Dillard University reopens on its own campus, president says
Sep. 26, 2006
NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Report By Linda Green*
Dillard University is back in business at its campus in New Orleans.
On Sept. 16, student registration began on the campus of United Methodist-related Dillard University, marking the return of the 136-year-old historically black college, which flooded after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, 2005. Student orientation began Sept. 18, and the college's president could not have been happier.
Dillard President Marvalene Hughes met with students and parents during on registration day. "I am happy," she said. "I was with the students and parents, and to me that is the life of a college experience. On Saturday, Sept. 16, I felt like a totally new person. It was a day I had long looked forward to and so had everyone else," she said.
Hughes had just started her tenure as president when Hurricane Katrina came ashore. She evacuated the campus before the floods. Before joining Dillard University, she served for 11 years as president of California State University at Stanislaus.
She described Sept. 16 as very celebratory with students cheering one another's arrival. "It was a very vibrant time for our campus," Hughes said. Returning students were scheduled to arrive the week of Sept. 25, and "we will know then how many students we will have for the year," she said.
Hughes said she "hopes that we will have at least 55 percent of our student population," to meet budget projections, which are driven by student enrollment and affect faculty, staff and programs, she said. "This will be an important and defining moment for us." She added: "I would be surprised if we don't make that target."
Restoring the campus
No one knows if and when the school will reach its pre-Katrina enrollment of 1,900 students, the president said. She predicted that student growth will be incremental, and she expressed concern that misinformation about the safety of the school and the conditions of New Orleans by the media and others will affect enrollment.
"The way the New Orleans condition is described does not represent what those of us think it should in living there," she said. "I have had every kind of environmental certification that is necessary conducted on the campus and in every space where my students are to be formally affiliated, and I've had it done more than once.
"I know, environmentally, Dillard University is safe, and I know that the other universities are safe too," she said.
"Dillard has spent close to $20 million to ensure and attest that Dillard's campus is not only aesthetically pleasing but environmentally safe," she said to United Methodist New Service and in a letter to returning and prospective students. "Soil samples have been taken around residence halls to ensure that the grounds are free of contaminants; all Dillard-owned grounds are certified as safe," she said.
"The truth is that all the universities in New Orleans are under-enrolled at this time, and we expect that it will probably take three to five years for us (the New Orleans area colleges) to recover our student population," she said.
At Dillard, the entire campus was damaged. The school had to rebuild three dorms; restore its classrooms, administration headquarters, student union and gymnasium; and re-landscape the campus grounds. Restoration on the library is ongoing.
"We are back only on the front space of the campus, where buildings have been reconstructed," Hughes said. That work included the rehabilitation of residence halls to accommodate 860 students. She said enough classroom space is available, but the school will rely on other universities for student library use and health services for most of the academic year.
"We are getting back on our feet, and that is what is important," Hughes said.
The college conducted its spring semester at the Hilton Hotel in downtown New Orleans, and 1,100 Dillard students attended classes there. Eight hundred lived at the hotel, and the remaining 300 drove to classes each day.
Housing is not as plentiful, and many faculty and staff are reconstructing their homes. "Housing is sparse and more expensive, but people are making the adjustments to come back," Hughes said.
She noted that the students and the citizens of the area have a strong resilience and a determination that is so "unbelievably deep that they will come back because that is home for them."
"There is something that is so attractive and magnetic about that, which is contagious," she said. "I have caught it too."
Another indication that the school was back was when 354 Dillard seniors marched down the campus' historic Avenue of the Oaks July 1 to receive their degrees, she said.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at: http://umns.umc.org