Photo of light streaming through oak trees on the uptown campus
Survival to Renewal
Tulane University


A little over three months ago Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in the history of the U.S., caused unbelievable destruction to our beloved city, its people and institutions, including Tulane University. However, Katrina did not destroy us because of the courage and sheer determination of so many who would not accept defeat no matter what obstacles or challenges stood in the way.

Tulane University will open its doors on January 17 to approximately 86 percent of the students who were here pre-Katrina, a figure no one thought conceivable three months ago. This speaks volumes about the quality and commitment of our students, faculty and staff. I am so proud and honored to be associated with each and every one of you.

But for Tulane University, survival and recovery are not enough. We aspire to so much more for ourselves and for our city, region and country. It took Tulane 172 years to become one of the most respected and highly regarded universities in the nation. I am here today to tell you, the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Tulane, that regardless of what challenges we face we have no intention of letting this disaster destroy our legacy and dream of world-class academic excellence.

Tulane stands shoulder to shoulder with other New Orleanians in its commitment and determination to rebuild our city, block by block. I make this pledge on behalf of Tulane University, the premier academic university in the region, New Orleans' largest employer and one of the largest economic engines in the state.

The road back will not be an easy one for any of us. Like many other institutions, Tulane University realized substantial financial losses from the hurricane. But even as we undertook the daunting and expensive task of cleaning up and repairing the damage to our campuses, we were committed to retaining, to the greatest degree possible, the core that makes Tulane great—its people. We did this by quickly establishing communications following the storm, taking care of our students' academic needs, and maintaining the payroll for the majority of our full-time faculty and staff throughout the fall semester while we were closed.

But such commitment comes with a price and, for Tulane, that price is significant. Today, the Board of Administrators approved a bold and courageous plan for the university that ensures our continued academic excellence and financial recovery.

Our plan represents the most significant reinvention of an American university in more than a century. It required us to make difficult decisions about programs and people, which we attempted to do strategically and with sensitivity to those whose positions were eliminated. It is a plan borne out of a disaster but it reflects a university willing to change, to overcome adversity, to take control of its destiny and to face the future with determination and confidence. It reflects a university that loves New Orleans and understands its leadership role in rebuilding the city as its largest employer. As Tulane excels, so will New Orleans. As New Orleans shines again, Tulane will bask in that light.

The word “light” reminds me of an e-mail I sent on August 30 as the floodwaters rose in the city and I and a handful of my staff awaited rescue from the Reily Center. Although we are three months and a lifetime removed from those dark days, I think the sentiment expressed in that note is still applicable.

“It is difficult to describe what this situation feels like for those involved,” I wrote. “It is surreal and unfathomable; yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our focus is on the light and not the darkness.”

That light is, and always will remain, our focus.

Scott S. Cowen