Higher education

Second University of Iowa presidential candidate: Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein

First candidate on campus today

Michael Bernstein, Ph.D., Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at Tulane University
Michael Bernstein, Ph.D., Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at Tulane University

IOWA CITY — The provost at Tulane University — a private, research institution in New Orleans — was unveiled Thursday as the second of four finalists for the University of Iowa presidency.

Michael Bernstein, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Tulane, is scheduled to visit campus Friday to meet with faculty, staff, students, community members, and elected officials before participating in a 4:45 p.m. public forum.

Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov became the first finalist to be named Wednesday, and the Board of Regents is planning to identify its two final candidates next week — one Sunday and the other Monday — before interviewing them Thursday, when they plan to name a new UI president.

Bernstein, 60, has been an administrator and professor of history and economics at Tulane since 2007 — just two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the campus and forced it to close for four months.

Tulane, like UI, is a research institution with a health sciences campus that houses a School of Medicine, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and the Tulane Medical Center. The institution also is an NCAA Division I school in the American Athletic Conference but, unlike Iowa, is private and smaller — with an enrollment of 13,531 students, including 8,353 undergraduates and 5,178 graduate students.

Before his time at Tulane from 1987 to 2007, Bernstein was on faculty at the University of California-San Diego, a public research institution closer to UI in size, with an enrollment of 31,502 students. He served that campus in a variety of roles including history professor, chair of the Department of History, and Dean of Arts and Humanities.

Earlier in his career, Bernstein taught at Princeton University, Yale University, and the University of Cambridge in England. He earned a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and a doctorate from Yale.


Just before boarding a plane to Iowa on Thursday, Bernstein told The Gazette that he’s honored and excited to be a finalist for the UI presidency.

“I’m humbled by it too,” he said. “I know I’m keeping company with three outstanding others.”

Bernstein declined to talk about why he’s interested in the job, what he envisions for the university, and what his priorities have been at Tulane “to honor the process.” But, Bernstein said, he’s been to Iowa on several occasions and his sister is a UI alumnus, earning a master’s degree in painting.

Michael Cunningham, one of four associate provosts at Tulane, said Bernstein told him earlier this week about his candidacy for the UI job and sold him on Iowa as a destination, citing its standing across the state and nation.

“I told him, ‘I wish you the best, but I’m going to hope for the worst,’” Cunningham said. “I think he will be a wonderful president, but it will be a big loss for us.”

Cunningham said he’s worked with Bernstein both as an associate provost and as a faculty member and found him to be a “wonderful listener and a great scholar.” When Cunningham co-chaired the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association, he said, Bernstein championed the group’s causes and even became a member.

When Bernstein presented him with the opportunity to become an associate provost, Cunningham told him, “I like your ideas and your leadership style. That’s the only reason I considered it.”

Bernstein has endured his share of campus controversies, according to colleagues and media reports. In 2013, Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business admitted to submitting false data on admission tests and applications to U.S. News & World Report to boost its rankings, and Bernstein — on the school’s behalf — issued a statement offering “regret that these events occurred.”


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Students also occasionally protest on campus — earlier this year more than 70 occupied the hallway outside the president’s office in opposition to Tulane’s investment in fossil fuels, according to The Times-Picayune.

Cunningham said Bernstein is “very clear that students should have a voice.”

“He’s people-centric,” Cunningham said. “He doesn’t think from the top down. When he has decisions to make, he’ll make them. But he wants to get the perspective of all the people involved.”

Tulane lecturer Scott Schneider took to Twitter on Thursday in response to news of Bernstein’s candidacy for UI president, writing, “great, great leader and even better person.”

Tulane business professor James McFarland noted Bernstein’s leadership through some of challenges that followed Hurricane Katrina. “We went through a major rebuilding period, and he had to deal with those issues,” McFarland told The Gazette, adding that Tulane “is not an easy place to be an academic leader.”

“So that is very valuable,” he said. “That certainly is the type of experience you would want.”

McFarland complimented Bernstein’s handling of budget issues and enrollment growth — something UI is looking to do. Tulane’s enrollment has increased about 30 percent since Bernstein arrived in 2007 — jumping from 10,519 to 13,531, according to the registrar’s office.

“I would think he would get a good recommendation from most people who know him,” he said. “He’s very personable.”

Bernstein’s research background includes grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment of the Humanities, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association, and the Economic History Association.


He was a Fulbright Scholar at Christ’s College in Cambridge, according to his Tulane profile. His teaching and research interests focus on the economic and political history of the United States, macroeconomic theory, industrial organization economics, and the history of economic theory.

In the New Orleans community, according to the Tulane profile, Bernstein is a member and former president of the governing board of the Hillel Foundation of New Orleans, member and current chair of the board of directors of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, member of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, and member of the governing board of the Tulane University Healthcare System.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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