Doors open for transfers from Tulane

After months of anticipation, Liz Spencer moved into her Tulane University dormitory, met her roommate and spent one night there.

Then she left–an academic refugee.

Her plans to attend Tulane in New Orleans were brought to a thunder halt when Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast and left New Orleans under several feet of contaminated water and waste.

“I got into Tulane in March and had months to daydream, choose my roommate, buy clothes and anticipate going there. I was in a Tulane mind set,” she said. “It is really sad. My freshman year is going to be very different than I had hoped.”

Spencer is one of 70 displaced students who have enrolled at Northwestern for Fall Quarter. An additional 75 students have been admitted to the School of Continuing Studies to take night and weekend classes but have yet to enroll. They are not guaranteed housing.

Of the 70 confirmed visiting students, 12 are in the Law School, three are in the Feinberg School of Medicine and 47 undergrads will live and take classes on the Evanston campus.

As soon as it became apparent that Tulane would be unable to hold fall classes on their campus, NU President Henry Bienen announced the university would open its doors to displaced college students. Students have been admitted through the School of Continuing Studies under a special rushed application process.

“It was very hard to get records.”. “There were academic standards, but I wouldn’t say they were detailed under the circumstances.”

Stephen Fisher, associate provost for undergraduate education, stressed that the university is striving to make the students’ transition process as smooth as possible.

“These are students who obviously, through circumstances beyond their control, ended up where they didn’t want to be, so we’re trying to make them feel welcome and comfortable,” he said.

In her haste to get out of New Orleans, Spencer left all her belongings behind except for two changes of clothes. Like several other displaced students, Spencer has moved into NU’s Public Affairs Residential College for the quarter.

Her closet is barren; only a few recently purchased clothing items line the shelves. Despite significant stress brought on from the experience, Spencer said she already appreciates her experience at NU.

“Northwestern was the first school that opened its doors and invited us in as visiting students,” Spencer said. “Everyone was so nice at Northwestern, so I applied and got in.”

In accordance with the wishes of the American Association of Universities, NU will forgo tuition for the visitors and therefore will be taking in dozens of new students with no new revenue for the university. The students will pay their home universities according to financial arrangements previously in place.

“We’re providing a quarter’s worth of education for about 100 students, and we’re not going to get paid for that,” said Mary Desler, associate vice president and dean of students . “I’d say our contribution is in kind.”

Desler stressed the need to allow the Tulane students to maintain a separate identity.

“Many of them have Tulane roommates or are living around other students from Tulane,” she said. “We’ll continue to help them find ways to connect with one another.”

NU students are going out of their way to make the visitors feel welcome and at home, according to Desler.

“The (visiting) students just generally are like rock stars here; everyone wants to meet a Tulane student,” she said.

There was extremely strong interest in NU among displaced students, said Thomas Gibbons, dean of the School of Continuing Studies. Location, NU’s late starting date and an eagerness to help drew student in.

“It was crushing. You were getting tens of dozens of calls. People were very anxious,” Gibbons said. “That rush of students was a challenge because we were also trying to get our arms around how many seats we had available in the day sections.”

Freshman Garrett Jacobs left his home of Highland Park, Ill., to study architecture at Tulane. He said he loved the diversity, architecture and climate of New Orleans, and is experiencing anxiety over an uncertain future.

After being evacuated, Jacobs applied to NU for Fall Quarter and now lives with several other Tulane students in PARC.

“It’s very upsetting, but it’s no one’s fault, so you can’t really get angry,” he said. “All of us have formed a community and are hanging out.”

Jacobs said that NU students have been nice and caring, but he hopes to be able to return to Tulane in January.

“The deal is that we are only here on a visiting basis,” he said. “Once Tulane reopens, we have to go back or transfer, but most of us want to return anyway.”

Reach Jason B. Gumer at [email protected] and Jordan Weissmann at

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