Live Chat with President Cowen – September 23, 2005

President Cowen: Good afternoon everyone. This week’s live chat originates from Dallas, Texas, where we have temporarily relocated because of Hurricane Rita. As Rita bears down on the Gulf Coast I am reminded of the precautions we took at Tulane University less than a month ago and wish our friends the best. We will return to Houston as soon as possible. In the meantime, we will continue to communicate with you through our website and live chats. We will announce our plans for the spring semester as soon as we return to Houston and our call center is in operation. We have developed a plan that includes some lagniappe. I just finished a town hall meeting on the SMU campus where I met with students and parents to bring everyone up to date on our progress. I hope you find these weekly chats to be just as informative. First question…

Kujam: Let’s face the truth, will Tulane be able to get started in next 6 months?

President Cowen: Yes. Based on everything we know today we will definitely begin the spring semester in January. Next week we will disseminate our plan for the spring semester.

Sherry: What can we, as Tulane parents, expect as far as the safety of our children, if they return to Tulane? Also, should we decide not to have them return, when will we be allowed to retrieve their belongings?

President Cowen: New Orleans is now one of the safest cities in America and we expect it to continue that way in the future. In addition, public officials are addressing all the environmental health issues that may exist. I do not believe safety, however you define it, will be an issue to reopening in January. We will give you a specific date when you can retrieve your belongings. At this time we cannot determine when that will happen, but as soon as we know we will pass it along to you.

TR: We are hearing through blogs that the 15 week spring semester will be followed by a 9 week condensed semester to enable students to enroll in critical required courses. Can you confirm that?

President Cowen: Next week, we will publish our spring schedule. And it will include some lagniappe. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for next week’s news.

Roll: Pres. Cowen, I am a senior at Tulane and love the school and look forward to returning in January. My one concern is that my class may not be able to graduate together like we had planned when we returned for the year. What are the plans about graduation?

President Cowen: You will be able to graduate with your friends this May and the plans for graduation will be announced early in the spring.

Lisa: Is there any paperwork I need to do to take the fall semester off and still return to Tulane in the spring?

President Cowen: No.

Susie S.: President Cowen, I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job! My daughter can’t wait to get back to school. I hope you and your staff are safe in Dallas. From what you know at school, how much does this new storm affect opening in the spring? When will we know more? Thanks.

President Cowen: Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to all of us at this very difficult time. We’ve been following Hurricane Rita very closely and based on what we know right now do not believe it will have any adverse effect on our opening in the spring.

MJW: President Cowen, thank you for the wonderful job you are doing in such extreme conditions. In light of the current flooding in New Orleans, do you have any idea if opening in January is still a reality?

President Cowen: We are absolutely planning on opening in January and we will announce the specific date next week.

Chat: What are the plans for the Tulane Marching Band? Thanks.

President Cowen: We would anticipate that the marching band will be back together in January, stronger and more musical than ever.

Kendall Vingua: I’m a Newcomb senior, who’s attending University of Illinois-Chicago for the semester. After this semester’s course work is done, I have all my graduation requirements completed. What do I do now to make sure I get my Tulane degree? Do I still need to fill out “intent to graduate” forms, etc.? What is the plan for graduation in general?

President Cowen: We will have a graduation in the spring. Within a month we’ll have an application online for your intent to graduate. Keep following the messages on

Nat: Are the levees breaking today going to affect Tulane?

President Cowen: It is certainly unfortunate that a part of the 9th Ward has encountered additional problems from Rita. However, the area affected is only a small portion of the 9th Ward itself and it is quite distant from the French Quarter, the CBD and the University. The area affected is traditionally a low-lying part of the city. This break, while unfortunate, should have no bearing on the recovery of Tulane and the other parts of the city.

Art: Would it be possible to get more information regarding the damage to dorms and personal belongings? It may be possible to file an insurance claim to our own companies, but we would need to know our losses.

President Cowen: We are in the process of inventorying and packing up the contents of each room in each residence hall. If your property was damaged, we will notify you as soon as we possibly can. I do not have a specific date right now because your ability to come back to the city is contingent upon general conditions. We believe the only damage to resident hall contents was probably to those rooms on the ground level in a few residence halls. We do not believe that rooms above the first level incurred any damage.

Mom: First of all, I hope all is well in Dallas. At the rate you’re going you will be in earthquake territory soon 🙂

President Cowen: I do not recommend that anyone follow me to any city that I am in. I seem to be a walking natural catastrophe. Having said that, I hope the jinx will soon be removed and it will be safe to be around me. 🙂

Mom: Has Rita slowed up the clean up process for a spring opening or is it to soon to tell?

President Cowen: We do not believe Rita will have any adverse effect on our spring opening. We did shut down operations yesterday but would hope to resume them as soon as possible early next week.

Mom: I also have a couple of great t-shirt slogans for you: 1, “The Tulane Nomads” or 2. “Tulane, we survived the Big One in the Big Easy.”

President Cowen: I would like to add one more slogan: “Tulane University, The Institution for Thrill Seekers.”

M. Williams: Hello President Cowen. I would like to know what housing arrangements are planned for faculty and staff whose homes are still uninhabitable when asked to return to Tulane’s campuses. Thank you for this forum.

President Cowen: We are actively planning right now to be able to provide housing for displaced faculty and staff. It is one of our highest priorities. We don’t have the specific solution right now but we will have one well before the opening in January. Likewise, we also are identifying a solution for K-12 schooling for those faculty and staff who are in need of it.

Student 09: Dear President Cowen, how will the repeated flood of the city of New Orleans affect the rebuilding efforts of Tulane University in general?

President Cowen: Based on what I know today, I do not believe that the flooding will have any adverse effect on Tulane University. In a previous question, I already addressed the issue of the 9th Ward.

Mag: Hi, I am a new graduate of Newcomb and need help reaching transcripts and references for my job search. Where can I go for help or do I need to wait?

President Cowen: For transcripts, I suggest you write us at Tulane University, 1700 West Loop South, Suite 600, Houston, TX 77027. Make a notation on the envelope that this deals with transcripts. We also anticipate in a few weeks that you will be able to have direct contact with faculty and advisors in your college.

Chat: Will any on-campus students have to be housed off-campus due to damage?

President Cowen: We don’t anticipate this to be the case. We believe our residence halls will be restored in their entirety.

Chat: What is the extent of damage to on-campus housing?

President Cowen: There is not extensive damage to on-campus housing.  There are some windows that have to be replaced and some roof tiles, and some flood damage in a few buildings. We already have several hundred people who are working on our campuses to restore them. In fact, I just talked to a student who had been on campus two days ago and was surprised by how good it looked and that there was so much activity.

Go Green Wave: I already moved into my dorm room. Will I be able to keep that room when I return?

President Cowen: We’re going to make every effort we can to get you back into your dorm room, but we cannot guarantee that.

Go Green Wave: What do you think will happen to Tulane as a result of Rita?

President Cowen: Based on what I know right now I think New Orleans and Tulane University will weather this storm.

Go Green Wave: Will we have the Mardi Gras and spring breaks that were scheduled before?

President Cowen: In the midst of the recovery of the city they are planning for Mardi Gras and I would expect there would be some type of celebration as scheduled. Likewise, we anticipate having spring break as originally planned. And finally, Jazz Fest is also scheduled to take place in late spring.

USM: What is the current situation for Tulane employees concerning their jobs?

President Cowen: Tulane employees should go to the website and review our payroll policy and the status of employees. During this difficult period of time we have been paying full-time faculty and staff.

Go Green Wave: How are you and other faculty faring? Hope all is well.

President Cowen: We’re doing remarkably well given what we have been through and the conditions we faced. We are all deeply committed to Tulane University and New Orleans and are determined to make sure that both get back on their feet as soon as possible.

Chris: Can you make any assurances that tuition will not skyrocket in the next three years to pay for the potential loss of students, thus tuition income, in the wake of Katrina and Rita?

President Cowen: We do not anticipate that there would be any skyrocketing tuition as a result of this event.

Jacob Walker: I’ve temporarily moved to Rollins College in Florida, and I’ve had to pay full tuition both to Tulane and Rollins. I still intend to return to Tulane in the spring. How is Tulane going to handle tuition reimbursement in this scenario?

President Cowen: If you paid your tuition to Tulane University for the fall you will be credited for any tuition you paid at Rollins on your spring bill.

Jacob Walker: Does Tulane currently have an estimate as to the number of students and faculty who will return in the spring, and if so, roughly what percent of each is expected to return?

President Cowen: As of this date, very few students have indicated that they will not return in the spring. We actually think those that have decided to withdraw will change their minds after they see the plans for the spring semester. We anticipate all the faculty to return in the spring given that we’ve
continued to pay them during this period of time and they have been very committed to the institution, and loyal as well.

Danimal: President Cowen, if I am a student at Tulane and am taking this fall off, not taking classes anywhere, but plan on returning to Tulane in the spring, will I still be billed for fall semester? Or will I just receive one this spring?

President Cowen: You may get a bill for the fall semester but you do not have to pay it because you did not attend any college or university this fall.

Jacob Walker: What policy is there currently for retaining professors during this forced sabbatical? Are they being paid in this interval, and have there been problems with losing professors to other universities?

President Cowen: We have been paying our full-time faculty during this interval. And the vast majority of universities and colleges around the country have a no poaching policy in place.

Seth: I am a freshman who decided not to attend class this fall. Am looking forward to coming back to Tulane in January. Do you think that there will be any volunteer opportunities either on campus or in the neighborhood prior to school starting in January?

President Cowen: I do not think we will have any organized volunteer efforts prior to January because all our efforts are on opening the institution. However, we will be encouraging students to do community service when they return in January and we will be organizing the opportunities for them.

VMZ: I just received my credit card bill which included a charge for the books my son ordered online prior to the beginning of the fall semester. When will we be receiving a credit for that charge?

President Cowen: I suggest you take those books to any Barnes & Noble bookstore on a campus. You should receive a full refund.

Freshman Parent: I have read on Xavier University’s website that Tulane plans to offer the use of their facilities and courses to Xavier and Dillard students. How will this affect the Tulane students and the quality of education at Tulane?

President Cowen: At a time like this it was important for Tulane University to extend an offer of assistance to the other institutions in New Orleans that need it at this time. We have made an offer to partner with Dillard, Xavier and Loyola Universities. We think this is an extraordinary opportunity for students, not just at our university but others, to learn together and to help one another get through this difficult period of time. I think this opportunity will only enhance the learning that will happen at Tulane and will in no way hamper your experience.

VMZ: Last week, you stated that students enrolled at other universities for the fall semester would receive Pass/No Pass credit for the classes they are taking. Can you explain the philosophy behind that decision and clarify whether that is the policy when students transfer to Tulane?

President Cowen: It is not the normal policy when students transfer to Tulane. However, when they do transfer we review the courses they took, the grades they received and the appropriateness of that course at Tulane University. And we do not automatically accept the courses they took at other institutions. As part of that review process we also review the course outlines for those courses they took. However, because of the extraordinary conditions we find ourselves under now we have waived those normal transfer credit policy procedures so as to minimize any disruption you would have in receiving your Tulane University degree on time.

Sophomore Parent: We hope all of you are safe in Texas. My question is, can my son leave his things (personal items) in his dorm until spring? Will they be safe or should he retrieve them as soon as he is allowed to return on campus?

President Cowen: There’s no need for him to retrieve them. His items are being inventoried and stored and we will put them back in his room when he returns in the spring.

Senior: Have you considered giving undergraduates (esp. seniors) the option to finish up their year at the institution where they are spending this semester, provided they pay tuition to Tulane and the given interim university is ok with this arrangement?

President Cowen: We want our students to return to Tulane University and that policy is consistent with the general understanding we have with colleges and universities around the country.

HBB: President Cowen, I can’t wait to go back to school in January; I’m counting the days. Can you talk about the status of the Tulane faculty, and if it’s going to affect Tulane’s academic excellence in any way? GO GREEN WAVE!!!

President Cowen: Tulane University has been paying its full-time faculty during this time period. Those faculty remain very committed and loyal to the institution and we have every reason to believe they will all return. Our number one priority is academic excellence and we will not do anything to compromise it.

Dianne: Can you give an update as to how the JL Hall survived and if the contents inside are safe?

President Cowen: As far as I know there was no significant damage to JL Hall– it did not flood and we believe all the contents are safe and are in the process of being inventoried and stored.

Mom Mari: President Cowen, it has been almost four weeks since this disaster. Please hire 20 employees and open the dorms one at a time. Assign 2-3 days for each dorm. Post a schedule so those of us who live far away know what day(s) to arrive. The time has come for us to come reclaim our children’s belongings. Thank you.

President Cowen: The logistics to reopen our campus are very complex and involve hundreds of people working on all our buildings and grounds. It is simply not practical to open one building at a time and allow people to return without jeopardizing our schedule for reopening in January. In addition, people are not allowed to re-enter the city without proper authorization. Having said all of this, as soon as we believe you can return to the city to get your belongings we will let you know. We want to facilitate this process for you but we have to do it within the conditions of the city and our plans to reopen the university.

Marilyn: Have you been able to do the split payrolls, and if not, when will you be able to do them?

President Cowen: We have done the split payrolls and you should have received your paycheck if you’re on automatic deposit. If you’re on direct pay and have not received your check it is probably because we do not have a mailing address for you. If this is the case, please email

Sam: When will the announcement about spring semester be made?

President Cowen: We anticipate making that announcement next week when we’re back in Houston. We actually were going to make it this past Wednesday but we were evacuated from the city and we want to make sure that when we announce this important information we are available to answer your questions through the call center. I think this announcement will address any remaining issues or concerns people may have about the spring and related issues.

Indiana: Do you expect to award merit scholarships similar in size and number to recent years to entering members of the freshman class of 2006?

President Cowen: Yes. We do not believe that the hurricane will hamper our ability to continue to award Tulane financial aid for those interested in attending beginning in the fall of ’06.

Perry C.: Are you able to forward transcripts of former grads to other institutions?

President Cowen: We expect to be able to provide transcripts by October 1.  The transcript is the best proof that you have earned a degree from Tulane.

Tulane Parent: Has consideration been given to classes for spring being held at a location other than N.O.

President Cowen: We fully anticipate being open in January in New Orleans and do not believe we have to find an alternative site for classes on either our uptown or downtown campuses. Of course we will continue to offer classes in our satellite campuses including Biloxi, Elmwood, downtown and Houston. In fact, some of our satellite campuses will begin to offer classes in October.

Law Student: When can we look forward to getting our financial aid, which includes all of our living expenses? My funds are quickly going down with having to pay double rent, relocation expenses, and get new clothes and school supplies.

President Cowen: You will be receiving your fall tuition bill with all appropriate financial aid probably in the second or third week of October. Any amount of  double tuition you may have to pay will get credited to your tuition bill this year.

Tulane Sailor: President Cowen, does today’s breach of the Industrial Canal levee jeopardize our spring semester to Tulane and New Orleans?

President Cowen: I answered this question earlier and I would refer you to that question and answer. However, this incident while unfortunate should have no bearing on the recovery of Tulane and other parts of the city due to the location of the breach.

MD Student Now: If we choose to withdraw for the semester to avoid paying Tulane’s price to go to a state school, will scholarships be honored when we reapply?

President Cowen: Not necessarily. You will have to reapply and at that time we will look at the applicability of your transfer credits and your financial need based on current circumstances.

Just a mom: I heard that the belongings student left in their dorm rooms were packed up and placed in storage. When will we be notified of where they are stored and when we can retrieve their things. Thank you for all you have done. I can’t believe it’s happening all over again!

President Cowen: From what we know now, Hurricane Rita is not having an adverse impact on our campus. Likewise, we will inform you as soon as we can whether it’s possible for you to pick up your belongings. Please keep monitoring the website for relevant information.

Worried Parent: How are the repairs coming on campus?

President Cowen: Excellent. As a matter of fact a student was on campus a few days ago despite my advice not to be there and she was turned back. However, she reports that the campus looked very, very good and it was a beehive of action and restoration.

Craig: Dr. Cowen, have the athletic teams been forced to evacuate once again to escape hurricane Rita? If so, where have they gone now?

President Cowen: Unfortunately, some are double evacuees just as we are from Houston. I can’t remember right now the exact locations that they went to but we have been assured of their safety in all instances.

The Green Hornet: A major part of Tulane has become reaching into the community to help recently. How will Tulane help the City of New Orleans now, in addition to itself, during its time of need?

President Cowen: First of all, Tulane University is reaching out to the other private institutions in the city to help them rebuild and recover from this tragedy. This includes Loyola, Dillard and Xavier. I anticipate that Tulane University will play a major role in all aspects of the rebuilding of Orleans Parish. The University is the largest private employer, has an economic impact of over $1 billion a year on the region, and is critical to its recovery.

Elise: Our regrets on the recent evacuation from your new home, President Cowen. Were you and the staff able to evacuate safely?

President Cowen: I only have one home that I care about, and that’s New Orleans. Houston has been wonderful to us, but it’s not home. I’m pleased to say that we all evacuated safely and are now temporarily located in Dallas. However, I’m eagerly awaiting making a tour of the United States at the rate I am now going.

Elise: Have all university functions shifted to the temporary location in Dallas, i.e. call center and email response?

President Cowen: Our call center is temporarily closed and will reopen when we return to Houston. That is also true for our email responses.

S. Brucebel: Was there water damage to the interior of dorm rooms?

President Cowen: Some dorm rooms that were on the first floor of the residence halls did have damage. Those rooms above ground level did not, other than perhaps from a broken window.

The Green Hornet: Can donations to the Tulane Rebuilding Fund be earmarked for certain programs, offices, or departments?

President Cowen: Yes, you can earmark it, even though our preference at this time is to do it unrestricted. I refer you to our website about how to make a donation. Thank you for your generosity.

Sylvia: Will biweekly employees still receive a check if they are not located in or around the Texas area?

President Cowen: Yes. However, if you receive a direct pay and we do not have a mailing address for you we are holding your check until we can get your address. You should email with your most recent mailing address.

Elise: Are all the Tulane websites still functioning and accepting donations, answering questions and recording information?

President Cowen: Our websites are working. However, our call center is temporarily closed until we relocate to Houston. We will continue to do our normal messaging here in Dallas.

A: President Cowen, I can’t tell you how proud I am of you and of everyone who is working so hard to keep Tulane strong. I plan to be at the football game tomorrow. Have the local alumni groups become active in the rebuilding efforts?

President Cowen: There have been lots of offers of help by our alumni groups across the country. Many are raising money for our relief fund and providing assistance for our students who are in their city. I plan to be at the game tomorrow as well as the alumni event before it so I can personally say thank you to those who have been helping us through this difficult time. You will recognize me as the person with the yellow shirt with Tulane on it.

Elise: Will you be appearing on any news programs this upcoming weekend? Always proud to see and hear from you as you represent our school.

President Cowen: I did an interview with the New York Times today and am not scheduled to make any TV appearances. There are many Tulane students and others who will be appearing on the news in the days ahead.

Nellbens: How is the campus since last week, and how are you and the staff holding up?

President Cowen: The campus improves every single day because we have hundreds of people working on the grounds and the buildings. I posted pictures last week and I think people were pleasantly surprised how good it looked. I am holding up very well during this period of time because I am surrounded by some remarkable people. Every day they give me inspiration and strength, even at times when things appear hopeless. We’re having the ultimate bonding experience and are determined beyond belief to continue to rebuild our great institution.

Elise: What else can we as Tulane parents and students do to help in light of this new disaster?

President Cowen: I think you could reassure people around the country that this most recent hurricane will not have any adverse impact on us reopening as we plan in January. Based on everything we know right now the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the Uptown area should not be affected.

Mrs. G.: At what point will students at other institutions get the word that they might need to stay there for the spring semester as well?

President Cowen: We are planning on opening up in January and students should plan on coming back in January.

Jelena: I graduated in May, but I haven’t received my diploma. Is there any way that could get some kind of proof that I graduated, and who should I contact?

President Cowen: We expect to be able to provide transcripts by October 1. The transcript is the best proof that you have earned a Tulane degree. We will also be transporting our diplomas to Houston for distribution. You can either mail us with your request or call us at 713-212-1300.

S. Shea: We would love to hear a little about your Town Hall Meeting today. What kind of questions did the students, themselves, have?

President Cowen: We had a town hall meeting for about a hundred people that lasted one hour. I was very impressed with the spirit and commitment of everyone who attended. The major topics discussed were: our tuition policy, retrieving belongings, environmental health issues, reopening in January, the future status of New Orleans, and how the Boot fared during the storm.

Lori: My son wants to raise money for Tulane and needs permission to use Roll Wave on rubber bracelets, but hasn’t been able to reach anyone to get permission. Can you give him permission? All money will be donated to Tulane and some to the Red Cross.

President Cowen: I’m giving presidential approval via this chat room that he can do it assuming he will do it in a proper and ethical way, and he needs to work with the Students Affair staff. He should go online to However, it has just come to my attention that we are aware of this request and we want to thank him for his creative idea and his energy on behalf of our institution.

The Donald: Are we going to receive registration information in the mail?

President Cowen: We anticipate having the registration information for the spring up no later than November 1. As soon as the details of the spring 2006 schedule are finalized for the various schools, that schedule will be posted on our website. You will also receive email information from the registrar’s office about the time when our online web registration system will be open to you.

Heidi: When do you expect webmail to be up and running again?

President Cowen: I’m hoping by no later than the end of next week. We were originally hoping to have it up this week but we’re delayed because of the evacuation from Houston.

Victor P.: President Cowen, will you bring up all colleges in the spring semester, or separately like undergraduate, law, medicine, etc.?

President Cowen: We’re planning on bringing all the schools and colleges back in January.

Sarai: Will Tulane offer any incentives to entice students who may be considering withdrawing to return in January?

President Cowen: I think you will be interested in seeing our announcement next week about the spring semester that does include some lagniappe. By the way, the other great incentive is to receive a Tulane degree.

Tulane says: Thanks for another great chat. Unfortunately we are almost out of time. Do you have any parting words for us?

President Cowen: First of all, I want to thank LiveWorld again for allowing us to do this live chat. It has proven to be an invaluable resource for all of us. I also want to tell all our students out there how their good wishes, great spirit and determination to return has had such a positive and uplifting effect on all of us.

Our students have been terrific during this very difficult time and I’m extraordinarily proud of them. They are eager to return. At a time like this it is wonderful to see their character, their loyalty and their love for the institution. I can’t wait to welcome them all back in January and to have a New Orleans style party to recognize the occasion.

Tulane: Thank you for attending this Tulane community chat. Please continue to monitor for the latest information and join us again next Friday.

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