January 18, 2006
The rollercoaster diaspora that marked 2005's fall semester has come to an end with legions of Tulane students and faculty reconvening in New Orleans in what will mark a new chapter in the life of the city and school. Along with the some 5,900 Tulane students able to enroll in colleges and universities across the country, many members of the faculty found opportunities to continue their research at sister institutions. The response of the higher education community to the crises caused by Hurricane Katrina was swift and effective.
It's already been woven into legend how two days before the storm hit, Tulane President Scott Cowen appeared before a crowd of students and parents gathered for the traditional freshman orientation and told them, in effect, to get out of town -- now. A university press release issued at that time said the school would be closed until the following Wednesday, after the hurricane had passed.
Everyone knows that the university -- and much of the city -- was closed for a lot longer than that, but not everyone knows how the academic community around the country rallied to support Tulane and other schools in the Gulf South region.
"The educational community has been phenomenal in its treatment of Tulane students," says Yvette Jones, senior vice president of external affairs. "Around 590 different host institutions educated Tulane students and most schools went out of their way to make Tulane students feel welcome at home."
Many of those schools extended tuition waivers so that families were not burdened by extra expense, and others extended free room and board. (Tulane has said it will reimburse any tuition paid to a host institution.)
Credit also goes to the American Council on Education, which immediately grasped the seriousness and scope of the situation. Two days after the storm, while Tulane administrators who rode out Katrina were still stranded on a darkened campus without communications, ACE president David Ward encouraged colleges and universities outside of the Gulf Coast region to make efforts to temporarily house and enroll students from storm-damaged institutions, adding, "The American Council on Education stands ready to act as an information resource to facilitate these and other measures that might be devised to assist students, faculty and staff at affected institutions."
ACE and seven other higher education organizations soon issued a set of guidelines urging colleges that admitted displaced students to welcome them as visitors, not as new students, and not enroll them permanently once Tulane and other New Orleans colleges reopened.
The generosity of sister institutions was myriad and reflected the nature and resources of each school. Less than 72 hours after Hurricane Katrina's landfall, Cornell University president Hunter Rawlings sent an open invitation to Tulane students and faculty. By Sept. 6, 193 Tulane students had taken him up on the offer, and a number of Tulane professors had gone to Cornell as visiting faculty.
The visiting Tulane students were provided with housing, gift cards and free packages of school supplies, while Tulane students and faculty enjoyed full library privileges and study space in campus libraries.
Baylor College of Medicine welcomed some 400 Tulane medical school students and faculty to its campus in Houston. To accommodate the needs of third- and fourth-year students, Baylor and several other medical schools in the area formed the Alliance of South Texas Academic Health Centers.
With more than 320 Tulane students enrolled for its fall semester, Boston College took in the most Tulane undergraduates. With the support of the college's admission staff, visiting Tulane upperclassmen set up a mentorship program for underclassman.
After Katrina was followed by hurricanes Rita and Wilma, ACE collaborated with the National Association of College and University Business Officers in creating CampusRelief.org, "a resource for institutions, students, faculty and staff to aid in the recovery from these natural disasters."
Among its resources was a comprehensive listing of institutions offering temporary employment opportunities and services to displaced faculty and staff.
And many Tulane faculty are returning with stories of how friends, colleagues and former teachers at other institutions around the country have offered living accommodations and research space.
On Sept. 23, nearly a month after Katrina, Cowen appeared on a live chat sponsored by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In his opening remarks, Cowen said it was difficult to express the loss the city had suffered, but suggested that, with help, things could be made right. "Frankly, without the assistance of our fellow colleges and universities we would never have survived this storm," said Cowen. "Now we look forward to the continued support of our higher education family as we begin to rebuild the new New Orleans."
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