Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hurricane Katrina: Moving Back to New Orleans

I moved back to New Orleans on May 25, 2009, after living in western North Carolina for three years following Hurricane Katrina. Here is how my return to New Orleans came about.

My return home was precipitated by the economic crisis and its effect on Western Carolina University (WCU), where I was teaching. WCU is a part of the University of North Carolina state system, and thus subject to state-mandated budget cuts. The state mandated an eight or so percent budget cut for 2009-2010, with seventy or so percent to come from reduction in personnel. This hit faculty in positions like mine especially hard. I had a year-by-year renewable teaching contract at WCU. WCU decided to eliminate most faculty with this type of contract--easy to do by simply not renewing the contract for the following academic year.

As an aside, these faculty cuts have been especially hard on the English Department, where I taught. Many of the first-year writing sections were taught by yearly-contract faculty and had a maximum student enrollment of twenty students. With most yearly-contract faculty gone, the tenured and tenure-track faculty must now teach one or more sections of first-year writing, and each section now has a maximum student enrollment of twenty-five. Some faculty members are teaching four writing classes this year with twenty-five students enrolled in each--this means one hundred writing students. I had eighty writing students at a time (four sections of twenty students each). I can't imagine what it must be like to teach one hundred students!

Well, back to my story. Fortunately, WCU has an admirable Provost--Provost Kyle Carter. He sent a strong message to all WCU Deans and Department Chairs that went something like this: The budget cuts mean that we will need to eliminate faculty members next year. These faculty members are persons with meaningful lives here in western North Carolina. Losing their teaching positions will cause great difficulty for them. We need to be aware of this and help in any way we can. At the very least, we need to make decisions now about who will remain and who will go, and communicate these decisions to the faculty. That way, those who will not be here next year will know early enough to make other plans. Please make these decisions by the end of January and let your faculty members know.

As a result of Provost Kyle Carter's compassionate directive, I learned before the end of January that I would not be at WCU the following year. I am very grateful for this. Also, the English Department at WCU was very supportive. Many faculty members kept us informed of postings for teaching positions that they became aware of and offered to write letters of recommendation.

This was all very helpful but didn't prevent me from slipping into a funk, from which I finally emerged with the support of my friend Merry. Merry insisted that I come to New Orleans over spring break (the first week of March) and that I stay with her and look into teaching in the ESL (English as a Second Language) Department of Delgado Community College. Delgado has a large array of ESL classes, but had to limit the number of classes offered in 2008-2009 for want of enough teachers. I did this (I was in such a funk that Merry had to lovingly insist) and I had a great time staying with Merry and re-connecting with my colleagues at Delgado--Betty, Mary Ann, Linda, Yadira, and Cindy.

As it happened, though, I wound up with my old teaching position in the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) of Loyola University New Orleans. When I emailed Debbie at Loyola to let her know that I was applying to Delgado and that she might be contacted as a reference, Debbie told me that Loyola was ready to re-open LIEP, where I had taught for thirteen years (1992-2006) and which Loyola had closed after the initial post-Hurricane Katrina semester of Spring 2006. I felt incredibly fortunate (and actually somewhat guilty) to have two work possibilities (Delgado and Loyola) at a time when so many people are struggling to find work. I chose Loyola.

I moved on May 25 with wonderful support from family and friends. Marsha, my landlady and friend, was incredibly helpful with finding packing supplies and other helpful moving information. My friend Ken actually flew from New Orleans to North Carolina to help me drive back to New Orleans with a small U-Haul truck (Ken driving the truck and me driving my Toyota). My brother Danny helped me unload the U-Haul at a storage facility. Ellen and Paul housed me for my first two nights back in New Orleans. Merry then housed me until I located an apartment. Once I had moved into my new place, Noel hung bamboo shades on the windows, extra clothes hooks in the bathroom, a full-length mirror in the bedroom, and a mailbox on the front porch. I felt incredibly blessed and supported.

My next post will tell what it's like to be back in New Orleans.

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