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A ‘Q & A’ with Xavier University’s president, Dr. Verret

22nd September 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Kendall Lawson
Contributing Writer

It’s been years since Xavier University has had to choose a new leader. For some, finding a candidate to carry on the legacy of the recently retired Dr. Norman Francis might seem daunting, but for the Board of Trustees, it was a challenge well met.

Dr. C. Reynold Verret, a native of Haiti who arrived in New York in 1963 as a refugee, took the reigns as President of Xavier University of Louisiana in July, and has great plans for the continued success of the university.

Dr. Verret graduated as an honors student with a degree in biochemistry from Colombia University. He received his doctorate in biochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Howard Hughes Institute for Immunology at Yale University and the Center for Cancer Research at MIT.

This is not Verret’s first experience with a Historically Black College and Universities. He was previously Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Savannah State, Georgia’s first historically Black college, since 2012. He also served as the chair of chemistry at Clark Atlanta University.

Why is an HBCU and African-American media important to a community like New Orleans?

Verret: This university educates individuals who are essential to New Orleans’ economy and society. Xavier as a HBCU where students are receiving an excellent education and from which students go on to take leadership roles in this state and nationally is a potent example and motivation for the youth of New Orleans and its surroundings. Through the success of its graduates, Xavier is a symbol of hope to the youth of the city and also throughout the nation, a sign that they too can succeed and realize their dreams.

Xavier faculty and students engage in scholarship that in many instances pertains specifically to African-American experience and destiny here in Louisiana and the United States. Scholarship and research at Xavier also address the matters pertaining to the broader African diaspora throughout the Americas, and especially in the Caribbean, which has had foundational influence on the evolution of New Orleans and of the Gulf Coast. This is similar to the role of African-American media, as a constituent of “American” media, which brings critical analysis and emphasis on issues pertaining to the African-American experience and social justice.

What role do you envision in the future that Xavier will play in this city as the historical purpose and place of HBCU’s continues to evolve in the 21st century?

Verret: Xavier will continue to educate individuals who continue to develop and to shape New Orleans. Educated talent is essential to the workforce of a 21st-century economy. Our graduates will be the leaders, educators, managers, entrepreneurs, and varied health workers important to development of the city and its environs.

Through the expertise of its faculty and students, the university will also provide objective analysis and information that decision makers in the public and private sector require for their work on behalf of the region.

What are the greatest needs of the New Orleans area, and how does Xavier provide solutions and resources to the community?
Verret: Not unlike many US cities, New Orleans remains a divided society. This is our greatest challenge. Xavier University must prepare its students and position itself to contribute to bridging this divide.

Also, quality education for all remains a work in progress, despite the improvements that have occurred post Katrina. Our engagement with K-12 education, in partnership with the other colleges and universities of the city, is much needed.

What are your short-term goals as Xavier’s new president with regards to the community and your long-term goals for the university with regards to its outreach in the community?

Verret: Short-term issues for Xavier include enrollment goals, and also improving retention and graduation rates. An important factor in the retention challenge is the economic stress on many families. Resources to support students are a goal.

In the longer term Xavier must broaden its curricular offerings. It must examine new programs needed by adult learners. Xavier must also improve its communication and share with the world the quality of its good work.

What attracts you most about New Orleans and how has the transition to the Big Easy been since your arrival in the summer.

Verret: I have loved the city of New Orleans, since having lived here more than two decades ago. The transition has been joyful, especially due to the welcome of colleagues and other friends of the university in the community.

What about your personal background, career, experiences helps you to adjust to being a college president at an HBCU, in New Orleans, after a major disaster?

Verret: Two things: Years of leadership and problem solving at many levels in higher education at varied institutions and a capacity to listen and to integrate diverse perspectives.

This article originally published in the September 21, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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