ELIZABETH PERRIN PHOTOGRAPH
When the announcement was made last December that University of New Orleans had a new president, Dr. Peter Fos, it was like a big hurdle had been jumped. After 18 months without permanent leadership (though there was an acting chancellor/interim president), now the serious business of supporting and transforming the university could get started.
With Dr. Fos, they got a president who hit the ground running – a president with a distinct sense of place. Fos is a native of New Orleans, and a UNO graduate (Class of ’72), bringing with him a knowledge of the history of the city and of the university’s uniqueness.
Now, as UNO President, Dr. Fos says, “It’s important that I reconnect – to make relationships.” It is interesting to note that his phone’s ringtone is “Come Together” by The Beatles – a song that ultimately is about exactly that, coming together after difficult times.
Overcoming obstacles seems to be a continuing theme in Fos’ life. Like quite a few of today’s UNO students, he couldn’t afford a private university, but still wanted a good education. Of note, he was also the first person in his family – even amongst his cousins – to earn a college degree. After earning his DDS and studying for his master’s in public health, he got into a serious car accident that damaged one of his hands enough that he could no longer practice as a dentist, leading to a career in academia. He has held positions at: Tulane University, where he taught for 17 years; University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine; Mississippi State Department of Health; University of Southern Mississippi; and University of Texas at Tyler. Finally, Fos became a professor and program director of health policy and systems management at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, the position he held before becoming UNO President.
Established in 1958, UNO has had some notable graduates – in addition to Dr. Fos: James H. Clark, co-founder of Silicon Graphics, Inc. and Netscape Communications; Errol Laborde, editor of this publication; Clancy DuBos, publisher of Gambit; Joel Chaisson, former president of the Louisiana State Senate; Jim Tucker, former Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives; Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney; Matt Williams, writer and executive producer of “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne”; and DJ Soul Sister (Melissa Weber), one of New Orleans’ top DJs (profiled in this magazine’s “Persona,” April 2006), to name just a few.
And while Dr. Fos is busy reconnecting to the UNO staff and faculty and the local community, as well as managing an urban university and dealing with legislative budget cuts, ultimately, he says, “The students come first.”
What are the top 6 things about UNO that most people don’t know? UNO has the best business school (College of Business Administration) in the state. UNO is among 178 schools in the world that offer double accreditation in accounting (AACSB International accounting accreditation). Currently, the only other university in the state that offers this is Louisiana Tech.
The master's program at the Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration has 100-percent placement after graduation.
UNO has a great impact on the film industry: Most of the movies shot in New Orleans are edited at the Robert E. Nims Center Studios.
UNO’s College of Education and Human Development is the only university in the Greater New Orleans area that offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees [for school-career professionals and community counselors].
The Merritt C. Becker Jr. UNO Transportation Institute offers students transportation studies in relation to rail, port and other transportation systems.
The UNO Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering program is one of only three in the United States, and one of only two that offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
Why is UNO important to New Orleans and to local students? I think it’s very important … as UNO goes, the city goes; as the city goes, so does UNO. I was asked by someone that, when the University of Louisiana system took over, if the name would change. I said it would not, but if I could change it, it would be University for New Orleans.
Students who can’t afford other universities come here, as well as those who need to work while getting their degrees. UNO has a number of older students. It’s school where students of different religious and cultural backgrounds can mix. We have students from Nepal, and isn’t it great that in a classroom a student from Algiers can sit next to a student from Nepal?
What is your average day – if there is one? There isn’t! I found out that because there had been an interim president for so long, that a lot of my time was spent listening to people telling me their issues and concerns. I also attend legislative sessions. And the rest of the time I’m managing the school – it’s a big operation: $120 million budget, 11,000 students and 1,727 employees. I also find that my evenings are spent at meetings and dinners.
I notice that you have a blog, “Notes from the Lakeshore: From the desk of President Fos” (fos.uno.edu/welcome-to-the-presidents-blog).
Why did you start it? To improve communication with the students, faculty and staff. Twitter was also recommended, but I’m not quite ready for that.
I do a weekly posting on Friday. I want to communicate what I’m doing that would be helpful to students.
True confession: I’m a softie when it comes to my grandchildren. I also don’t spend money on myself – I spend it on my wife and children first.
Edit Note: The author of this article is on staff at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which is affiliated with the University of New Orleans.
At a Glance
Age: 62 Profession: President, University of New Orleans Resides: Lakeview Born/raised: New Orleans. I grew up by the St. Roch playground neighborhood Family: wife Lori, a UNO graduate; children Tammy, 29, and Timothy, 25; and two grandchildren (a boy and a girl) Education: Graduated from Holy Cross High School. I went to University of New Orleans, where I received a degree in biological sciences; then went to LSU School of Dentistry, where I received my DDS (which stands for doctor of dental surgery). I practiced as a dentist for a while before I went back to school; I went to Tulane University where I received my master’s of public health; I then got my Ph.D. at Tulane University in health care decision analysis. Favorite books: I like Andrew Greeley. In particular The Cardinal Sins, as well as White Smoke. Favorite movie: Chariots of Fire and The Shawshank Redemption; It’s almost a tie between the two. Favorite food: Italian food; any type of fish Favorite restaurant: Mr. B’s Bistro Favorite music/musicians: I’m stuck in the 1960s and ’70s. I like The Beatles, The Who and Donovan. In the morning in my car I listen to classical music on WWNO. I’m also on Sirius XM satellite radio on “The Bridge” which plays music from the ’60s to the ’80s. Hobby: Golf. Before I became president of UNO I was a single digit; now I don’t have time to play and I’m back up to double digits, about a 12. St. Andrew’s in Scotland is a golf course I would like to play; my favorites are Pine Valley and Pebble Beach.