progress but hubris.
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paleoboy



Joined: 06 Feb 2006
Posts: 20

PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well done!

Charles Wendling, Jr., M.D. (A&S 1990)
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