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After Layoffs, Cutbacks, Tulane Prepares to Reopen in January

By Michael Janofsky

Tulane University announced on Thursday that it would reopen in New Orleans next month as a sharply scaled-back institution, coping with the effects of Hurricane Katrina by laying off more than 200 faculty members, eliminating some academic programs and carrying half as many varsity sports teams.

Officials said the changes were necessary even though they expected up to 90 percent of Tulane’s 13,000 students to return after a semester spent at colleges and universities around the country.

“By subtraction, we will strengthen ourselves,” Scott S. Cowen, Tulane’s president, said. “These changes were all done to make sure that as Tulane goes forward, we can maintain academic excellence, address our financial issues and help save New Orleans.”

Cowen said the hurricane had forced the university to reinvent itself, narrowing its focus to its strengths, including an urban program intended to help rebuild New Orleans, and eliminating programs it could no longer support financially.

Cowen said he and other Tulane officials had conducted an aggressive campaign through the fall, visiting campuses around the country to encourage Tulane students to return in January. Officials said applications for next fall had increased by 12 percent from fall 2005.

While Cowen called the number of returning students “amazing,” some parents expressed anger at the university for trying to discourage displaced students from staying at the colleges that had taken them in.

A group of national education organizations sent letters to presidents of institutions that had taken in students from the New Orleans area, urging them to admit them “only on a visiting or provisional basis.”

“They have made a concerted effort at various levels to make sure that students don’t transfer,” said Daniel J. Checki of South Orange, N.J., the father of a Tulane sophomore who attended Cornell this fall and wanted to stay.

Other parents expressed concern that despite continuing cleanup efforts from the storm that hit on Aug. 29, New Orleans might still not be ready to receive so many returning students and faculty members.

Since its earliest days in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana and its conversion to a full private university 50 years later, Tulane has been a jewel of New Orleans, situated on the high ground of St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District.

It has consistently been a leading university in the South, and a magnet to many students from the Northeast. When the doors open in January, Tulane will resume its role as New Orleans’ largest employer, and a diminished city population will increase by 20 percent.

Tulane is not the only New Orleans college struggling to recover. Loyola and Southern Universities have vowed to reopen next month, and Loyola announced Tuesday that 28 employees would lose their jobs at the end of the year. Two small historically black universities, Dillard and Xavier, suffered far worse damage than their wealthier counterparts on higher ground and are scrambling to get back on their feet.