New Orleans Colleges Struggle, Post-Katrina

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Tulane and other universities in New Orleans are beginning to lay off faculty and staff as they struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Fall classes have been canceled, faculty and staff lost their homes, and many students have re-enrolled elsewhere.


Universities and colleges in New Orleans are beginning to lay off staff as they struggle with a city still not ready for faculty and students. Hurricane Katrina hit just before fall classes were to begin, and many students have enrolled elsewhere. Many faulty and staff lost homes in the storm. Administrators are trying to figure out how to adapt their schools to a post-Katrina world. From New Orleans, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES reporting:

At Tulane University today, workers loaded crumpled boxes and shattered wood onto handcarts and pushed them outside to a Dumpster.

(Soundbite of handcarts)

BERKES: Tulane didn't just suffer hurricane damage. It lost many of its 19,000 students and staff, who were forced from New Orleans before and after Katrina. Scott Cowen is the president of Tulane.

Mr. SCOTT COWEN (President, Tulane University): It's not so much the restoration of our campuses. but we're building this large, self-contained village so that our people have housing, they have schooling, they have shops if they need shops and all the basic services one needs to have in a small college town.

BERKES: Because much of that isn't available in New Orleans. Tulane is even starting its own school for the children of faculty and staff. It's doing all this without all its tuition income, which would have been more than $100 million for the fall semester. But without the effort, students and faculty won't return for the next semester. Jay Atkin(ph) enrolled his daughter as a freshman at neighboring Loyola University but now isn't sure she should return to New Orleans.

Mr. JAY ATKIN (Parent): The college years are relatively short-lived years. We want her--like any parent, to have our children have good experiences. So it became much clearer that probably whether another major hurricane or lesser storm hit that area, that we would clearly be spending at least part of every year evacuating.

BERKES: Tulane University President Scott Cowen has this response to that parental concern.

Mr. COWEN: If you're worried about hurricanes, then I suspect he shouldn't send his daughter anywhere from the Southeast to the Southwest because anywhere on the southern part--all has the same probability of getting a hurricane. So there is nothing unique about New Orleans, other than it just happened to be our time where we got the big one.

BERKES: But Cowen acknowledges that New Orleans' universities have to convince parents and students it's OK to return, and they have to prepare for fewer students. Tulane, he says, is planning to shrink its student body, its faculty and staff; admissions standards will get tougher, and new academic programs will focus on the disaster and its aftermath.

Mr. COWEN: There is no better place in America to get a collegian experience than right here in New Orleans. They can be part of the largest recovery effort ever in the United States. Talk about getting an education; that's what education is all about.

BERKES: The concept hasn't been pitched yet publicly, so it's not clear how the university community will respond. But it is clear that some staff and faculty will lose their jobs; some already have. Tulane has laid off close to 400 part-time faculty and full- and part-time staff. Howard Berkes, NPR News, New Orleans.

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