Lefton leaves post-Katrina legacy at Tulane

Sean Joseph

On a hurricane-ravaged campus in a hurricane-ravaged city, finding a new provost to replace Lester Lefton, who is expected to replace Kent State President Carol Cartwright, will be another dramatic change.

“Tulane is resilient,” said Christian Brady, director of the Honors Program at Tulane. “We’ve had so many changes and so many things going on this year, it’s just going to be one more.”

Lawrence Ponoroff, dean of Tulane’s Law School, described Lefton as one of Tulane President Scott Cowen’s right-hand men during the post-Katrina era at the university. Ponoroff said he was surprised Lefton is leaving, but that Lefton was worthy of the career advancement and would thrive at Kent State.

“The experience he has had, not just in his five years as provost, but through this catastrophic event has developed his leadership skills into something very few people would be able to emulate,” Ponoroff said. “(Lefton) was critical to Tulane reopening this spring after Katrina and to the renewal plan the university set forth.”

Lefton and his staff were in charge of the academic side of the renewal plan at Tulane. Ponoroff said Tulane’s colleges are traditionally autonomous, but during the renewal plan, which is expected to take about 15 more months, the university administration has a much more centralized role.

Even before Katrina, Lefton initiated a program critical for student retention; post-Katrina, the program became mandatory for incoming freshmen. Tulane Interdisciplinary Experiences is a freshman orientation program that groups about 12 freshmen and a senior faculty member in a subject-specific class. Brady said the program has been critical to Tulane’s student retention rate, which has traditionally been lower than the rates of competing universities such as Vanderbilt.

Brady said Lefton was always willing to work with people above and below him, but he does not micromanage.

“Deans have wanted him to make difficult decisions, and he always throws it back at them,” Brady said. “He is willing to let (deans) live and die by their decisions. He’ll give them advice and suggestions, and he will be supportive, but he won’t make the decisions for them.”

Jane Carter, associate professor of classical languages, who also serves with Lefton on Tulane’s University Senate, said Lefton seems to always be well-informed and in control.

Carter said Lefton makes the effort to meet all the faculty instead of staying in the administration offices. She described him as a quick thinker who comes up with innovative solutions to old problems, such as retention.

Lefton also has provided the service learning department with more resources and helped initiate community service as a required element of Tulane’s curriculum, said Anne McCall, associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Tulane has a unique make-up that Lefton should be able to use to benefit Kent State, McCall said. Seventy percent of Tulane’s student body comes from more than 500 miles away, adding to the post-Katrina challenges. McCall said the university is moving quickly to recover right now, but she is confident the progress will not slow down in the provost’s office because of the competent staff Lefton will leave behind.

Contact public affairs reporter Sean Joseph at mailto:[email protected].