Norman C. Francis
VHFP Visionary

Born in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 20, 1931

University President, Xavier University

Norman C. Francis is the first lay president of Xavier University of Louisiana. He has been Xavier's president since 1968, making him the longest-tenured current leader of an American university. As chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, he is a leader in planning the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
The classic Xavier student is someone who has heart, an appreciation for diligent work, the determination to use his/her talents to the fullest, and the courage to ask for help when it is needed. Nobody has embodied those qualities more so than Norman C. Francis, whose administrative career at Xavier has spanned a half-century.

A 1952 graduate, Francis returned to his alma mater in 1957—following Loyola Law School and two years in the U.S. Army—to begin his administrative career as dean of men. Since his appointment as the University’s first lay president in 1968, Xavier has more than tripled its enrollment, broadened its curriculum, expanded its campus and received national attention for its award-winning academic initiatives. The tradition of academic excellence is consistent with the dreams of its founder, Saint Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament religious order.

Admired for his sharp mind, revered for his modesty, and praised for his dedication, Dr. Francis enjoys a prestigious national reputation. In December 2006, he received the nation’s highest civilian award—The Presidential Medal of Freedom—from President George W. Bush. Francis has served in an advisory role to five U.S. presidents, including President Ronald Reagan’s historic National Commission on Excellence in Education, whose findings, published in the groundbreaking report “A Nation at Risk,” created a sense of urgency for bringing about educational reform in the nation’s school system.

Dr. Francis has served as chairman or board member for numerous councils and foundations including the President’s Council for the United Negro College Fund, American Association of Higher Education, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Foundation for the Improvement in Education, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Educational Testing Service, and the Southern Education Foundation.

Drawn by Alphonso Sullivan
of J.C. Nalle Elementary

In 2007, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education appointed Dr. Francis to Chair the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Capital Financing Advisory Board. And in 2005, Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed Francis to serve as Chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, helping to oversee the state’s recovery following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita while leading the University’s own recovery and rebuilding effort. In New Orleans, Francis serves as chairman of the board of Liberty Bank and Trust; co-chair of the Committee for a Better New Orleans; member of the advisory board of The Times-Picayune Publishing Company, the Business Council of New Orleans, and The Fleur de lis Ambassadors Program; and member of the board of trustees of the National World War II Museum, among other positions with many local organizations.

Norman C. Francis’ legacy as the first lay president of Xavier University is epitomized in his unwavering commitment to educational and social equality, spiritual enlightenment, and community service.



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