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Law School in Exile

September 7, 2005

Much to their dismay, legal scholars at the University of Houston know quite a bit about flooding.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison hit the campus hard, especially the law library, where more than 200,000 volumes were submerged under water and countless other materials were damaged or destroyed. So when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, law professors were ready to reach out and help their colleagues. And on Tuesday, the law school of Loyola University New Orleans announced that it would relocate for the fall semester to the University of Houston.

The University of Houston has agreed to find offices for Loyola law professors, open libraries and other facilities to students, turn over all classrooms to Loyola on Friday afternoons and weekends, as well as one large auditorium throughout the week. Several hundred of Loyola's 800 law students are expected to start the fall semester in Houston soon, where they will be taught by a cadre of at least 20 Loyola professors.

Brian Bromberger, Loyola's law dean, said that the idea for the relocation came from Seth Chandler, vice dean at Houston's law school, and was immediately embraced with "incredible generosity" by others at Houston.

Generally, colleges in New Orleans are encouraging students to enroll elsewhere as visiting students and then to transfer those credits back when campuses re-open. Law schools in Louisiana are unusual, however, because much of Louisiana law is based on the Napoleonic Code. Many courses taught at the state's law schools are thus not comparable to what would be taught in any other state.

About half of Loyola's students are from Louisiana and if any students who wanted to practice law in Louisiana didn't have "code" courses, they would be at a severe disadvantage later, Bromberger said. He also said that officials wanted to make it possible for students, especially first-year students, to have a sense of being a class. "We want to take every possible step so our students can experience a Loyola program," he said.

Chandler, the Houston vice dean, said that the idea for the unusual arrangement came to him as he watched the influx of New Orleans evacuees to his city. "I was just thinking about the situation and the needs of various schools and I saw students sort of scattering in a diaspora to other institutions and I was thinking that there was a problem of law students needing community and frankly of law schools in New Orleans needing a revenue stream."

While there remain many issues to be worked out, Chandler said he was confident that they could all be resolved. His biggest concern is helping Loyola students find housing in a market that has suddenly become very tight. In the short term, many Houston law students are volunteering their sofas and floors for Loyola students.

Chandler said that the experience with Tropical Storm Allison -- while a fraction of what has happened in New Orleans -- made people realize their good fortune at being able to help.

Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at Houston and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance, said he was proud to see his institution making the "extraordinary gesture" of playing host to the Loyala law school. Olivas, who will be opening his home to a visiting Loyola faculty member he knows, said that law professors understand the importance of keeping the Loyola class together.

Bromberger, the Loyola dean, said he didn't have much hurricane experience. A native of Australia who taught in North Carolina before coming to New Orleans two years ago, he said that the worst weather he had ever experienced -- until last week -- was an ice storm.

But he said it was important to keep perspective, and he urged students to do likewise. "Please keep well and don’t panic," he wrote in a memo to students about the move to Houston. "Compared to the problems currently being endured by thousands still in New Orleans, ours pale into insignificance."

 

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