“You can flood a city, but you can’t drown a university”, says Greg Seab, a physicist at the University of New Orleans who was speaking at a press conference on the impact of Katrina on local physics departments.
Although the university was above the high water mark when Katrina flooded much of the city in September 2005, the campus was without electricity for six months. Indeed, the power only came on three days before the campus was scheduled to reopen in 2006.
But instead of cowering in the dark, the University re-invented itself online. Just a month after the disaster, faculty were delivering lectures and course work to 7000 students. However, one third of the university’s faculty eventually left after Katrina — something that Seab blames in part on “abysmal support from the state [of Louisiana].
The Xavier University campus suffered a direct blow, with many of its lecture halls underwater. The institute managed to reopen in January 2007, extending its academic year until August. Repairs have so far cost the university $50 million according to physicist Murty Akundi. 75% of students returned that January and Akundi says that enrolment is expected to be back to 80% of pre-Katrina levels by September 2008.
On a more cheerful note, David Hoagland of the University of Mass. at Amherst explained how he received a call from a colleague at New Orleans’s Tulane University asking if he could move his entire research group to Amherst. Hoagland said yes and the team were up and running in a month — and apparently “flourished with no scientific loss”.
I naturally assumed that these were theorists — but no, these intrepid experimentalists managed to clone their Tulane lab using borrowed equipment, much of it coming from scientific equipment makers. Where there is a will, there is a way!