University reopens on its own campus, president says
Sept. 26, 2006
Photo courtesy of Dillard University
Marvalene Hughes (right), president of Dillard University, helps a student register for housing.
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.
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
a year of renovations, Dillard University has returned to its home
campus. The school was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29,
"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
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.
A UMNS photo by Tim Tanton
Workers perform repairs on a building at Dillard University several months after Hurricane Katrina.
"We are getting back on our feet, and that is what is important," Hughes
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,
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or
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