Xavier University of Louisiana, one of the colleges hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina two months ago, will dismiss over half of its faculty and staff on unpaid leave in preparation for the spring semester.
The university, the only historically black Roman Catholic institution in the country, settled on placing the staggering quantity of employees on leave after feedback from students indicated less than half would return.
"There are still going to be questions about returning to New Orleans in general," Xavier spokesperson Warren Bell said. "We'll be happy if we can see 2,000 of our 4,000 enrollments in January."
One particular problem which plagues Xavier, Bell said, is that the school's endowment is relatively low, not unlike most historically black colleges, and therefore a very high percentage of its funding comes from tuition.
"That's part of our problem," he said. "Our endowment stands at about $50 million [and] most of it is earmarked for [particular] scholarships."
Because the endowment is low at Xavier, University of Wisconsin education professor emeritus Jacob Stampen said the New Orleans school had little choice but to dismiss the majority of its faculty and staff.
"Like any organization that suffers something like that, you have to do something drastic because they don't have the money to pay people," Stampen said. "If they don't have a good endowment, I think they had to do what they did."
According to Bell, Xavier has seen a steady increase in enrollment for decades and this year was the first the school reached the 4,000 mark. The university will therefore survive the downsizing, he said, as they have survived with less in the past.
"Just as we once before functioned with fewer students and fewer faculty, obviously that's what we're preparing ourselves to do right now," Bell remarked.
Ultimately Bell said the university hopes it can survive the catastrophe, which has crippled much of the city, and return to the institution it was just months ago.
"Our president is very clear about that, but we don't think that's going to happen over night," he said. "We're doing everything we can with that premise in mind."