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President, Xavier University of Louisiana
Biographical Background: The student who does well at Xavier University is someone who has heart, an appreciation for diligent work, the determination to use his or her talents to the fullest, and the courage to ask for help when it is needed.
No one knows this better than Norman Francis, whose academic career at Xavier has spanned more than five decades since the day he first set foot on the Xavier campus as a student at the only historically black and Catholic university in the United States.
A 1952 graduate, Francis returned to his alma mater in 1955 to begin an illustrious administrative career which began as dean of men and culminated in his current position as university president. Since his appointment as president in 1968, the university has more than tripled its enrollment, broadened its curriculum, expanded its campus and received national attention for its award-winning academic initiatives and programs. Its tradition of academic excellence has surpassed the dreams of its original founders, Saint Katherine Drexel and her religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Admired for his sharp mind, revered for his modesty and praised for his dedication to his cause, Francis enjoys a prestigious national reputation. He has served in an advisory role to five U.S. presidents -- including the historic National Commission on Excellence in Education, whose findings, published in A Nation at Risk, created a sense of urgency for bringing about educational reform in the nation's school system. He has served as chairman of the Member President's Council for the United Negro College Fund, former president of the American Association of Higher Education, former member of the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Foundation for the Improvement in Education, former chairman of the board of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, immediate past chairman of the Board of Educational Testing Service, and past member of the board of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.
He has provided leadership for civil rights, educational, civic and religious organizations throughout his career. He serves as chairman of the board for the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta, a member of the board of directors of the American Council on Education and a member of the National Sciences Foundation 2000 Advisory Committee. He also is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary degrees from 28 institutions of higher education.
In New Orleans, he serves as chairman of the board for Liberty Bank and Trust, co-chair of the Committee for a Better New Orleans, on the Advisory Board of the Times Picayune Publishing Co., and an advisory member of the Business Council of New Orleans, as well as many other local organizations.
Following his graduation from Xavier, Francis attended Loyola University Law School, and, in 1955, became the first African American to receive a law degree from the university. His legacy as the first African American lay president of Xavier is epitomized in Francis' unwavering commitment to educational and social freedom and equality, spiritual enlightenment and community service.
Return to 2004 Commencement press release
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