Late last November, as Tulane's campus was winding down for Thanksgiving break, University President Michael Fitts sat on an airplane, reading through a sheaf of documents.
hectic first year on the job, Fitts
was crisscrossing the country, introducing himself to donors and alumni associations.
But in this quiet moment midair, the former law professor finally had time to focus on his students.
read deeply moved him, but also left him worried.
was only a few months into his
new job, and five of his
students were dead, three of them by suicide.
Here in front of him was a 28-page compendium of students' firsthand accounts of their experiences with his
school's mental health system.
Some of them directly criticized Fitts
, saying he
didn't seem to care enough about what was obviously a dire situation.
"The comments were very helpful for me in getting the sense of the pain out there and also what were the issues in the uppermost in people's mind," Fitts
tapped out a reply to Arora on his
iPhone, apologizing for his
"grueling" travel schedule, which prevented him from interacting with students as much as he
would have liked to.
"We are definitely talking about ways we can support all members of Tulane who may be at risk," he
Knowing the problem isn't unique to Tulane doesn't bring much comfort to Fitts
, who still must find a way to boost the psychological health of his
campus - or risk losing more lives.
Michael Fitts, Tulane's president, on Oct. 3, 2013, when he was still dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)
, Tulane's president, on Oct. 3, 2013, when he
was still dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law
"Obviously, universities are not in a position to provide long-term care for an entire university experience," Fitts
said in an interview in December.
- Michael Fitts, Tulane President
and Porter both point out that the school is actually doing better than its peers in terms of the number of psychologists and therapists it employs.
The open letter Shefali Arora wrote to Tulane President Michael Fitts, on the school's mental health crisis. Dozens of students wrote about their own ...
The open letter Shefali Arora wrote to Tulane President Michael Fitts, on the school's mental health crisis.
has been focusing on other ways to improve mental health on campus - and is still struggling to understand what's driving the increasing mental distress among college students.
"Clearly, it is a pressured time to be an 18-year-old in the United States," he
"There are anxieties about your career, your personal life, that may not have been as true years ago."
theorized that the breakdown of religious and family support structures over the past few decades has left some kids feeling lost.
The trend toward going to college farther away from home separates students from their social support networks even more.
This is especially true for Tulane students, who are on average farther from home than students at any other college in the country.
said one part of his
strategy to boost mental health on campus is to "really provide a community at Tulane" that could try to replicate what students lose when they leave their families and homes to come to New Orleans.