Tulane University Reopens New Orleans Campus

Students returned to Tulane's campus Thursday. i i

hide captionStudents returned to Tulane's campus Thursday.

Ben Bergman, NPR
Students returned to Tulane's campus Thursday.

Students returned to Tulane's campus Thursday.

Ben Bergman, NPR

After months of struggle to repair its campus following Hurricane Katrina, Tulane University welcomed students back Thursday. Workers continue to repair an estimated $200 million in damage, and the school has cut more than two dozen Ph.D. programs.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

New Orleans has passed a milestone in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday students returned to Tulane University. It's the city's largest employer and one of its most important institutions. University officials and students say they're excited by their role in rebuilding. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

(Soundbite of voices)

GREG ALLEN reporting:

On Tulane's campus they called it orientation deja vu. For most of the freshmen who returned yesterday for spring semester, it was their second orientation in four and a half months.

(Soundbite of voices)

Unidentified Woman #1: She doesn't have a key?

Unidentified Woman #2: Yes, she's got one.

ALLEN: Outside Butler House, an undergraduate dorm on Tulane's Uptown campus, freshmen lined up to get their keys. Most, like Allison Gallaspy, were clearly glad to be back.

Ms. ALLISON GALLASPY (Tulane Freshman): I sat the semester out, and I'm just--I'm so ready to be here. I'm so ready to start college.

ALLEN: Gallaspy, who's from Lafayette, Louisiana, was back for her second first day at school with her mom, Karen. She came back to her very same dorm room and her very same roommate.

Ms. GALLASPY and Ms. KATE FRANCONA(ph): Hey!

Ms. FRANCONA: How are you?

Ms. GALLASPY: I'm good. Hi, Kate.

Ms. FRANCONA: Hi. I'm sorry, my cell clicked--hello. This...

Unidentified Man: Thank you for coming back to Tulane.

Ms. GALLASPY: What's your name again?

ALLEN: Kate Francona, Allison's roommate, was already there with another student. Francona is from Pittsburgh. Like many Tulane students, she was evacuated to Jackson, Mississippi. She spent last semester back home, studying at Carnegie Mellon. She liked it, but didn't consider staying. That school, and most that took in Katrina evacuees, told students they could only stay if they applied as transfers and sat out for a semester. Francona says though she decided to come back, her mom had doubts.

Ms. FRANCONA: My dad just thought it would be a good experience for me to, you know, have a firsthand account, I guess, of witnessing or maybe even partaking in the rebuilding of a major American city.

ALLEN: That's a sentiment many Tulane undergraduates apparently share. More than 85 percent of freshmen have come back, and overall, more than 91 percent of undergraduates are expected to return. Many had feared that students might not be eager to return to a devastated city, but Tulane worked hard to get them all back. Throughout the fall, university officials held 25 town hall meetings and met with thousands of students and parents around the country. Allison Gallaspy's mom, Karen, has come along to help her daughter unpack. She says she's been impressed by how hard the administration has worked to get the campus ready.

KAREN (Allison's Mother): I think this is a minor miracle that they're opening this semester. I think I remember telling somebody, well, Tulane's out because they probably won't be open for another couple of years now.

ALLEN: Tulane is ready, though on-campus construction workers are still very busy. Work is going on to repair the estimated $200 million in damage done by Hurricane Katrina. In addition, financial damage done by the storm forced big cuts at the University. Tulane laid off more than 200 faculty members and cut more than two dozen PhD programs. Dean of Students Cynthia Cherrey says the cuts will enable the school to focus on its strengths: its undergraduate experience and its research programs. This week, Tulane is taking parents on tours of the city, and soon will start tours for undergraduates. Cherrey says the university wants students to see that, although the campus looks much the same as it did, New Orleans is a different city.

Ms. CYNTHIA CHERREY (Dean of Students, Tulane University): It's important for our students to realize that they are now a part of this community and the re-shaping of this community. Some things will be easier, and some things will be more challenging.

Ms. GALLASPY: Good.

Ms. FRANCONA: Something like that.

(Soundbite of giggling)

Ms. GALLASPY: Hi, Kate.

ALLEN: As she begins to get reacquainted with her roommate, Allison Gallaspy says things look a lot like they did the last time she moved in: the same beige walls, the same durable carpets, the same banks of shelves. Only the mattresses on the bed are new. The last time she was here was in November, when Tulane invited students back to see the campus for the first time since the storm. Gallaspy says the city at that time looked in terrible shape, and she wasn't sure if she would ever come back. But she says what University President Scott Cowen said in a speech to students that day helped her make up her mind.

Ms. GALLASPY: He was addressing the question, `Why should my kids come back?' And he said, `If it's not in your DNA to make a difference, don't come back.' And I was like, `Well, I want to make a difference. I want to change the world.'

ALLEN: The return of Allison Gallaspy and other students this week is important not just to Tulane, but also to New Orleans. With the return of more than 16,000 students, faculty and administrators, Tulane says it's boosted the city's population nearly overnight by at least 20 percent. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.

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