Tulane Students Still Loyal, But Less Than Impressed

By all counts, students at Tulane University are a resilient bunch. They have coped with Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and disruption by creating charities and raising awareness. They have started blogs and message boards to reassemble the Green Wave diaspora online. But though students respond “hell yeah!” when asked if they plan to return to the Big Easy, they are less impressed with their university’s response.

Concerns regarding everything from the feasibility of a unified graduation to the future safety of New Orleans have plagued the university’s fragmented population since Katrina descended Aug. 29. A month later, Tulane students still lack access to their university e-mail accounts and information about their belongings. Nevertheless, Tulane insists the university will be ready for students’ return in January.

“I feel like I’m being lied to. I don’t think that New Orleans will be safe by January. I know people who are there, and I just don’t think there will even be safe water by then,” says Amy E. Hertz, a senior at Tulane who extended her summer internship through this semester.

Confidence in Tulane’s response to Katrina began to falter after students spent four days waiting for the school to release a plan of action. Across town, Loyola had already informed its students to look into other schools and was helping them apply to other Jesuit colleges. Though Tulane has tried to keep members of the community up to date through its makeshift website and weekly online chats, parents of students have been frustrated by busy signals at Tulane’s temporary office in Houston.

As Tulane students waited to hear whether or not they should apply for visiting student status at other colleges, those schools moved ahead with classes. Thanks to Harvard’s Sept. 19 start date, the 36 Gulf Coast students here were able to begin classes with the rest of the student body. But most other schools were like Vanderbilt University, where classes were already a week and a half into their syllabi before the 83 Gulf Coast students enrolled as emergency visiting students.

For the time being, Tulane is holding onto fall tuition, using it to rebuild and repair its facilities. While the university has pledged to reimburse students who have chosen to withdraw, many displaced students wish the funds could come sooner. Those enrolled as visiting students elsewhere will continue paying Tulane’s tuition—regardless of how much their host school might cost. The arrangement benefits students going to places like Harvard, where tuition is waived and the education comparable. But those spending their semester at more modestly priced institutions feel somewhat cheated.

Still worse off are those who have landed at schools unable to waive their tuition costs. While Tulane will eventually reimburse them, for now, they are paying two sets of tuition.

“My parents are presently paying for a year and a half of college. While we’re lucky enough to be able to afford these payments, this could really be a burden for the families of students on financial aid,” says Tulane freshman Ashley B. Rispler, who is currently attending Washington University in St. Louis.

Rispler likes it at Wash. U—in fact, she’s trying to transfer there permanently. But Tulane University President Scott S. Cowen has discouraged host schools from allowing visiting students to do that. The Harvard Office of Transfer Admissions, in compliance, will not allow visiting students to apply for transfer admission.