New Orleans, LA – Dr. Norman C. Francis, the nation’s longest serving university president, today announced that he plans to retire as president of Xavier University of Louisiana, effective June 30, 2015.
“After nearly 47 years, I believe that the time has come to take the brightly burning torch turned over to me by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and pass it on to new leadership,” Dr. Francis told a campus wide Convocation of the University community late Thursday morning.
“I do so with the passionate confidence and absolute certainty that Xavier is better prepared than ever to continue its educational and spiritual mission, and to build on its tradition of excellence,” Dr. Francis said.
“This morning, my fellow board members and I accepted Dr. Francis’ request to retire as Xavier’s president, effective June 30, 2015,” said Michael Rue, Chairman of the Xavier University Board of Trustees.
“We all wish Dr. Francis could remain as Xavier’s president for at least 50 more years. We take solace in the realization that Dr. Francis will be forever with us through the institution he helped shape,” Mr. Rue said.
“Dr. Francis has led Xavier University to forge ahead on the noble path that was blazed by Xavier’s founder, Saint Katharine Drexel — and he has built sustainable momentum over decades that will continue moving Xavier forward far into the future,” Mr. Rue said.
Dr. Francis: “Xavier is better prepared than ever to build on its tradition of excellence”
“Xavier University has been transformed under Dr. Francis’ leadership,” said Michael Rue, Chairman of the Xavier Board of Trustees. “Under Dr. Francis’ leadership, enrollment has tripled and the university’s endowment has grown from under $20 million to more than $160 million.”
“Since Dr. Francis became president, a campus of five permanent buildings that could fit on one city block has grown to 16 permanent buildings and manicured green spaces extending out over 63.4 acres, Mr. Rue said.
During Dr. Francis’ tenure as president, Xavier has received a constantly increasing volume of national recognition for outstanding academic achievements especially in the sciences and pre-medical areas, rigorous graduation requirements and our scholarly athletes, as well as the intellectual and moral quality of the alumni.
“Today, Xavier is first in nation in the number of African Americans earning bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, and, physical sciences and we’ve held this position at the top for the past decade,” Mr. Rue said.
Xavier is 5th in nation in producing African Americans who earn science and mathematics PhD’s and the 1st in life sciences; Xavier is the number one undergraduate source of African Americans who earn medical degrees; and Xavier is 3rd in nation in producing African Americans who earn Doctorates in pharmacy.
While continuing a strong liberal arts core education and offering a wide variety of majors, Xavier has also begun new programs under Dr. Francis leadership. One of the most significant is the unique and transformational Institute for Black Catholic Studies begun in 1980. More recently programs of study in Communications Studies and Public Health Sciences have begun and a doctoral degree in Education is slated to begin in the Fall of 2015.
Dr. Francis’ has been affiliated with Xavier for most of 66 years, arriving at Xavier from Lafayette as a 17 year old freshman in 1948, and quickly emerged as a leader, elected class president all four every year of his undergraduate study, and student body president in his senior year.
“As a student, I was challenged: Challenged to apply disciplined commitment to my studies — Challenged to care about and consider others in all that I did — Challenged to dream of a better world that I could be a part of making,” Dr. Francis recalled.
After earning his undergraduate degree in 1952, Dr. Francis became the first African American to attend from Loyola Law School in New Orleans. After graduation from Loyola Law School, Dr. Francis served in the U.S. Army. After being discharged from the Army, Dr. Francis worked on special assignment with the U.S. Attorney General to help desegregate federal agencies. In the early days of his legal career, he worked to fight segregation, forging common ground as a mediator and serving as legal counsel to activists.
Dr. Francis decided to forgo a promising legal practice for a career in education, where he thought he could be of greater service. In 1957 he was appointed Xavier’s dean of men and quickly rose through the ranks to become the first African American and first layman to serve as President of Xavier University in 1968.
While guiding Xavier to higher standards of academic achievement, Dr. Francis has emerged as a civic leader and statesman. He has served as an advisor and confidante to governors, mayors, diplomats, heads of state and U.S. Presidents.
He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including serving as chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Francis leadership and service has been recognized by scores of awards and honors, including the American Civil Liberties Union’s highest honor in recognition of his human and civil rights leadership; The Times Picayune Loving Cup and, in 2006, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor.
“Guided by his deep Catholic faith, Dr. Francis has unselfishly dedicated his life to service. He exemplifies what it means to be a servant-leader and embodies the values upon which Xavier was founded,” said Mr. Rue.
“For nearly 47 years it has been an honor and privilege for me to lead this great institution, and I have been blessed each day by the inspiration of St. Katharine Drexel and by the commitment of our outstanding faculty, dedicated staff, promising students and loyal alumni,” Dr. Francis said.
“I could not in words, alone, express my most heartfelt and sincerest gratitude for the rewarding opportunities I have been blessed to have had at Xavier, both as a student and as an administrator, said Dr. Francis. “I have witnessed the incredible commitment to its mission and the quality of service of generations of trustees, faculty, staff and members of religious orders. Nothing has brought me greater joy than participating in the growth experiences of innumerable students — who achieved their respective personal and career goals at Xavier. As alumni, these men and women affirm Xavier’s distinction for quality and excellence across the country and around the world,” Dr. Francis added.