- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

aNEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lee Marinelli opened her dorm room to find everything just as she left it last August — the books and school supplies on the shelves, half-unpacked clothes in the closet, her giant stuffed bear lying on the bed.

Four-and-a-half months ago, the Hurricane Katrina evacuation canceled Tulane University’s freshman orientation after just a few hours. But yesterday, the school finally came back to life.

Students moved in on a day called “Orientation Deja Vu,” with parents carrying trunks and freshmen getting acquainted with neighbors and roommates. Some were greeted by President Scott Cowen, a man they had last seen in August wearing Bermuda shorts and delivering to the new class not his planned welcome speech but an evacuation notice.

“This is a glorious day, because I have to say there were times in the first few months after the storm when I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to reopen the university again,” Mr. Cowen said.

Nearly 90 percent of Tulane’s 6,700 undergraduates are returning, the university said. The reopening is also a big boost for the city of New Orleans, where Tulane is the largest private employer and returning students will amount to a noticeable population increase.

Tulane, which sustained $200 million in property damage, still has washed-away lawns, and many students are struggling to find housing (Tulane has leased a cruise ship). But the campus, which was less-severely flooded than other area schools, looks remarkably normal.

However, Mr. Cowen announced plans in December for one of the boldest reorganizations ever by a university, cutting 27 of its 45 doctoral programs while consolidating its undergraduate program. About 230 faculty members were laid off — mostly from the medical school — and eight athletic teams were suspended.

Some aren’t happy with the plan, which cut doctoral programs in core subjects such as English and economics, and in areas like civil and environmental engineering that seem more urgent than ever.

“Given the depth and the number of the cuts that they’ve made to the doctoral programs and the professional schools … one does have to wonder whether the institutional mission has been compromised,” said Clarence Mohr, a University of South Alabama historian who has written a history of the university.

Mr. Cowen said he understands why people are upset, but that the change will allow Tulane to improve its undergraduate program while maintaining its research status and plugging a $100 million deficit caused by the storm.

The best news for Tulane is that applications for next year are up 15 percent, a product of publicity from the storm and opportunities to participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans, said Richard Whiteside, the dean of admissions.

That was part of why the reason freshman Brent Bielski decided to come back, after spending last semester at a college in Florida.

“I considered it, but financially and academically, this was the best situation,” he said. “Plus, I’m excited to see how it turns out, being in an environment that’s unknown.”

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