February 21, 2006

Months After Katrina, Tulane Forges Ahead

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While the Senate continues its investigation into the government’s Hurricane Katrina response, Tulane University is speeding forward with new resolve and responsibility.

In January, Tulane students returned from a semester hiatus to find a city in transition. Though most Tulane facilities sustained relatively little water damage and have since been repaired, Tulane’s Renewal Plan will amount to the largest overhaul of a modern university.

Since Tulane remains New Orleans’s number one employer, its recovery is considered vital to the city’s future. As Green Wave students checked back in after a semester of scattered residences, their classes and campus life had changed little, but their role in New Orleans’s survival was never more important.

With its students scattered at schools around the country, its admissions office operating out of Richmond, Va., and its administration working from Houston, Tulane decided that its survival would require major change. While the horror of Katrina provided setbacks for New Orleans’ most prominent academic institution, Tulane was determined to respond and ensure the university’s strength as an academic force and essential piece of New Orleans.

This response was published in December under Tulane’s “Renewal Plan,” which outlines changes in many aspects of student life.

“It is a plan born out of a disaster, but it reflects a university willing to change, to overcome adversity, to take control of its destiny and to face the future with determination and confidence,” wrote President Cowen in a Dec. 8 letter to the Tulane community. “It reflects a university that loves New Orleans and understands its leadership role in rebuilding the city as its largest employer. As Tulane excels, so will New Orleans,”

As part of the Renewal Plan, which Tulane will fully implement this summer, the academic structure will be slightly different. Among the notable changes, the engineering school will downsize and join with the sciences to form the new School of Science and Engineering. The undergraduate school of business will become a four-year program. Also under the new system, undergraduates will apply to the Undergraduate College rather than to individual schools.

The greatest blow of the Renewal Plan has been felt at Tulane Medical School, with 180 faculty members losing jobs, constituting 78 percent of all Tulane faculty layoffs.

Undergraduates will benefit, as Tulane will shorten the upcoming semester to make room for the “Lagniappe” session. Lagniappe, a Creole word that means “a little something extra,” will be a month-and-a-half long period, beginning in May, that will offer students the chance to take a few accelerated courses if they did not take a full load in the fall. Lagniappe is free if students paid tuition in the fall or spring

“We are going to do all the programming we would normally do in two semesters,” said George Bernstein, dean of Tulane College, in a January interview. “We are going to do it in one semester plus Lagniappe.”

Early extra-curricular programming this semester involved a performance and speech by world-famous jazz musician Wynton Marsalis to celebrate the university’s reopening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Marsalis spoke of rising to meet the challenges of Katrina in the same way that King and America’s youth stood up against racial injustice.

Emphasizing the school’s importance to the city, Tulane will require every new student to participate in community service, starting with the first-year Tulane Inter-Disciplinary Experiences public service seminar, as well as through existing campus organizations like the Community Action Council of Tulane University Students and Outreach Tulane.

Additionally, Tulane will facilitate Katrina recovery through the formation of a Center for Public Service and the Partnership for the Transformation of Urban Communities, which will work with other New Orleans universities to develop the Institute for the Study of Race and Poverty, as well as the Institute for the Transformation of Pre-K-12 Education.

Bernstein expressed optimism for Tulane’s comeback by pointing out that nearly all of the Tulane faculty planned to return in January and that applications were up 20 percent despite the hiatus.

Aside from some campus damage, student life on campus has largely returned to normal Even fraternity rush occurred as usual, owing to the fact that most fraternity houses escaped flood damages.

While the opportunities for students to give back are many, and campus life may appear normal, the emotional reactions to that disaster are unavoidable. In a city where everyone from a downtown barber to a Tulane history professor has a story of Katrina struggles and sorrows, returning students cannot escape the emotional and personal aspects of this disaster.

“You’re going to know someone