is the president of Xavier University of Louisiana. He has been Xavier's president since 1968, making him (as of December 2006) the longest-tenured current leader of an American university. He is also the chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency in charge of planning the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Francis earned a B.S. degree from Xavier in 1952. He then became the first African-American to enroll at Loyola University New Orleans and then Loyola University Law School, where he received his J.D. in 1955.
Francis served in the U.S. Army from 1956-57, and then returned to Xavier as Dean of Men. After holding several other positions at Xavier, he was appointed President in 1968. At Xavier, Francis presided over a major expansion of campus facilities and enrollment growth of 35 per cent.Francis is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.
Civil Rights Era
In 1952, the 21-year-old Francis was one of two Black students chosen to integrate Loyola University Law School in New Orleans, La., and in 1955 became the school’s first Black graduate. Francis served in the Army for two years, then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office to help integrate federal agencies.During the turbulent times preceding the Civil Rights Movement he returned to Xavier University to begin his climb up the administrative ladder.
In 1961, while serving as dean of men, Francis played a key role in Xavier's decision to house the Freedom Riders – an integrated group testing application of the Supreme Court decision banning discrimination in interstate rail and bus travel – in a campus dormitory after they were flown to New Orleans by Federal Marshalls after having been attacked in three Alabama cities (Anniston, Birmingham and Montgomery).About that same time,
Francis acted as counsel for the Xavier student body president – Rudolph Lombard – who had been arrested for attempting to integrate the lunch counter at McCrory’s on Canal Street in New Orleans.It was those experiences that led Francis to choose the path of education over that of a law career. Ironically, he accepted the presidency at Xavier on the very day that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968.
Honors and awards
Francis has been chairman of the board of Educational Testing Service, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Southern Education Foundation, and president of the American Association of Higher Education and the United Negro College Fund. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received 35 honorary degrees.
In December 2006, Francis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Norman Francis started out in life as poor and under-privileged, but — as he said later — he did not know that he was poor and under-privileged. Francis was born in Lafayette, La., the son of poor parents, neither of whom had finished high school. His father was a barber who rode to work each day on a bicycle because the family did not own a car
.Francis earned pocket money by shining shoes on Lafayette’s main street and thought he had everything in the world he needed.His parents thought differently. They thought that Norman, his three sisters and his brother needed an education. Norman and his brother and sisters attended Catholic schools and his parents saw to it that the children rarely missed school. "I had to have a fever, and really be ill before I dared to try to miss school," said Francis.His parents also made certain that the children attended Mass on Sunday, and were punctual in their religious duties.After he graduated from St. Paul High School in 1948,
Francis turned his interest toward the military, but because of the interest of one of the teaching sisters at St. Paul High School, Norman found himself with a work scholarship to Xavier University in New Orleans.The "work" part of this scholarship landed him in the university library, where he repaired damaged books. By his senior year he had worked himself up to night supervisor of library services.Francis was an honor student and was elected president of his class all four years.
In his senior year he was chosen the president of the student body.After his graduation from Xavier with a bachelor’s degree, he applied for entrance to Loyola University’s School of Law and was the first black student to be accepted by the school.He feels that one reason he was accepted was because he had been active in the National Federation of Catholic College students. In that organization he became acquainted with several of the Jesuit fathers on the Loyola University faculty.Francis graduated from Loyola with honors with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1955 and he began to practice law
.He soon decided that the law was not for him. "I could have made a great deal of money," he said later, "but I could help only a few people. The future belongs to those who are educated, so I turned to education."Because of his scholastic record, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the religious order which conducts Xavier University, offered him the post of dean of men, which he accepted. He then began a steady rise in administrative positions at the university.
From dean of men in 1957, he advanced to director of student personnel services in 1963, assistant to the president for student affairs in 1964, assistant to the president in charge of development in 1965 and executive vice president in 1967.In 1968 the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament promoted him to the post of president of the university — the first lay, male and black head of the university.During the following 25 years, Francis guided Xavier University’s growth in both size and dimension.
The university has more than tripled its enrollment, broadened its curriculum and expanded its campus.Francis maintains a national reputation of stature, having served in an advisory role to four presidents of the United States, including membership on the National Commission on Excellence in Education. He has also served as president of the United Negro College Fund and chairman of the board of directors of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Educational Testing System.
He is also chairman of the board of the Southern Education Foundation, a member of the National Advisory Research Council of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, and the National Assessment of Higher Education Program.
He has been a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission of Justice and Peace, a member of the Advisory Board of the Society of St. Joseph, a member of the executive committee of the College and University Department of the National Catholic Educational Association, member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America, member of the Board of Regents of Loyola University, and member of the board of directors of the National Catholic Council for Interracial Justice.Francis was named among the 100 most effective college presidents in a poll published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
He has been awarded honorary degrees by 35 colleges and universities and he was invested as a Knight of Malta in 1991.Francis shared the spotlight with his brother, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Francis of Newark, who retired from active ministry in 1995, and died in 1997.On November 21, 2008 in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Francis celebrated his 40th year as President of Xavier University at the 40th Anniversary Gala, themed "Legacy for a Legend". The event was hosted by Dr. Bill Cosby, and featured a performance by Grammy winner Gladys Knight