The furious winds and storm surges of Hurricane Katrina -- the “big one” nobody thought would ever hit – and the catastrophic aftermath of leveebreaks and major flooding have changed life dramatically in New Orleans. The University of New Orleans miraculously continued to educate students starting on October 10 from its Jefferson Center. UNO resumed regular business on the Lakefront campus with the opening of a university spring semester on January 30. Like all institutions of higher learning in the city, it is struggling financially as a result of a dramatic enrollment drop from 17,000 to 12,000 students.
Center Austria continued its operations at the beginning of January 2006 . We reopened with a memorable ceremony on February 17, graced by the presence of the Austrian Ambassador to the US, Eva Nowotny. A very large crowd of UNO friends of Austria gratefully acknowledged the transfer of generous cash gifts by Ellen Palli and Anton Pelinka to 40 UNO faculty and staff. Eugen Stark and Wolfgang Stoiber from the Marshall Plan Anniversary Foundation in Vienna brought a spectacular gift of 1 million dollars to UNO for the rebuilding and reinvisioning of UNO. Never has international support beenso warmly welcomed at UNO.
Sadly, our Austrian students were displaced by Katrina. Of 45 Austrian students and faculty starting in August 2005, only one returned to UNO in thespring. While 4 returned to Austria after the storm, the vast majority found new host institutions and generous tuition waivers all across America. American institutions were remarkably welcoming to foreign Katrina victims and displayed outstanding solidarity with the storm-battered New Orleans academic community. Friends of UNO in Innsbruck, led by Rektor Manfried Gantner and UNO liaison Franz Mathis, as well as Mayor Hilde Zach’s office, could not have been more supportive. They collected some 50,000 dollars for UNO victims and scholarship funds for UNO students to come and study in Innsbruck for the fall. The work load of our Academic Year Abroad director Margaret Davidson practically doubled over night with 8 Katrina victims arriving in Innsbruck in late September. The AYA overseas campus in Innsbruck thus turned out to be the only UNO operation to continue completely uninterrupted by the storm.
May we be blessed and “the big” ones spare us for the next 100 years and may we be able to get back on our feet. We at CenterAustria have great expectations to rebuild our programs – as nearly twenty Innsbruck students have signed up to come to UNO in the fall, as well as a Marshall Plan Chair, a Fulbright lecturer, and a Ministry of Science fellow. We all look forward to welcoming them to our campus and our city. Günter Bischof