Layoffs, program closures part of university plans to recover from Katrina
NEW ORLEANS – The effort to recover from Hurricane Katrina has seen this region’s universities and colleges develop ambitious and creative plans to reopen to students in January and at the same time deal with the storm’s financial cost.
More than 30 educational institutions along the Gulf Coast were hit by the August hurricane, some harder than others. In the city itself, Tulane, Loyola, the University of New Orleans and Xavier University suffered varying degrees of damage but all saw students and faculty scattered to other institutions across the U.S. Now, the schools are faced with rebuilding both their infrastructure and their student and staff complements.
At Tulane, the expectation that New Orleans’ population this month is only one-quarter its pre-Katrina size has put added pressure on the university’s estimated $200-million recovery effort. In a set of budget cuts announced Dec. 8, Tulane will lay off about 230 faculty members and shut down some of its programs to try to save $100 million. Those cuts included about 180 faculty positions in its medical school and about 50 in other programs.
Since the storm, the medical school has been operating out of four Texas universities.
Tulane President Scott Cowen, who escaped Katrina’s flooding in an old motorboat and a hot-wired golf cart, said the university will concentrate on areas where it has attained, or has the potential to achieve, world-class excellence and “will suspend admission to those programs that do not meet these criteria”. No specific programs were identified but the senior vice-president of the American Council on Education said the move will be “the most significant restructuring of any American college or university in the last century. Essentially, they’re going to reinvent Tulane,” said Terry Hartle.
Tulane has also eliminated a number of sports programs as a cost-saving measure. Gone are men’s track, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf, women’s swimming, women’s soccer and men’s cross-country. It will still compete in eight sports, including football, baseball and basketball.
Prior to Katrina, Tulane operated with an annual budget of $593 million, had about 2,500 faculty members and about 13,200 students. It was the largest private employer in greater New Orleans, with 6,000 employees.
At Loyola, officials are scrambling to line up temporary housing for the estimated 60 per cent of its employees who lost their homes in the hurricane. It is hoped the effort will help lure faculty back to the city from temporary positions at universities like Brown, Yale and Princeton. Many are taking advantage of the break from teaching to focus on research.
“There might be some people who prefer not to go back to the city, especially if they’ve lost their houses, but for faculty who have invested a lot in Loyola, they won’t be inclined to hunt for something else,” according to history professor Bernard Cook. Cook has a visiting assistant professorship at Georgetown University.
The University of New Orleans started classes in December at its satellite campus in suburban Metairie, augmented with borrowed classrooms in four public schools. Students are mixing regular classes with online work and about 7,000 of its 17,500 students had signed up.
Tulane and Xavier have also announced plans to helps students get back on track by adding an additional semester between the end of classes in the spring and the start of the 2006-07 academic year. All four urban universities are also working together to allow students from the hardest-hit – Xavier and Dillard – to take classes at Tulane and Loyola, which are situated on higher ground. Xavier is trying to cope with a flooded library while Dillard lost three dormitories to storm-related fires.