Amid Mass Layoffs, Tulane Prepares to Reopen

Tulane University President Scott Cowen discusses the school's announcement Thursday that it will lay off about 230 faculty members and eliminate some programs. The university will re-open to approximately 86 percent of its students on Jan. 17, 2006.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Next month, Tulane University reopens in recovering post-Katrina New Orleans, and it will be a somewhat different Tulane. The president of the university, Scott Cowen, announced cuts yesterday that lay off 230 faculty members and eliminate several engineering programs. Scott Cowen joins us from New Orleans.

Welcome back to the program, President Cowen.

Mr. SCOTT COWEN (President, Tulane University): It's nice to be with you today.

SIEGEL: First, of those 230 faculty layoffs, the largest number by far would be 180 clinical faculty at Tulane Medical School. I want you to put that in some context for us. How different and how much smaller will be the medical school and the medical center of Tulane?

Mr. COWEN: To put it in context for you, I really have to talk about what's going on in New Orleans first. Prior to the storm, the population of New Orleans was about 470,000. Right now that population is somewhere between 60 and 70,000, so at about 15 percent of the level it was before. And obviously the patient base is considerably lower. So one of the challenges that we have is: How do we right-size our faculty so we retain the excellent core we have in education and research and selected critical areas but not have so many faculty that we can't sustain the school financially while New Orleans is sort of repopulating?

SIEGEL: Well, are those 180 position of clinical faculty members from Tulane Medical School--are those true layoffs? That is, would those same physicians be welcomed back if you can expand a bit come the fall?

Mr. COWEN: No, these are actually terminations. They are not layoffs, which means they are permanent.

SIEGEL: Tulane has also decided to eliminate programs in civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science and exercise and sports science. What will those decisions mean in terms of the number of engineering students at Tulane in the coming years?

Mr. COWEN: The number of students will obviously decline. We are retaining two of the outstanding departments in the School of Engineering, which is the department of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering. But the other thing we did is we decided to combine the physical and natural sciences with engineering and to actually create a new School of Science and Engineering. And I think that new school will provide an excellent platform for the future to build perhaps other areas of engineering or to capture even more synergies between engineering and science, synergies that we were not getting before the storm itself.

SIEGEL: In terms of the student body, are you finding that students are just as eager to come back to New Orleans to a place where there may not be a doctor in the neighborhood or there may not be housing off-campus available?

Mr. COWEN: Well, first of all, there will be a doctor in the neighborhood. Despite the decisions we made, there are still hospitals open in the adjourning parishes which are very close to us, plus there's a number of clinics, many of which are run by Tulane, that are open, that are really on our campus or nearby our campus. So I think there'll be more than sufficient medical care.

With respect to housing--is Tulane University took the novel approach of making sure there was housing for any displaced faculty member, staff member or off-campus student. Right now the return rate for January among our student body looks excellent. It could be as high as 90 percent; right now it's about 86 percent. But nobody thought we'd be--have anywhere more than 70 percent return.

SIEGEL: Yeah, are you actually marketing Tulane and the New Orleans experience in a post-Katrina way right now, telling kids, `This is an interesting place to be in your 20s or whatever because the city is being rebuilt'?

Mr. COWEN: Where is there a better place in the country--what school better than Tulane to really get an education? And then you can be part of the largest recovery project of a city in the United States probably since the Civil War. Well, that's what education's all about, what goes on in the classroom and outside the classroom.

SIEGEL: President Cowen, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

Mr. COWEN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Scott Cowen, speaking to us from New Orleans, where he is the president of Tulane University.

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