Tough time in Big Easy as classes begin again

January 13, 2006

Trumpeter and New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis will lead celebrations to mark the reopening of three of the city's universities on Martin Luther King Day (January 16) after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Tulane, Dillard and Loyola universities now have power, running water and temporary classrooms, but they still lack one crucial element - enough students to pay the bills. But the schools are honouring their pledge to resume teaching in mid-January, even though hundreds of faculty members have been laid off because of the reduced cashflow and a decline in enrolment.

To date, Tulane has failed to lure back 14 per cent of its undergraduates, while Loyola has lost 26 per cent of its students. Xavier University of Louisiana has reported a 25 per cent loss. Tulane, which sustained damage estimated at $100 million (£57 million), has laid off 243 full-time and 2,381 part-time employees. Its bond rating has been lowered and it has eliminated 14 doctoral and five undergraduate programmes in a transformation officials called the most dramatic by a major US university in a century.

Scott Cowen, president of Tulane, said the university was counting the days until the campus reopens. He plans one traditional and one abbreviated semester between January and June.

Loyola, which is adjacent to Tulane, has laid off 28 people and eliminated vacancies. Dillard University has cut 202 staff (59 per cent of its workforce), and Xavier University has trimmed its payroll by more than half.

Louisiana State University is predicting layoffs of about 5,000, including 3,200 doctors, nurses and other employees of its Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

Dillard - which had an estimated $400 million in damage - will share classrooms with Xavier on the Tulane campus until its own buildings are repaired. Southern University, whose campus sustained $350 million worth of damage, will operate out of 400 trailers. At Tulane, some 500 faculty and staff were still looking for housing, the university said. Louisiana State said it was considering housing its faculty and students on a cruise ship.

In all, more than 18,000 students from New Orleans found places at 1,017 other universities across the US, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. The reluctance of some to return was also causing headaches for schools that accepted them temporarily. Most said they would not allow students to stay. Eight national higher education associations agreed to "admit students on a visiting or provisional basis" after Hurricane Katrina.

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