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New Orleans’ Black Colleges Prepare to Reopen in January

New Orleans’ Black Colleges Prepare to Reopen in January
Dillard, Xavier awarded $2 million grants from Bush Foundation for recovery efforts
By Scott Dyer

Three historically Black colleges and universities in New Orleans are still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, but are planning to resume classes in January.

Hardest hit was Dillard University, a private four-year liberal arts college founded in 1869. Dillard President Marvalene Hughes has estimated damages at up to $400 million.

Hughes says Dillard is less than a quarter mile from one of the city’s levees, which failed when the hurricane struck on Aug. 29. According to Hughes, almost every building on the campus had flooding on the ground floor and many buildings were inundated with 5 to 8 feet of water, she says.

In addition, Hughes says three dorms on the campus were totally destroyed by fires two days after the hurricane hit. The cause of the fires has not been determined.

At this point, Hughes says she’s conservatively estimating that one-quarter of the colleges approximately 2,200 students will return to New Orleans to start a new semester in January.

Dillard officials are hoping to get some federal aid to rebuild the campus, but in the meantime, they plan to hold classes using Tulane University’s classrooms, Hughes says.

Even though no classes will be held next semester on the Dillard campus, Hughes says she has promised graduating seniors that the graduation ceremonies will be held on the campus. Marching through the beautiful “Avenue of the Oaks” has become a tradition for Dillard graduates, and Hughes says she intends to uphold that custom.
To help keep students and parents posted with the latest information, Hughes says she’s holding a series of town meetings in cities across the country.

Hughes says she had no choice but to order layoffs, but made a decision to keep all tenured faculty members on the payroll. According to the Dillard Web site, 33 percent of the university’s 145 full-time faculty members are tenured.

Extensive flooding has also forced Southern University’s New Orleans campus to use alternative facilities when classes resume in January.
SUNO officials plan to kick off their spring semester Jan. 17 in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on 38 acres of vacant land near the devastated campus. The tract, located along the lakefront between the University of New Orleans baseball field and the FBI’s New Orleans headquarters, is being dubbed SUNO’s “north campus.”

SUNO Chancellor Robert B. Gex says he expects 200 to 400 FEMA trailers to arrive in early December. The trailers will be used for classrooms, administrative offices, dining facilities and temporary housing for needy students and staff.

SUNO had an enrollment of about 4,000 when the hurricane hit, but Southern officials are unsure how many will return to the campus in January.

Meanwhile, historically Black Xavier University of Louisiana is also planning to reopen in January.

A private Catholic institution, Xavier is the nation’s leader in placing African-American students into medical schools. Xavier also leads the nation in the number of doctor of pharmacy degrees awarded to Black students.

Xavier President Norman Francis says his campus in midtown New Orleans was flooded with 5 to 6 feet of water from Katrina.
But unlike SUNO and Dillard, which consist largely of lower elevation buildings, Xavier has several high-rise structures that helped confine the damage to the first floors, Francis says.

Francis estimates damage to the Xavier infrastructure at about $35 million, and says clean-up will cost another $10 million.

While he expects FEMA to pay for almost all of the cleanup efforts, Francis  notes that the agency has different rules for private and public colleges that are damaged by natural disasters.

FEMA is providing trailers for public colleges like SUNO, but requires private schools to try and borrow money and jump through several administrative hoops before they can qualify for aid.

Xavier had approximately 4,000 students when the storm hit, and officials say that about 2,800 have indicated that they will return in January.

“We had initially expected about 2,000 students to come back, but the response has been terrific,” Francis says.

Francis, who is also chairing the Louisiana Recovery Authority that is providing advice to Gov. Kathleen Blanco on how to rebuild New Orleans, says Xavier was forced to reduce its faculty by about 30 percent, laying off about 55 people.

At this point, Francis says the biggest challenge for Xavier may be finding places to live for the faculty that is still on the payroll.

Francis says several corporations and foundations have provided grants and donations to help Xavier get back on its feet.

Xavier and Dillard were among three private HBCUs awarded unrestricted $2 million grants from the Bush Foundation to support their efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

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