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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tulane to Force Students Ousted by Katrina to Return Spring Semester

Tulane_3Tulane announced yesterday that it will force its 1,000 law students displaced by Hurricane Katrina to return for classes in the Spring Semetser beginning January 9, 2006:

I want to explain to everyone the decision we have made not to allow students to visit at another law school next spring absent the usual compelling circumstances that would have justified a visit away before the storm. As you might imagine, there are a substantial number of our 2L and 3L students who have been forced to relocate to another community, find living accommodations, and settle in for the fall semester. Many have lost many of their possessions and their residences back in New Orleans. Some have spouses who have found jobs. Often they have settled where they want to return upon graduation and where they intend to look for a job and take the bar exam. For all of these students, they quite understandably would find it much more convenient to remain where they are through the spring semester. Everyone at the University and the law school understands this perfectly well and is sympathetic to these student desires. Unfortunately, the request by each of these students to visit away from Tulane for the spring semester cannot be granted.

Everyone has to appreciate that these are truly perilous times for Tulane and the law school. The financial cost of the storm and having to shut down operations for a semester will run in the tens of millions of dollars. But an even greater cost is the loss of credibility with prospective students, faculty, staff, donors, government, and the many other constituencies upon all of which Tulane depends for its viability. It is absolutely imperative if Tulane is to emerge from this disaster as a strong and viable institution that it not only minimize its financial losses (which is why we absolutely have to receive all student tuition revenues for the fall semester) but also that it get back to running a full and vibrant university as soon as possible so the world will know that Tulane is back and will survive as a major university. Failure to do so would result in irreparable damage to Tulane and possible jeopardize its very survival.

In that regard, it is simply not possible for Tulane to allow its students to remain away for another semester. The arrangement other schools have made to take our students for free or at minimal cost so that Tulane can receive the tuition revenue it needs to pay its faculty and staff and to repair its campus is one few would likely be able or willing to continue for another semester. Thus, for every student who continues to visit away in the spring, Tulane would lose substantial revenue that it desperately needs. Furthermore, even if Tulane could collect that revenue, the absence of a substantial percentage of its students would leave the academic environment decimated and a mere shell of what it needs to be. If you all are going to have an institution around to award you a degree that is worth the paper it is written on, Tulane needs to bring back in the spring both most of its normal revenues and most of its students.

Recognizing this harsh reality facing Tulane and other New Orleans schools, we are told that most U.S. law schools and undergraduate colleges will refuse to allow displaced New Orleans students, including those from Tulane, to stay at their institutions during the spring. Remember that our students attending other campuses are not really students of those schools but simply Tulane students paying Tulane tuition and taking their courses this semester on another campus. Once Tulane’s campus is again open for business, these students need to return. We know that a few deans or assistant deans at some schools have told some students that they could stay for another semester, but this kind gesture was made at most institutions by those unaware of the overarching policy decision made their by senior university administrators or boards of trustees in an effort to preserve the viability of their New Orleans sister institutions.

If only a handful of students were in the situation of finding it much more convenient to remain somewhere else in the spring, there might be some flexibility in the University’s position on this under these extraordinary circumstances. But it is not just a few students. Every day we are receiving requests from a dozen or more law students alone who are asking that we let them stay where they are through the spring. Each of their stories is moving and their requests reasonable. But there is no way to grant just one or two of these requests without granting virtually all of them. And if we were to grant all of them, Tulane University, including the law school, would have so few students in the spring that it would be unable to run a credible academic program and it would likely be insolvent. By next August, there might well be no Tulane University or law school. On the other hand, if most of our students return in the spring, Tulane can survive this catastrophe and come back strong. That is why everyone within the University has been working day and night to make sure that we are up and running at full steam come January 9 – there is simply no other choice.

I realize that requiring all of our students to return in January will impose a significant inconvenience and expense on many. (However, as noted above, the University is going to extraordinary lengths to make sure that all of its students have comfortable and healthy housing and all of the other amenities needed to live at little or no incremental cost above what you would have normally spent. Thus, the inconvenience and expense will probably not be nearly as great as it might seem today.) This decision and its effect does not make anyone at Tulane happy, just as it makes no one happy to tell the faculty that their sabbaticals, leaves, summer grants, book and travel money, and summer free to do research are all being taken from them. But the alternative is just too unacceptable to do anything else. And from the student standpoint, what good is convenience and saving some expense if there is no institution worth mentioning left to grant you a degree. I hope that all of our students understand this. Hurricane Katrina has upset all of our lives to an unprecedented degree. It has required and will continue to require everyone to make substantial sacrifices. Tulane’s leadership has taken the students’ best interests into account in all of the decisions it has made, but the decision not to allow students to remain away for the spring was one decision that could not be made any other way.

I hope to see everyone come January back at 6329 Freret Street. We have worked hard and asked the faculty to make substantial sacrifices in order to give our students a high quality experience and to make them academically whole by next summer. This has been a surreal experience for us all, but despite the turmoil and cost it has imposed on everyone, I am confident that with a positive attitude and a commitment to excellence, we will all come through it stronger and better, both as individuals and as an institution.

Gary Roberts, Deputy Dean, Tulane Law School

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