WPA Posts from Jim McDonald in Lafayette, Louisiana

With his permission, I am copying here Jim McDonald's posts about effects and after-effects of Katrina sent to the WPA-L listserv over the last few days. Jim is at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Posts appear in reverse chronological order.--Shirley Rose

Mon 9/26/2005 11:42 AM
Re: Hurricane Rita

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette closed 12:30 pm Thursday in anticipation of Hurricane Rita but will probably reopen tomorrow morning.
About one quarter of the city lost power, but I think most electricity has been restored. Lafayette lost a number of trees and had some flash flooding with 10 inches of rain and some storm surges in low-lying areas along the Bayous Teche and Vermillion but suffered less damage than three years ago with Hurricane Lily. Some buildings were damaged by fallen trees, but I haven't seen much wind damage.

The damage south and west of Lafayette was much worse. McNeese University in Lake Charles and Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, are probably the hardest hit campuses, along with community colleges along the Texas-Louisiana border, but I haven't heard any damage reports. It may take a month to restore electricity, gas, and water to those cities.

Aside from a neighbor's pine tree falling on the corner of my deck and 18 hours without electricity, I made it through Hurricane Rita okay.

Jim McDonald

Friday, September 9, 1:45 p.m.
Re: News from Louisiana--updateMyrtle E. B. Dorsey, the Chancellor of Baton Rouge Community College, was interviewed this morning on WKRP, the Baton Rouge public radio station.
BRCC is creating new classes and hiring adjunct faculty. Delgado Community College and Nunez Community College have set up offices at BRCC while their campuses are closed, and Dorsey seemed to say that some of their faculty will be teaching classes at BRCC, which is busy renting buildings for needed extra offices and classrooms. BRCC is also trying to help displaced faculty and staff find new jobs. More information can be found at http://www.brcc.cc.la.us/.

Jim McDonald

Wednesday, September 7, 2:25 p.m.
adjuncts and other hurricane news
A colleague here has been in touch with Kim McDonald of the University of New Orleans (who is safe in Laredo, Texas). From what I hear, although UNO will be paying the salaries of faculty on tenure-line or with a continuing line contract, adjunct faculty will not be paid while UNO is closed. My information is far from firsthand here, but I doubt there will be press releases about adjunct faculty.

I think it's time to start discussing what kind of support we might offer or advocate for adjunct faculty displaced by the storm and the need to get information about their situations.

I have heard that UNO and Xavier University intend to have a fall semester, even if it starts after Thanksgiving. The fall and spring semesters would both be condensed, organized like a summer semester or like a term in the quarter system. UNO is organizing on-line courses in the meantime.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette was admitting visiting students from other universities displaced by the storm until noon yesterday. We had enrolled 600 visiting students by Friday afternoon last week (our enrollment was a little over 16,000 at the start of the semester). Except for two new sections of English 101, we did not create new classes but instead absorbed the new students into existing sections.

We are considering beginning a condensed semester in October, however. I'd like to see this happen, and not just for displaced students. A couple of students in my advanced writing class came to see me yesterday because they've been missing classes and falling behind in their work as they deal with family members from New Orleans who are now living with them and with all the work that is necessary in getting aid, insurance, etc. because of the destruction of their family homes in New Orleans. They'd like the opportunity to drop a class or two now but to pick up a class in October when their lives are calmer.

The Southern Regional Education Board, the accrediting agency for this part of the country, is also offering on-line courses for free to displaced students (http://www.sloansemester.org/) and is inviting SREB universities to provide courses through SREB.

I am told that displaced faculty may be hired to teach classes that are being created by various institutions to meet the needs of displaced students while receiving salaries from their home institutions, and I expect that some displaced adjunct faculty are finding employment here.

Our Dean of Students office is helping students find shelter for their families and providing counseling for students affected by Katrina. We are also organizing a Day of Welcome September 13 for our new visiting students, who were not here for orientation and other new student activities, and each department has been asked to plan later welcoming activities for visiting students in their majors. The alumni has arranged with our university foundation to take donations to help students pay for their new textbooks.

An empty fraternity house of a fraternity on suspension is now housing 55 National Guard, which will alter the dynamics of fraternity row this semester. And emergency personnel are being housed in a new dormitory that was not completed in time to house students this semester.

The population of Lafayette Parish reportedly has grown by 40,000--the 2000 census had the city at 110,000 and the parish at 190,000. (Not as big a jump as Baton Rouge's jump from 250,000 to 500,000 in a week, but
substantial.) Because of all the music in Lafayette, many displaced musicians from New Orleans have relocated here, and benefit concerts have already started.

Jim McDonald
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Sunday, September 4, 2:45 p.m.
Cancelled fall semesters at Tulane and Loyola
The website for Loyola University New Orleans (http://www.loyno.edu/)has announced the cancellation of the fall semester but will reopen in January. Faculty and staff will receive their salaries. Arrangements have been made for students to attend LSU or other Jesuit universities, and Loyola has set up temporary offices in Alexandria University.

If you listened to Weekend Edition on NPR this morning, you heard a Tulane University official say that Tulane won't offer classes until the spring semester, although they hope to open the campus to staff and faculty some time this fall.

Jim McDonald

September 3, 10:38 a.m.
more hurricane news from LouisianaHere are some links to news stories today about how the state Louisiana higher education system is enrolling thousands of displaced students and about plans of colleges and universities west of New Orleans and east of Lafayette to reopen next week as electricity is restored to these areas: http://2theadvocate.com/livepages4/859.shtml and http://www.2theadvocate.com/stories/090305/new_displaced001.shtml.

One of these articles seems to suggest that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is housing 6,000 displaced students at the Cajundome, but that's the total number of refugees that are being sheltered there. I don't know how many displaced students we've enrolled as a whole, but we've placed 145 students into English classes this week, from developmental English to graduate seminars. We added two new sections of English 101 to begin next week (our third week of classes) and held English 101 and 102 class sizes to 27 students. Developmental English class sizes were bumped up to 27. We have only a few English 90 classes, and we're now directing all students who need a developmental composition class to South Louisiana Community College. We asked teachers to identify students who are not showing up to classes to find available places for other students, and many teachers of sophomore and upper-division classes gave permission to add students to their classes, often overloading their classes. I've received conflicting information about whether yesterday was the last day that we would accept late admissions or whether Tuesday will be the last day. I suspect that most institutions west of the Atchafalaya Basin and in north Louisiana have finished most of their late enrollment and that most new enrollments next week will take place on the campuses that are reopening after being closed all this week.

I've been advising English majors from New Orleans students and dealing with the problems that these students have no official records and their schools' websites are down. The University of New Orleans has put up a small website to get news to students and faculty, and I noticed a couple of blogs have been set up for Loyola University (they have posted some information about universities that are accepting Loyola students and providing aid). I understand that flooding around Tulane and Loyola has been minor--UNO, however, is located near the 17th Street Canal breach, and UNO students are worried that all their records have been lost from the university mainframe.

One piece of reassuring news was that a member of the English faculty at Xavier University who is married to a UL-Lafayette faculty member reported that she received her salary by direct deposit Thursday. So maybe N.O. faculty who arranged for direct deposit are getting paid. But one of our Ph. D. graduates who was starting a job at the University of New Orleans arrived in Lafayette with a suitcase and $40 and no idea what she will be living on. We're getting requests from N.O. faculty looking for places to rent in and around Lafayette, but pretty much all the available rental property in Lafayette, and, from what I read, in the state of Louisiana and much of east Texas and southern Arkansas was rented quickly after the storm. The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that the head of the state higher education system has promised that no one in the system will lose their jobs because of crisis, so I’m hopeful that paychecks will find their way to our UNO colleague before too long. But we continue to get requests for classes from adjuncts displaced by the hurricane, and past history makes me skeptical that the educational system counts them as employees in the promise to save all jobs. We’ll see.

Gasoline has been in short supply here, and phone lines have been jammed much of the time. Gun stores have been doing brisk business—some apparently have sold out their stock. Rumors of evacuees from New Orleans committing crimes, rioting in the Cajundome, mugging, car-jacking swirled around the city much of the week. There have been many, many acts of charity and generosity here, but the rumors suggest a fear of being invaded by outsiders, especially by blacks and the poor, coexists with people’s concern for others. Local media has tried to quell most of these rumors, and local police have said that crime statistics were down this week in Lafayette. But some teachers have told me that their students’ fear of being a victim of a crime, especially with night classes, has made it difficult for the class to concentrate.

One teacher in a sophomore literature class wishes that she hadn’t assigned a book of short stories by Ellen Gilchrist to read and discuss last week, where some characters angry with the culture of New Orleans wish for an apocalyptic flood. But she asked her students whether they wanted to continue with this book, and they said that they did, even a student from Slidell who doesn’t know what has happened to her parents.

I’ve heard little about what’s going on at South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette, about displaced students from Delgado Community College in New Orleans, or about how the hurricane has affected two-year colleges in general here.

Jim McDonald

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Saturday, October 3, 9:18 a.m.
the list & student newspapers
NPR weekend edition this morning has an interview with a University of New Orleans student who is now living in Baton Rouge. She said she does not know what she will do about her education right now, only that she heard something about UNO trying to set up distance courses for their students.

My best guess is that the best source of information for many students is other students, the network of friends and family attending schools across the country. If we can get information about help that colleges and universities are providing out to students in general, this information will be passed along to students who need this knowledge.

So I suggest that one thing to do with Bonnie's list is to email it to campus newspapers and radio stations and urge them to inform students that if they know college students dislocated by Hurricane Katarina, there are colleges and universities from Maine to California who will admit them and help them in other ways, that students should phone campuses to see what may be available for them.

Jim McDonald

Wednesday, August 31, 3:05 p.m

Re: Gulf Coast colleagues
Just read Beth Daniell's inquiry. Lafayette was spared by Katrina--no flooding, wind damage, or power outages. The University of Louisiana was closed Monday but held classes yesterday.

But campuses throughout Louisiana are starting to feel the effects of the disaster. Absenteeism is high this week as students deal with families evacuated from the New Orleans area or try to get news of family members who tried to ride out the storm. I read that a number of LSU students from the New Orleans area are housing family members who fled Katrina in their dorm rooms and apartments, and I imagine that's the situation on our campus and other campuses in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Baton Rouge had a lot of fallen trees and power outages, and the LSU campus is also a shelter for evacuees. But it appears that LSU and other Baton Rouge campuses will reopen the day after Labor Day.

But most if not all campuses in New Orleans are flooded, and I'm hearing and reading predictions that campuses might not reopen for three months, after the draining of the flood water, restoration of power (in four to six weeks), and massive cleanup and repair of buildings and roads. University governing boards and administrations are meeting to decide how to restructure the school year. Students risk losing their financial aid if the fall term is cancelled and they are not full-time students, so campuses are trying to reorganize the year, even if they can't reopen their doors until near Thanksgiving.

As a result, many students from New Orleans campuses are trying to transfer to other campuses in the state for the semester, although most state universities and community colleges are in the middle of our second week of classes. We're receiving pressure to increase class sizes to accommodate these students, and all the freshman class sizes are at 27 already because of enrollment increases before the hurricane. The fire marshal has given permission to increase our sophomore lit class sizes to 44, two above what the fire code normally allows. I assume that all state universities in central and western Louisiana are facing similar situations.

Jim McDonald

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Comments

Jim posted the following update to WPA-L.
Shirley

I read Irvin Peckham's post and thought I'd mention what I know and have heard.

I heard that student enrollment at Dillard University and Xavier University, the two private historically black universities in New Orleans, is expected to be half what it was before Katrina, and these two universities have laid off about half their faculty and staff. Because Dillard’s campus was badly damaged by flooding and fires, Dillard will have student housing and classes at Tulane University. Xavier was badly flooded, but its buildings are several stories high—the first floors of its buildings will be closed but the university will be able to use most of their facilities. Xavier’s writing center is probably a casualty of the layoffs—the writing center director found a position in Houston soon after Katrina. The communications program was eliminated, I hear, because most of its equipment was destroyed. Unlike the other schools, Xavier did not cancel its fall semester—the fall term is beginning in January, and the spring term will begin in May, with no summer school or summer break before the fall 2006 term. Xavier hopes that its enrollment will be 85% of what it was this fall for the 2006-07 academic year.

Tulane is expecting 85% of its students to return. It has laid off over 200 faculty, mostly in the medical school—the number of faculty layoffs outside the medical school is around 55. Tulane also is eliminating 16 Ph. D. programs, including the English Ph. D. program and a small number of undergraduate programs, mainly in engineering. I haven’t heard much about Loyola, although I think its drop in enrollment is expected to be similar to Tulane’s, around 15%.

I haven’t heard much about the state campuses, except that they are all reopening. I haven’t heard any enrollment projections or word on layoffs, but I expect enrollment to take a bigger hit than the private schools because they depend much more heavily on commuter students for their enrollment. Delgado Community College has announced that it may provide faculty with no more than five days notice that they are being laid off because of enrollment uncertainties. Faculty, I believe, will be able to appeal their layoff during this short period. Southern University in New Orleans, a state historically black university, will reopen with FEMA trailers for classes and offices because every building on its campus was flooded to at least the second floor. A number of legislators have talked about permanently closing some campuses—arguments that Louisiana has too many state universities have gained more support, especially with an expected large permanent drop in the state population, but there hasn’t been much movement on this as far as I’ve noticed. McNeese State University in Lake Charles reopened a month after Hurricane Rita with around $9 million damage to the campus. The university cancelled most Christmas break in order to complete the fall semester. Some faculty did not return after evacuating Lake Charles, but I haven’t seen any numbers.

With the large number of layoffs of tenured, tenure-line, and continuing faculty going on, most adjunct faculty are not being rehired. On at least one campus, all tenure-track English faculty for the first time have been assigned to teach first-year English classes, and some are unhappy about this. Universities often say that they hire adjunct faculty for “budget flexibility,” and we’re seeing an extreme exercise of this flexibility in Louisiana, and not just in the campuses that were closed by Katrina.

My university, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was not damaged by the hurricanes, but the 2006-07 budget was cut by over 6%, and more cuts may yet occur. With the loss of tax revenue from New Orleans, the state budget had to be pared by over 15%, and higher education and state medical care absorbed much of this cut. (The closures of campuses, hospitals, and other state offices because of the hurricanes also helped absorb the loss in tax revenues.) My university is going to a 4½-day work week so that we can close buildings at noon on Fridays and reduce energy costs. Many faculty (my guess is half) were assigned to teach an additional class this spring. The class assignments of about 15 tenure-track English faculty were affected. Class sizes have been increased—our first-year composition classes will have 27 students this spring (and this could go up to 28 depending on enrollment). We are assigning graduate assistants in the MA program with less than 18 hours of graduate course work to teach developmental English classes this spring—normally they would work as tutors and not teach a class. And the university has put in a temporary tuition hike. Most adjunct faculty lines outside of English and math have been eliminated. Our department is hiring back almost all of our adjunct faculty, but they won’t be assigned as many classes as in the past.

Jim McDonald