Norman Francis

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Norman Christopher Francis
Norman Francis awarded 2006 Presidential Medal of Freedom.jpg
Norman Francis receives Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2006, from George W. Bush (standing behind)
Born (1931-03-20) March 20, 1931 (age 84)
Lafayette, Louisiana, U.S.
Nationality American
Citizenship USA
Alma mater Xavier University of Louisiana
Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University Law School
Occupation Lawyer
Employer Xavier University
Known for Second longest-tenured current leader of an American college or university.
Board member of UNCF, ETS
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom

Dr. Norman Christopher Francis (born March 20, 1931 in Lafayette, Louisiana), was the president of Xavier University of Louisiana. He served the position from 1968-2015, making him, in addition to being the only lay (non-clergy) president of Xavier, the second longest-tenured current leader of an American college or university and .[1][2] He previously also served as 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.[3] He has also been the recipient of 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, Louisiana, 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. He earned pocket money by shining shoes on Lafayette's main street. His parents felt 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", he has said. His parents also made certain that the children attended Mass on Sunday, and were punctual in their religious duties.

His brother was Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Francis of Newark, who retired from active ministry in 1995, and died in 1997.


After he graduated from St. Paul High School in 1948, he 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 president of his class all four years. In his senior year he was chosen the president of the student body.[citation needed]. Francis earned a B.S. degree from the university in 1952.[2] 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.[4]

After his graduation from Xavier with a bachelor's degree, in 1952, he was one of two African-American students selected to integrate Loyola University Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1955 became the school’s first Black graduate.[4]

He has said 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."[citation needed]


Francis served in the United States Army from 1956–57, and then re joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office to help integrate federal agencies. 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 him to choose the path of education over that of a law career. During the turbulent times just preceding the Civil Rights Movement he returned to Xavier University.[2] In 1961, while dean of men, he 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 when they were flown to New Orleans by Federal Marshals after having been attacked in three Alabama cities (Anniston, Birmingham and Montgomery).[citation needed]

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 rose to higher 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 40 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.At Xavier, Francis presided over a major expansion of campus facilities and enrollment growth of 35 per cent. Coincidentally, he accepted the presidency at Xavier on the very day that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.[citation needed] On September 2, 2014, Francis announced his plan to retire from his post as Xavier's president in June 2015 after serving the university in this capacity for 47 years.

Honors and awards[edit]

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.[5]


Francis is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[6]

He has 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, of the Southern Education Foundation, He isa member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. 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 Council for Justice and Peace, the Advisory Board of the Society of St. Joseph, the executive committee of the College and University Department of the National Catholic Educational Association, the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America, the Board of Regents of Loyola University, and 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.

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 Bill Cosby, and featured a performance by Grammy winner Gladys Knight.[citation needed]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c "America's Longest-Presiding University President: An Interview with Dr. Norman C. Francis of Xavier University of Louisiana". The Black Collegian. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Katherine Mangan "America's Longest-Serving College President Has More to Do" The Chronicle of Higher Education 7January 14, 2013 paid content
  4. ^ a b "Loyola alum Dr. Norman Francis, J.D., named Gambit Weekly New Orleanian of the year". Loyola University of Louisiana. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  5. ^ John Pope, "Xavier leader gets Medal of Freedom", New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 8, 2006 [1]
  6. ^ "Prominent Alphas". Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Retrieved May 10, 2009. 

External links[edit]