Sunday, September 25, 2005

Storms Stretch Safety Net for Black Colleges (New York Times)

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 24 - After Hurricane Katrina hit, there was six feet of water in the library at Xavier University. There is a beached boat on a campus made that much soggier by the wind and rain from Hurricane Rita. There is a waterlogged chapel, floors as slimy and slippery as river moss, with chairs and Bibles and plants strewn willy-nilly and a statue of the Virgin Mary perched on a pedestal overlooking it all.

Three miles away, there is a pile of rubble at Dillard University where three modular student dorms used to be before a post-hurricane fire burned them to the ground. There is a soggy morass of ruined books and backpacks and notebooks in the student bookstore, a ghostly vista of shrubs turned black by the polluted water that covered the campus for two weeks, and no students, just the chug, chug, chug of trucks pumping out water and drying out buildings.

When most people think of higher education in New Orleans, they are more likely to think of Tulane or perhaps Loyola than Xavier and Dillard, two small historically black universities scrambling to get back on their feet. But in the parable of race and inequality left behind by the floodwaters, one chapter still to be written will be the fate of places like Dillard and Xavier, which suffered far worse damage than their wealthier counterparts on higher ground and have tiny endowments, limited resources and students who are almost all dependent on financial aid.

Both say they will survive and eventually recover. But that could be a long, slow process, with Dillard researching the possibility of holding some sort of a spring semester away from its home campus and Xavier saying it needs $70 million to $90 million in aid to get it back where it was before the storm.

"I don't have an endowment I can take money from," said Dr. Norman C. Francis, the president of Xavier. "If I can't recover the money we expected for the first semester to pay faculty and staff and pay our bills, we're standing here naked. We have nothing. And what we're looking for now is the help we need so we won't be severely crippled in our ability to come back."

Higher education, like everything else, took a wallop from the storm in the New Orleans area, where more than 75,000 students had to flee their colleges and universities. All had to shut down, including Tulane, the largest private employer in Orleans Parish. As it turned out, top officials there relocated to temporary office space in Houston, only to have to move again when Hurricane Rita threatened.

But few face more daunting hurdles than Dillard and Xavier, both small private universities, with almost 6,000 students between them. (more...)