Hurricane Ida interrupts fall semester for many Louisiana universities

Campuses face delayed classes, remote learning after storm damage, power outages

By: - September 3, 2021 6:40 am
University of New Orleans

The University of New Orleans has cancelled classes indefinitely as staff assess damages to the campus from Hurricane Ida. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue/Illuminator)

Universities in southeast Louisiana put their fall semester on pause after Hurricane Ida devastated the region last weekend, leaving the vast majority of the area without electricity or internet access and lacking in food, gas and phone resources.

The catastrophic storm sent thousands of students scrambling, with Southern University of New Orleans, which encouraged students to evacuate, sending those who could not leave the city to shelter at Southern University at Baton Rouge. “We are currently in the process of assessing damages and will remain closed until power has been restored,’’ the university said on its website.

The University of New Orleans and Nicholls University have cancelled classes indefinitely, as UNO “facilities staff members are still in assessment mode,” said Adam Norris, a spokesperson for the university.

Loyola University and Tulane University have both cancelled classes until Sept. 13. Loyola will allow students to return to in-person learning on Sept. 20, while Tulane plans to return to in-person teaching Oct. 11.

As of Thursday, power outages totaled more than 900,000.

At Xavier University in New Orleans, students are scheduled to resume classes Tuesday remotely. “Xavier University of Louisiana is continuing to assess the needs of all students to coordinate services and resources,’’ the university said on its website. 

Meanwhile, Southeastern  Louisiana University in Hammond said that efforts were underway to clear the campus of storm debris and assess damages, which administrators described as minor. “Restoration of electric power could take some time, and the campus will remain closed at least through the week,’’ the university said on its website.

Here’s a further breakdown of each universities’ revised plans for the fall semester so far. 

Loyola University New Orleans

Loyola students will resume their fall semester Sept. 13 online and will return to in-person learning Sept. 20 — with flexibility for all who need it, Loyola President Tania Tetlow said in an email to students.

“As soon as there is power (at which point you will receive a jubilant email from me) we will be able to start returning to campus, but we will not require you to be back right away,” Tetlow said.

If classes are only canceled for two weeks, then students can make up missed classes through “adjusting the academic calendar,” according to an article in the Loyola Maroon. If classes have to be cancelled for longer, Loyola could potentially push the fall semester into the January term.

LSU Health New Orleans

The administration at LSU Health New Orleans is unsure when evacuated students, faculty and staff can return, according to spokesperson Leslie Capo, adding that there should be “a much clearer picture” by the beginning of next week.

LSU Health includes schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and public health.

Buildings are no longer using generator power and are now running on Entergy Power, Capo said,. The “main issue is the status of critical infrastructure,” Capo said.

“The medical school is not like an undergraduate university. We have flexibility. There are a number of ways we can adapt,” she said.

LSU Health students can return to classes online in the immediate future, but clinical rotations are dependent on “the availability of power and hospital status.”

“As power is returning to our hospital partners (University Medical Center, Our Lady of the Lake, Lafayette General Hospital/UHC), I think we should be OK,” Capo said.

Tulane University

Tulane also plans to resume the fall semester online Sept. 13 and return to in-person teaching on Oct. 11.

“If the city’s return to normalcy is accelerated and circumstances permit, we may have the opportunity to bring our community back to campus sooner,” said university spokesperson Michael Strecker.

Cancelled classes will be rescheduled at the end of the semester, Strecker said, but details on whether the fall semester may be made up before or after Christmas break are still being determined.

Strecker said the university is still deciding what to do in case some students can’t return to in-person learning by Oct. 11.

Tulane is still assessing on-campus damages after the hurricane, but the on-campus damages are “nothing major,” Strecker said.

University of New Orleans

Though UNO doesn’t yet have a planned date to resume the fall semester, classes will begin again “as soon as it is feasible, keeping in mind the needs of our students and employees,” Norris said.

“We plan to resume the fall semester — whether that be through in-person learning, remote learning or some combination of the two,” he said.

Students, faculty and staff will get at least a 72-hour’s notice before classes begin again.

Nicholls State University

Nicholls is also still working out the details of their revised academic calendar for the fall, but “it seems right now that we’re going to slide our semester back a bit and push our end date a little further into December than was previously scheduled,” Jerad David, director of communications at Nicholls, said.

“We’re still in that assessment and cleanup stage right now — dealing with damaged roofs and leaks in buildings,” David said. “At the end of this week or early next week, we’ll have more clarity on what the academic calendar is going to look like.”

Between Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, 70,365 of 71,890 — or 97 percent — of residents don’t have power. Most of Terrebonne Parish doesn’t have running water, either, David said. Those two parishes combined account for 50 percent of Nicholls’ student population, he said.

“Most of our faculty lives in that region, and they’re there without power, so it’s kind of hard for us to flip to virtual when those faculty don’t have the ability to teach their classes,” he said.

David said it may be an option for Nicholls to allow students to finish out their semesters in different colleges across the country, like many college students in New Orleans had to do after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But he’s hoping that “once the electricity comes back on, we’ll be in a position to restart a bit sooner than New Orleans was able to after Katrina.”

Update: David told the Illuminator on Sept. 7 that Nicholls will have a full fall semester in 2021 and the school is not encouraging students to finish out the term at other universities.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.