Liberal Education

Statement of Support in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have all been reminded of our connections to and shared responsibility for our fellow citizens and neighboring communities. Recent events have also raised pressing questions about the role of "public" institutions, including colleges and universities, in advancing the greater good. In the coming weeks and months, AAC&U will provide opportunities to explore these questions in its conferences, publications, and projects.

As a first step in the national dialogue about these issues, the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges and Universities issued the following statement on September 1, 2005.

It is becoming clearer by the hour that the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast region is catastrophic and unprecedented. The region continues to face the urgent challenge of rescuing those in imminent peril and meeting the basic needs of those affected. It also clearly faces years of difficult recovery efforts, the burden of which will be disproportionately borne by the poor and those who now find themselves without homes, jobs, adequate insurance, or any material belongings or resources. On behalf of the entire AAC&U community, we express our profound concern for all those affected and pledge our support for those in need.

The impact of the hurricane on colleges and universities in the region--including thousands of students, faculty, administrators, and staff at local colleges and universities--has also been severe. The status of the coming school year for many students attending schools in the region remains uncertain. Colleges and universities in the region and educational leaders around the country are already playing key roles in meeting the needs of their own campus members and assisting in recovery efforts in their local communities. The staff of our sister organizations, led by the American Council on Education, are also working with state and federal policy makers to do what they can to ensure that students get the financial and bureaucratic assistance they might need to prevent any disruption of their college enrollment or financial aid.

In the midst of the devastation and despair, however, we are heartened by the stories of courage on the part of many local campus leaders, faculty, staff, and students and the outpouring of offers of support and help from so many of AAC&U's member campuses around the country. Many institutions have offered to accommodate displaced students and scores of individuals on campuses around the country are mobilizing to provide relief to the region. It is especially encouraging to see college students from around the country--with an inspiring commitment to public service--contributing to relief efforts and applying what they have learned in the hundreds of service-learning programs developed in recent years.

This mobilization of the academy's resources--human, material, spiritual, and educational--represents the best of American higher education. But we also know that we can always do more. We can learn from past experiences to prepare for future disasters and we can redouble our efforts to prepare students to be responsible citizens and leaders in times both of crisis and relative tranquility. As the immediate crises subside, the academy will also be called upon to provide opportunities for reflection and learning that will surely prove valuable as the nation copes with the immediate catastrophe and as it prepares to lessen the likelihood of future natural disasters.

At the same time, this event also provides a valuable opportunity for the nation--and its colleges and universities--to reflect on the root issues that make many Americans especially vulnerable in times of catastrophe. As David Brooks put it today in the New York Times, "Floods wash away the surface of society…. They expose the underlying power structures…and the unacknowledged inequalities." The academy continues to have a civic obligation not only to provide expertise to prepare for and respond to disasters, but also to help the nation redress the causes of the inequality and disenfranchisement made all too clear in the wake of such a disaster. We must teach students about these issues and inspire them to respond with reasoned inquiry, creative problem solving, compassionate concern, and a strong sense of social and civic responsibility for the long-term health of the democracy in which they live. AAC&U will do all it can to assist colleges and universities across the country as they rise to this civic challenge.

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