This month in The Firm Line, I’d like to focus on some recent developments at New Orleans’ own Xavier University that I consider a huge win both for Xavier and for our city.

Xavier is one of America’s 107 Historically Black Universities and Colleges, and it has always offered an extraordinary college education to promising students who — in some instances because of social status, poverty or, in the past, race — might not otherwise have been able to pursue higher education at all.

Under the guidance of Xavier’s faculty and administrators, many of those students have not only exceeded expectations, they’ve totally blown them away:

  • With only about 3,000 students, Xavier nevertheless ranks first among all American universities in the number of African American graduates who go on to complete medical school.
  • Xavier also ranks first among all American universities in the number of African American students who earn undergraduate degrees in life sciences or physical sciences.
  • Xavier’s College of Pharmacy is ranked fourth in the nation for the number of African American Doctors of Pharmacy it graduates.

I am honored to serve as a member of Xavier’s Board of Trustees, and when the school’s beloved president Dr. Norman Francis announced he would retire this year–after leading Xavier for 47 years — I also chaired the committee that searched the country for Dr. Francis’ replacement. That search process ended in success when we nominated Dr.C.Reynold Verret for the job. I am thrilled that the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hire him.

Dr. Verret’s resumé is dazzling. He has been provost of both Savannah State University and Wilkes University, dean of the Misher College of Arts and Sciences at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and a faculty member at both Clark Atlanta University and Tulane University. He received his PhD in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and he did post-doctoral work at MIT and at Yale.

I invite you to read the following excellent New York Times Magazine story about Xavier, as well as the other articles below which recall several of the most compelling chapters in Xavier’s 100-year history.

A Prescription for More Black Doctors

The New York Times Magazine, 9/9/15

How does tiny Xavier University manage to send more African-American students to medical school than any other college in the country?”

Xavier Names C. Reynold Verret, Provost at Savannah State, as Next President

The New Orleans Advocate, 5/14/15

“What stood out was that there were the communities and neighborhoods where people actually remain and families remain, and there are connections that go very far.” — Dr. C. Reynold Verret, on the reasons he chose to take the job as Xavier’s new president

New Orleanian of the Year 2007: Dr. Norman Francis

Gambit Weekly, 1/8/08

“When the definitive story of Louisiana’s recovery is written, one person who likely will emerge as a quiet hero will be a soft-spoken university president who had to be talked into taking the reins of the state’s official recovery authority.”

On His Last Day at Xavier, Norman Francis Is Remembered for Providing Refuge to Freedom Riders

The Times-Picayune, 6/30/15

“Francis watched as the bloody and bandaged passengers piled out of cars in front of St. Michael’s. ‘It was a sad and triumphant sight,‘ he said.”

Sit-ins at Canal Street Lunch Counters 50 Years Ago That Sparked a Civil Rights Case That Went All the Way to the Supreme Court

The Times-Picayune, 9/18/10

“Those people who had the courage to speak changed history…We remember and we’re incredibly grateful.” — Mayor Mitch Landrieu, describing protesters like Xavier student Rudy Lombard, the first African American man to defy the whites-only lunch counter rules in New Orleans

A Promised Fulfilled

The New Orleans Tribune, 2015

“I’m convinced Xavier will soar after my retirement.” — Tweet from Xavier’s Dr. Norman Francis, on the announcement of his retirement as president of Xavier after 47 years

Author: Gladstone N. Jones, III