Op-ed submitted to the New York Times on behalf of five New Orleans-area private college presidents

March 20, 2007

by Scott Cowen, president, Tulane University; Anthony J. De Conciliis, C.S.C., president, Our Lady of Holy Cross College; Norman C. Francis, president, Xavier University; Marvalene Hughes, president, Dillard University; Kevin Wildes, S.J., president, Loyola University New Orleans

The recovery of New Orleans is tied inextricably to the recovery of this wounded city’s colleges and universities. Along with the rest of the city, our colleges have faced significant trauma in the wake of Katrina. Like other New Orleans enterprises, we had to cease operations here, and face an uncertain future. In the last two weeks, Xavier University has laid off more than half of its faculty and staff members, and Dillard University has let go nearly 59 percent of its employees. Earlier, Tulane University laid off 243 support workers and hundreds of part-time instructors and other employees. With each passing day, the long-term picture for our institutions grows more uncertain.

In the proposed hurricane relief package for New Orleans, which Congress may begin debating as early as next week, very little is reserved for higher education – and nearly all of that would go to forgive federal student aid our students had received before Katrina hit. While that addresses a real need, it misses the larger picture of higher education’s central importance to New Orleans’ economic development, and to the cultural and intellectual richness of one of America’s greatest cities. Our colleges and universities must be essential players in rebuilding a vibrant and self-sufficient economy. With the proper tools, we can create a city that is stronger than the one Katrina so brutally swept away.

It is impossible to imagine a revived, thriving New Orleans without revitalized centers of higher education. It is also impossible to overestimate the essential role our institutions play in the economic fabric of the city. Simply put, as go our colleges and universities, so goes the city.

We pump more than $3 billion annually into the local economy. Tulane University is the largest single private employer in New Orleans. Xavier University hosts the only pharmacy school in the region, producing the vast majority of the region’s pharmacists and African-American scientists. Our Lady of Holy Cross College is one of the city’s largest providers of K-12 teachers and is noted for the quality of its nursing students. Loyola University’s law school provides free legal services to the indigent. Dillard University has a one-of-a-kind program that trains future minority business leaders to work with the Asian marketplace.

The challenges we have faced are formidable. As institutions in exile, we have had to salvage what we could, maintain operations, and respond to the needs of the multitude of students who are a part of us – even if not physically with us. All the colleges in New Orleans had to shepherd 70,000 students out of the city and – with the generous support of fellow colleges and universities – relocate them into alternate educational programs in the space of days. Fifteen thousand college employees have also dispersed. Our hospitals, which are closed now, operated during the extreme duress of the storm, while we packed up what was left of our administration to open satellite campuses in other parishes or states.

In all of this, we have received more than a little help from our friends. But colleges and universities cannot do it alone.

We propose is a bold economic plan that allows us to sustain our vital resources – our faculty, students, and employees – so that they, in turn, can be part of the rebuilding of the economic, educational, and cultural life of New Orleans:

  • Colleges must rebuild. We need immediate help to rebuild labs and classrooms, and restore our communications systems, so that we can be fully operational by the next semester. Families need to know that safe and state-of-the-art facilities will be there, and that students will be receiving a world-class education in a secure and thriving environment. But right now, educational nonprofits have to go through a mountain of bureaucratic red tape with the Small Business Administration in order to become fully eligible for FEMA funds, under a law passed five years ago. As some of the region’s largest employers, we believe this policy is penny wise and pound foolish, and ask for it to be repealed in the interest of funding our recovery.
  • Faculty and staffs need to be retained. Faculty need to know that they have a place to return to, will have help restarting their lives from scratch, and that we can be counted on to make payroll. The nurses and doctors in our medical centers, our engineers, and our communications specialists need the same assurances, so that they will return to New Orleans. They will not only serve our students, but lend their expertise to the community as well. They need economic incentives to return.
  • Families and students need to be encouraged to return through scholarship funds. Our greatest resource is the energy, vitality, and resources our students bring to our campuses, and to the region. However, many may now be disinclined to return to area in the process of recovery. We are convinced that if you entice students with scholarship funds, and promise them both a place at one of our institutions as well as a role in that recovery, they will commit to New Orleans – not just for their own education, but also to help rebuild our city.


There is urgency to our request. Right now, talented students and their parents are deciding where to apply for college next year. Our displaced faculty and staff are looking for a place to call home. Our 75,000 currently enrolled, displaced students are seeking ways to keep their college dreams alive. We want each of these groups to find their home in New Orleans. We need their talents, their energy, and their expertise if we are to once again become the vibrant, engaging, and prosperous city New Orleans has always been.


With an investment of several billion dollars – the equivalent of what our institutions pour back into the region every year or two – our colleges and students could be sustained through this difficult time and well into the future. In turn, that investment would ultimately return to New Orleans in the jobs our institutions would provide, and the increased human, social, and economic contributions we would make. A city that has thrived on the strength of its colleges and universities must place them at the center of its revival.

Submitted to the New York Times on November 15, 2005.


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