University joins in relief efforts

Hundreds of thousands of people have been left desperate after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast last week and the University is stepping into action.

The University has joined other colleges throughout the nation to provide education to students whose schools have been rendered unusable by the hurricane. Also, volunteer health professionals from the University are set to deploy to the Gulf Coast if necessary.

U will admit students

Wayne Sigler, Office of Admissions director, said the University will review applicants from the affected areas on a case-by-case basis.

First priority will be given to Minnesota residents who would have attended a damaged school, followed by residents of states that were hit and finally to residents of other states who would have attended an affected school, Sigler said.

E. Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, wrote in an e-mail sent to all deans and campus directors that the timing of this event, so close to the beginning of the school year, would present some issues, but that the University would do its best to work around the problems.

Among the problems outlined in the letter are already-full classes, an absence of scholarships and possible problems with need-based financial aid.

Housing options are also limited, with non-freshmen being ineligible for on-campus housing.

While officials said the policy to help out other institutions in emergency situations was already in place, the University had never dealt with an event like this and needed to figure out many of the issues as they arose.

“Things are changing as people go along, but we’re just trying to get all of the facts,” said Kris Wright, Office of Student Finance director. “We will do the best we can for (affected students).”

Wright said loans and work-study would still be available for students, but that gift aid could present a problem if a large number of students relocate.

The University had received approximately 50 undergraduate inquiries by close-of-business Friday, and Sigler said he expected that approximately 22 would be admitted.

The University will continue to accept applications for as long as possible, even though Friday was the deadline, because the ultimate goal is to provide as much help as possible, Sigler said.

“What we’re trying to do is not focus on the needs of the University and on deadlines Ö but on helping students,” he said.

Mannix Clark, associate director of Housing and Residential Life, said there haven’t been problems yet with finding housing for displaced students, but said faculty and staff members have contacted his office offering to help house students.

Sigler said he is not surprised the University has emerged to help victims of the tragedy.

“You always find that this is an institution that is willing to come together and roll up its sleeves and do what needs to be done,” he said.

Displaced students will be allowed to stay at the University for as long as needed, and while they could remain here afterward, the University expects that they will return to their original schools, Sigler said.

“We really view our role as just pinch-hitting for these other institutions,” he said.

Primary needs not met

Brandon Chabaud, originally from the small town of Gramercy in southeastern Louisiana, has attended the University for two years.

While he said the University’s plan is “a very good idea,” he also said people from the area affected by Hurricane Katrina are currently focused on other issues.

“What’s primarily on people’s minds down there is just survival and being sure that their family and friends are OK,” he said.

Chabaud’s family has been directly affected by the disaster. “My uncle, who lived in Uptown New Orleans, is now homeless,” he said. “My mother was finally able to call me yesterday (Sept. 3) Ö phone access is still sporadic at best.”

While he says his mother is fine, his hometown, 45 minutes northwest of New Orleans, has experienced looting and violence. Chabaud said the police of the town, with a population of 2,700, are carrying AK-47s and enforcing a 7 p.m. curfew to dissuade lawlessness.

U will send assistance

As of Sunday afternoon, 99 members of the University’s Medical Reserve Corps had expressed interest in going to the Gulf Coast.

The 539-member organization, which is made up of volunteer doctors, nurses and other health professionals, and students from the Academic Health Center schools, is prepared to send volunteers if a public health crisis or natural disaster occurs.

Jill DeBoer, director of the University’s Academic Health Center’s Emergency Preparedness Program, said Medical Reserve Corps across the country were alerted and put on standby in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Because it is a national emergency rather than a local one, DeBoer said it is unclear where in the region volunteers would be sent and what, exactly, they would be doing.

“You need to make sure you can match the specific volunteer to the specific need,” she said.

DeBoer said she did learn that deployment would last two weeks under hardship conditions, which include limited water and food, high temperatures and group housing.

The two possible deployments include staffing for federal medical contingency stations and assistance at Red Cross shelters, she said.

Registered members of the University’s Medical Reserve Corps who are sent to the Gulf region will continue to receive their normal salaries, DeBoer said.

Today Medical Reserve Corps across the state will meet with the Minnesota Health Department to discuss the relief efforts.