Xavier pharmacy school picks up Katrina pieces

November 7, 2005

Shaking off the effects of Hurricane Katrina on its New Orleans facility, Xavier University of Louisiana's College of Pharmacy is working to reopen its doors in mid-January.

Shaking off the effects of Hurricane Katrina on its New Orleans facility, Xavier University of Louisiana's College of Pharmacy is working to reopen its doors in mid-January.

Katrina may have dealt historically African-American Xavier University a nasty blow, but the nonprofit Catholic institution and its college of pharmacy have not surrendered. They're just regrouping to reopen in the New Year. The university has re-jiggered its schedule to begin classes in January and continue through August in order for students to complete the aborted fall semester and the spring session. The students are now, in effect, on the summer break they would have enjoyed next year.

The Katrina-driven flood that breached the levees rose to four feet on the Xavier campus, but the pharmacy school's high foundation kept the water from rising more than six inches on the first floor, according to Wayne Harris, Ph.D., dean of the pharmacy school. Even so, the water rose high enough to destroy the flooring and saturate the drywall, where mold promptly sprouted in the high heat and dampness. In addition, some equipment sustained water damage.

"We're in the middle of trauma," said Harris. "Some students are saying they don't want to go back to New Orleans. I'm hoping that after the trauma subsides, reason will prevail."

Amid all the uncertainty, there is one thing the class of 2006 can count on: They will graduate on schedule. "Once the university regrouped and we were able to communicate, we were determined to make sure our seniors graduate on time," said Harris. "Our corporate stakeholders need all the pharmacists they can get."

With the campus shut down, the fall semester canceled, and experiential sites knocked off-line, Harris turned to his fellow pharmacy deans for help to make sure the seniors completed their requirements. "We asked our sister colleges and schools of pharmacy to provide access to their clinical sites during this emergency," he said. "We've had an outpouring of offers of assistance. As a result, all of our seniors have been assigned to rotations and clerkships here in Louisiana or out of state. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the support of the deans of pharmacy around the country."

Living on the west bank of the Mississippi, Harris did not lose his home, but most of the shingles were ripped from the roof and the water leaking in ruined the carpets and drywall. He and his pharmacist wife are currently living in a rented home in Lafayette where their daughter is attending college.

"We're doing reasonably well," said Harris. "I think I'm finally over the trauma. The first day I walked into my house, I thought I was in a war zone. But it wasn't as bad as many experienced."

Making lemonade out of the lemons Katrina rained down on his campus, Harris views the catastrophe as an opportunity to make Xavier College of Pharmacy a better place. "It's very important that we not just restore the college to the position it had, but to grow in terms of quality. That's my commitment."