Hurricane repairs stall as cash squeeze bites

September 8, 2006

New Orleans universities are furious with the Government and insurers for failing to pay up, reports Jon Marcus

One year on from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, universities in the affected region are falling behind with plans to rebuild their campuses and wondering when to expect promised help from the Government and their insurance companies.

Three universities have sued insurers for failing to pay tens of millions of dollars in hurricane-related claims and for slashing coverage for future damage. The number of enrolments has plummeted this year, and the largest faculty union is protesting against layoffs of tenured faculty by cash-strapped schools.

Margaret Spelling, US Education Secretary, visited New Orleans to promise $30 million (£15.7 million) in aid for higher education contributed by foreign nations. But the city's largest university, Tulane, has received only $145,000 from the Government emergency agency.

The Government is only now distributing the $30 million in foreign donations. Ms Spelling told the institutions' presidents that they could apply for a portion of another $50 million in aid approved by Congress in June to help cover lost revenue.

But Tulane president Scott Cowen said that damage from Katrina to New Orleans universities alone totalled closer to $1 billion.

George Miller, a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, says in a report that the money allocated by the Government fails to come close to what is needed.

The Democratic Congressman calls it shameful that the recovery has been stymied again and again by the incompetence and callousness of the Bush Administration. One year on, Mr Miller writes, it is high time that Congress and the Administration provide the leadership that children, students and educators in the New Orleans area need.

Dr Cowen, who has come to serve as spokesman for the Gulf Coast schools, said the speed with which they will recover depends on variables mostly outside their control, such as the pace of New Orleans' recovery, the state of area medical care and the perception of New Orleans by its constituents.

He blamed negative media coverage for a drop in the number of enrolments considerably beyond what was projected at Tulane. Some 1,050 first-year students have arrived this semester. Overall, enrolment has fallen by nearly 25 per cent.

Along with Dillard University and Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane sued its insurance company for failing to reimburse it fully for hurricane and flood damage.

Tulane suffered more than $160 million in damage to its campus, plus $125 million in lost books, art and building contents, and an operating loss of $100 million in the past year, but has received only $105 million. Because of the drop in the number of enrolments, the university expects to run up another $31 million deficit this year.

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