Ordered Back to Louisiana
September 27, 2005

The date is set. A message sent to all Tulane University Law School students last week made it clear that they are expected back in New Orleans in January. They will not be permitted to remain elsewhere as visiting students for the spring semester, and Tulane will not help them transfer.

"If you all are going to have an institution around to award you a degree that is worth the paper it is written on, Tulane needs to bring back in the spring both most of its normal revenues and most of its students," read the letter from Gary Roberts, deputy dean of the law school.

In an interview, Roberts said that Tulane "needs its customers back" to keep the law school afloat financially, and also to instill confidence in students and faculty members that Tulane hopes to draw in the future.

The Tulane letter is the first of what may be a series of difficult negotiations between New Orleans colleges and their students. In the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina, flexibility was the name of the game, and colleges encouraged students to find any appropriate place to spend a semester. But with colleges' finances and reputations on the line, institutions may start bending a lot less.

Some students are enthusiastic that Tulane is re-opening so soon. Adam Dunlop, a third-year student, was at Tulane specifically for the sports law program. "If Tulane opens its doors, I'll be there," said Dunlop, who said he is a bit worried about his loans in light of his relocation costs. "If I can support Tulane in the coming months, I'll do that." Roberts said he understands how difficult it is for students who have "signed leases, or their spouses have found jobs," but "if our students don't come back," he said, "we run the risk of never coming back ourselves."

Still, some students refuse to come back.

"I'm afraid to go back. I don't want to be on the Gulf Coast," said Joe Bourne, who was about to start his first-year at Tulane Law, but instead will look for another law school to attend in fall 2006. Bourne did not enroll as a visiting student this fall, and will get his tuition money back.

Tulane Law asked other institutions not to take in its first-years this fall. Instead, they will be enrolled in January in a six-day-a-week, six-month intensive program that will seek to make up the first year. Many second and third-year Tulane Law students have no choice but to return, as Tulane will not release their transcripts for a transfer, or grant them continued visiting status.

Some are not following the marching orders happily. E-mail messages seeking to organize a class action lawsuit to force Tulane to release students have circulated among displaced students. An anonymous post on the Tulane law discussion board proposes making a pitch for a story to 60 Minutes detailing what some students think is unfair treatment.

Craig Aguiar, a Tulane Law second-year is now a visiting student at the University of Louisville. He said relocating and replacing the clothing he needs for job interviews has cost him thousands of dollars. In addition, because he has to return to New Orleans in January, Aguiar is going to have to pay rent in two locations when his apartment in New Orleans re-opens next month. Aguiar chose to attend a public institution to save some money, but he was upset to find out that he cannot stay at Louisville in the spring to save some extra cash before returning. "Tulane's a great school," Aguiar said. "I'll move back, but I'd prefer to do it next year." He added that he needs to work part-time, and the restaurant he worked in in New Orleans is shuttered. "It'll be tough to go back. People return to nothing, and emotions will be sky high. New Orleans will be scary."

Another anonymous post on the discussion board called anyone willing to move back to New Orleans in January "stupid." "Bring a gun though, seriously," the post reads. "Looting ain't over yet, baby."

Said Roberts, the deputy dean: "There are always a few jerks, but I'm very proud of most of the students."

Aguiar said he was unsettled when he found out that a law student at Louisville who is visiting from Loyola University in New Orleans might have more options than he does. Loyola is opening a campus in Houston on October 3, and anticipates that over half of its 800 students will be there.

Others, with compelling reasons, can do the semester elsewhere, or sit it out. If students want to be away from Loyola for the entire year, their requests will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Nathan Steed, a Tulane Law student, had to move with his wife, Sandrine, and their children (ages 5, 3, and a baby). Steed is not happy that he will have to leave Indiana University and return in January. The Steeds first fled to Michigan, and their five-year-old son has now "changed schools three times, and it's his first year," Sandrine Steed said. The Steeds are willing to continue to pay Tulane, but would like to stay at Indiana indefinitely. The university offered them free housing before Tulane decided to bring students back in January.

With the decision now made, deans at law schools that have accepted Tulane students will abide by it. "We're trying to do a service to the students and the university," said Scott Altman, associate dean of the University of Southern California Law School, which has taken in several Tulane students. Added Karen Rothenberg, dean of the University of Maryland Law School which has six Tulane students: "We've got to be supportive of [Tulane Law School]. If they say they're ready to take students back, then they were just visitors."

Steed is also concerned that there might not be room in school for her child because of an influx of kids to open schools. Some students are worried about convenience they took for granted, like grocery stores, and gas stations.

"The university is going to have to build itself a little city," Roberts said.

Gwen Davis, a third-year who is visiting at Seattle University said she is attached to Tulane, but is not eager to return for one semester. "I feel for the administration," Davis said. "But I'm concerned about mold, grocery stores, and the roads weren't that good even before the hurricane. It's hard to have to move when you don't know what to expect from the city."

Like most of the students interviewed, Lauren Faust, who is visiting at the University of Maryland, wishes the administration was in better contact. Still, she is ready to go back. "I don't have my clothes, my car, my friends," Faust said. "I'm worried about the city, but we're talking January, not October."

Said J.C. Cronin, a second-year who is at the Widener University School of Law: "You could say that I'm excited about returning to Tulane and New Orleans. No matter what it is, it will be a character building experience."


Many of the Tulane law students upset with returning are mistaking inconvenience with hardship. Get over it. When you do return, take a look around at those not fortunate enough to attend an expensive, private school like Tulane — or able to have any college opportunity — and then tell me how hard you have it.

Mike, at 2:29 pm EDT
September 27, 2005

Mike easy for you to say this is a "minor inconvenience".

The students were ordered to return with no knowledge if there is adequate housing, any reasonable prospects for daycare for children or employment for spouses, nor any commitment to use Tulane's $500+MM endowment to give extra financial aid to cover the costs of leases that have to be broken, or to be "ordered back" to a city where everyone, even the city's gung ho mayor is saying "stay away". Read the Times Picayune! It may be months before restoration of all of the following that I suspect you take for granted: water, sewer, electricity, public transport, the school system, doctors on staff for non student dependents, grocery stores since Tulane has reccommended "no cars".

"Ordering" students back without these needs addressed is short sighted. Whether or not people are pressured to return this is unlikely to garner much support from prospective classes considering where to go next year.

As a separate matter, Mike what gives you the right to assume that everyone can pick up a family and move so easily — 3 times in 4 months — or to term that a "minor inconvenience"?

Anon, at 5:40 pm EDT
September 27, 2005

I certainly can understand the frustration of the students, who must be uprooted again to return to a place that has been devastated. I agree with Anon; the school needs to be very resourceful in seeing that the needs of all of the returning students are met.

Certainly, Tulane needs the presence of its law students to say financially afloat. the only way to accomplish this is to ensure, inasmuch as possible, that these students also remain financially afloat. I know that the school has a plan, or else why would they order the return of these students?

Therefore, I would encourage all of the law students, and other students as well, to return to a place that has caused their resolve to be tested in untold ways. They will be stronger and more determined to finish the course. Moreover, they will be more appreciative of this great opportunity that they have been given to study law and most certainly, they will be more appreciative of life.

Bobbie J. Allen, at 8:44 pm EDT
September 27, 2005

Get your quotes right, Anon. I didn't say "minor inconvenience." I said the dilemma of Tulane law students was not a hardship, relative to everything else taking place in New Orleans. But I will say this: I'm tired of reading about all the whining by Tulane students and their generally well-off parents while thousands of public school kids, in one of the worst school systems you'll find, are suffering true hardship. Same for students in the community colleges, UNO, etc. If having to move "2 or 3 times" in a short period of time is the worst hardship Tulane law students ever have to face, they're in pretty good shape.

Mike, at 8:44 pm EDT
September 27, 2005

While it's true that many Tulane students are well off, the majority aren't. They're borrowing enormous amounts of money to get a Tulane law degree. The school isn't open, and it's in the middle of a city that isn't open and isn't particularly safe in the best of times.

Some Tulane students might also have discovered that the prevailing administrative disdain for students — as displayed by Dean Roberts in the article — isn't universal. They may not be eager to return to a school that treats students like numbers with wallets, and little else. Can't say that I blame them. Especially when Tulane can't even guarantee flush toilets at this point.

Holly, at 9:31 pm EDT
September 27, 2005

It's funny that the article calls this a negotiation. What exactly are we negotiating. The University says the students are supposed to do.

I am deeply saddened and embarassed as an alum to see the university do this to its own. They are eating their own young. I want nothing to do with this place and that is very sad to me.

Ron, Tulane Alum and Student, at 7:43 am EDT
September 28, 2005

Right on Ron!   Tulane — or any — students forced back against their will are being treated as little more than indentured servants to the university. Roberts has the nerve to call the students jerks in a public interview! He is a pompous, self-serving beaurucrat. There's going to be a huge backlash if the school goes through with witholding transcripts of these guys.

And to Mike, whoever you are — even if many of the Tulane students are a bunch of rich kids (just come out and say it, we know what you mean) does this mean that an institution is justified in forcing them into this educational servitude? I hope the Tulane students get organized quick and fight Roberts — he's the real whining rich kid.

JR, Student at Loyola Law, at 1:12 pm EDT
September 28, 2005

There's a simple answer to Tulane's problem. Go online! By the time January roles around, they could easily have their beginner's (intro) classes online. They could even partner with Concord Law School for some basic law classes.

If that doesn't work, why not move the school temporarily to another city, like Baton Rouge or Houston, as they did the Med School?

I don't like the tone of the Deputy Dean's email either. They sound frightened and dictatorial.

Anonymous, in Chicago, at 4:33 pm EDT
September 28, 2005

I am greatly concerned about Tulane's approach to addressing the viability issues concerning the law school. The "business" decision to force its students back to New Orleans before the financial, environmental, and emotional issues of its current students (and staff) are addressed seems short-sighted and will most likely lead to future recruitment problems. The student body that is currently being "strong-armed" to return will be less likely to recommend the university in the near future and will possibly leave the university with a life-long resentment over the way they were treated. It would truly be sad if this is only about money.

If Tulane is in fact in trouble and must resort to a hard-line call for its students to return to New Orleans, I believe it is incumbent on the school to make a stronger case for this policy and win general support for its plans.

As a once enthusiastic supporter of Tulane Law and witness to my son's pride in being a part of that fine institution, I am saddened by his perception that the school cares more about its bottom line than its most ardent supporters, the current student body. These are the very students that, by choosing the University, demonstrated their commitment to Tulane Law School. They deserve much more from Tulane Law in return.

Larry, Parent of 3rd Year Student, at 1:38 pm EDT
September 29, 2005

I was admitted to Tulane as an undergrad student for this Fall. I am now enrolled at another university because of the abysmal way I was treated by the Admissions staff and Financial Aid staff. They never responded to my phone calls or emails in a timely manner and always acted as if I was not important to the school. I wanted to attend Tulane more than anyone could ever imagine but am now glad that I didn't. It is very obvious that this is an institution that cares more about money and image than it does its students or potential students. The attitude of the administration towards its displaced law students speaks to this. I think Tulane is going to be very surprised when its classrooms are empty and its recruiters can't find anyone who wants to attend a school that cares more about money and image and traditions than it does about providing a quality education and life experience.

Ray, at 9:16 pm EDT
October 27, 2005

Somebody wrote: "Certainly, Tulane needs the presence of its law students to stay financially afloat"

In my opinion, an institution that treats its people the way Tulane has treated its students does not deserve to stay afloat by standing on our shoulders while we're submerged up to our necks.

In response to the tuition discrepancy between Tulane and Baylor, one School of Medicine administrator responded that the SoM would continue charging full Tulane tution because they "needed the money to rebuild," as if that were really relevant. We get about $17k for living expenses from financial aid. If he thinks we should all sacrifice in order to rebuild the school, I wonder if he'd be willing to give up all but $17k of his salary for the sake of the Greater Tulane Good?

My question is, if an institution treats its customers badly, does it deserve to survive at all?

Tulane Student, at 8:48 am EST
November 27, 2005

Law students who want to air "Tulane injustice" on 60 Minutes, you are not alone. Look at your neighbors at Business School — students there are also forced to come back despite their will...did anybody thought of international students? How much money they spent during this time? They have families with them here for god sake. Me personally, I want to get done with my degree and fly back home from this country...and you know why.

Yuri, at Tulane, at 6:03 am EST
December 11, 2005
Copyright 2005, Inside Higher Ed

From: Inside Higher Ed, September 27, 2005 (http://insidehighered.com/news/2005/09/27/tulane).  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.  Hyperlinks present in the original are not preserved.