August 31, 2015 – Ten years ago this week as New Orleans reeled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the University of Houston Law Center made an unprecedented offer to the inundated Loyola University College of Law: Relocate professors and students some 350 miles west to the Law Center for the fall semester.
Katrina had hit the Louisiana coast on Aug. 29, killing at least 1,245 and causing more than $100 billion in damage from the storm and subsequent flooding. Untold numbers fled the ravaged Gulf Coast area.
The relocation proposal was made by then-Associate Dean Seth J. Chandler who was struck by the incredible influx of refugees seeking safety in Houston. He had volunteered several days and nights helping coordinate emergency relief for the thousands of storm victims sheltered in the Astrodome.
“It was the right thing to do,” Chandler said of his thinking in those desperate days. “With some flexibility and good will on both sides, I thought we could pull it off without major expense or dislocation. I extended the offer to Tulane and Loyola but amidst the chaos, decision makers at Tulane couldn’t be located. The dean of Loyola was both in Houston and very responsive. So, Loyola was our guest.”
The Law Center under then-Dean Nancy B. Rapoport offered to open its library and other facilities to the displaced faculty and students. Of Loyola’s 800 law students, 317 headed to classes in Houston along with 27 professors.
Faculty, staff, and students opened their homes and offices to help accommodate the displaced storm victims. Loyola law school Dean Brian Bromberger termed the immediate outpouring of support from the Law Center community and city of Houston "incredible generosity."
Generally, colleges in New Orleans had encouraged students to enroll elsewhere as visiting students and then to transfer those credits back when campuses re-opened. But because much of Louisiana law is based on the Napoleonic Code, many courses taught at the state's law schools are not comparable to those taught in any other state. If students had missed “code” courses, they would have been severely disadvantaged if they planned to practice in Louisiana. Many other law schools across the nation took in students displaced by Katrina, but most accepted only a small number.
“Law school isn’t just learning things. That can be done anywhere,” said Chandler, now Foundation Professor of Law at the Law Center. “Law school is about human relationships amongst and between faculty and students. It’s about money too. I’m glad we were able to help with both.”