January 6, 2006 Issue
The Compassion of Neighbors, The Devotion of Community: Exiled School of Law Thrives During Challenging Times
Ray Willhoft, A’00
With faculty, staff, and students scattered across the country and serious damage to New Orleans, the decision was made to cancel The School of Law's fall 2005 semester. This decision would severely hamper the education of first-year law students. Yet amid the destruction and chaos, a glimmer of hope was found as one important e-mail made its way to School of Law Dean Brian Bromberger one day after Katrina hit. That e-mail, sent from the University of Houston (UH) Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Seth Chandler, contained an invitation for Dean Bromberger to attend a conference at UH, where the invitation for the School of Law to operate at UH was extended.
"During the conference, he (Chandler) floated the idea that UH might be able to offer something in Houston to accommodate a few students," explains Bromberger. "I grabbed the idea, and from that proposal, the offer grew for about 320 students."
Chandler vividly remembered the devastating effects Tropical Storm Allison had on Houston four years prior and felt that opening UH's doors to Loyola "was the right thing to do." Chandler proposed the idea to University of Houston Law Center Dean Nancy Rappaport who immediately agreed, and Associate Dean for Student Affairs Sondra Tennessee offered assistance with student advice.
Loyola School of Law graciously accepted UH's welcoming invitation, and within days operations were quickly established as Bromberger, Executive Assistant to the Dean Barbra Wilson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Lawrence W. Moore, S.J., Senior Development Officer Catherine Comiskey, and Budget Director Andrew Piacun, who lost his home in St. Bernard Parish, all made their way to Houston and moved into an empty UH office.
Approximately 320 of the School of Law's 800 students resumed classes at UH, all taught by 31 Loyola law professors, many of whom moved to Houston and some who commuted by air.
"I decided to teach in Houston immediately upon being asked because I thought I owed it to Loyola, which at that point had already committed to paying salaries, and more importantly, I felt I owed it my students," says Professor of Law Robert Garda, who also lost his home. "I wanted my students, especially the 1Ls, to have continuity in the curriculum and to have a professor with whom they were already familiar." Garda continued to commute to Houston from Utah where his family had relocated after the hurricane.
At UH, 28 different Loyola law courses were held, mostly on Friday evenings and weekends. Primarily, first-year and third-year classes were offered with the intention that new students would remain with Loyola and graduating students would be able to graduate in May as planned.
And students are very grateful for all that has been done for them. "We could not be more appreciative of what Dean Bromberger, his staff, and the faculty have done for us here in Houston," notes SBA President Timothy R. Regan, L'06. "We are also grateful to The University of Houston for allowing us to use their campus, as this is a wonderful gesture of kindness. Many of the students here have lost everything, but I believe that most of us have realized the value of those around us and understand what is truly important."
Students and courses weren't the only thing carried over to Houston from Loyola. Janet Mary Riley Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center and the Loyola Law Clinic Bill Quigley established a Katrina Legal Advice Clinic in Houston for the nearly 100,000 Louisiana evacuees in the area. Loyola Law Clinic faculty and students set up a daily presence at the Disaster Relief Center in Houston where they interviewed and assisted people in cooperation with the Houston Volunteer Lawyer Program nearly every single day of the fall semester. Students also handled phone calls from people seeking assistance.
"Loyola students have spoken with hundreds of people and helped them with basic legal issues such as housing, FEMA applications, child support, powers of attorney, letters to landlords, insurance, immigration, and criminal law matters," says Quigley. In addition, other members of the Law Clinic faculty worked on cases in Louisiana and helped the Louisiana State Bar staff their 800 Katrina hotline.
The School of Law will be in a unique position this spring as Loyola has the opportunity to assist in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Several faculty members are already working with local, state, and national networks on rebuilding issues such as environmental concerns, housing, levees, insurance, public education, and jobs. Rather than just studying history, students will be creating history as they witness and participate in the renewal of one of the greatest cities in the world.
Despite the unpredicted events that affected the fall semester, the School of Law has managed to thrive due to the compassion and generosity of UH's faculty and staff, the welcoming arms of Houston itself, and the unflinching devotion of the Loyola community.
"I want to extend special thanks to the city of Houston for its hospitality; Seth Chandler for his wisdom and foresight; Larry Moore and Barbara Wilson, who carried the day; faculty who put aside their skepticism at the wisdom of my decision and participated without argument; law deans throughout the country who without asking offered to take in our students; and staff who answered the call," says Bromberger. "Thanks to everyone's support, Loyola School of Law has demonstrated its unbreakable spirit and ability to thrive in the face of adversity."