I am fond of telling people that the University of New Orleans should rightly be called the University for New Orleans. As the city’s only public research university, it is difficult to segregate the fortunes of New Orleans, the city, from the institution that bears its name. For nearly six decades, these two entities have been closely linked, and a decade ago, that bond became even more apparent. The fury unleashed by Hurricane Katrina did not have catastrophic consequences for the university but they were significant. Between flooding and building damage, our campus required about $80 million in repairs.
Ours is not an uncommon story. Like so many schools, businesses and faith groups, the lives of our community members were thrown into upheaval. They lost houses, belongings and loved ones. They scattered across the country, some never to return. But what happened in the weeks and months that followed make me endlessly proud to be both the president and a graduate of the University of New Orleans.
Administrators banded with staff and faculty to try to bring a university back to life in a matter of weeks, while enduring their own personal turmoil. Through resourcefulness and unyielding determination, UNO resumed classes on Oct. 10, 2005, by offering courses online and at the Jefferson Campus in Metairie. It was the first and only local university to reopen during the fall 2005 semester, and it did so just six weeks after Katrina came ashore. This milestone sent a message of resilience and commitment to all New Orleanians, not just UNO students and their families.
The experience, of course, left all of us changed. The university now has fewer students than it did a decade ago — a consequence of not just Katrina’s long-term effects but of higher state-mandated admissions standards. We have not, however, deviated from our mission of offering accessible high-quality education, conducting groundbreaking research and enhancing the industry, culture and economy of the New Orleans region. Many of our most in-demand programs are directly connected to our location, such as film and theatre; planning and urban studies; naval architecture and marine engineering; and hotel, restaurant and tourism administration. An overwhelming majority of our students continue to come from the metro area, and most of them will remain here after earning a degree. This is UNO’s heritage, and it represents true economic development for the region.
The university’s influence has not been limited to southeast Louisiana. In the past decade alone, UNO has educated students from all 64 parishes, all 50 states and more than 130 countries. These students are often the most effective and passionate ambassadors for our city, and their reach is global. They help spread the message that New Orleans is a proud, resurgent metropolis. The same could be said for one of its most vital public assets — the University for New Orleans.
Peter J. Fos
president, University of New Orleans