Looking through files I found this letter I wrote to the MLA in response to their offer of help for Katrina-ridden faculty.
Dear Professors Feal and Stanton,
I am pleased to see that the MLA is extending material support to faculty displaced by Hurricane Katrina. I write to suggest that the existence of such support be aggressively advertised to faculty in the appropriate disciplines at non-elite New Orleans institutions, such as Southern University-New Orleans and Dillard University, who are often unable to afford MLA membership and registration even in a normal year. The extension of ADE/ADFL membership to departments at such universities is particularly helpful. (I have heard unconfirmed reports that Dillard may not be able to make October 1 payroll; Xavier apparently has already realized it cannot.) I also recommend extending support to faculty members at Gulf Coast institutions from Tallahassee to Houston. We continue receive Katrina’s impact, in less dramatic, but no less meaningful ways.
Although the media focus has been on New Orleans, there are many other victims of this hurricane. Consider, for instance, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes. You should also be aware that many areas not hit directly by the hurricane, have still sustained damage from the flood of evacuees.
Faculty members at universities such as my own, which closed for only one day, have New Orleans colleagues staying at our houses. We are teaching their students, and making space for them in our laboratories and home offices so they can continue their research. We are spending a significant part of our own research time orienting them to our libraries and other resources, finding them computer equipment, and reconfiguring theirs so they can work on our systems. This town of 110,000 has reportedly taken in 40,000 evacuees. According to newspaper reports, for example, 30 of these evacuees are staying with the postmaster. Many of our students are housing entire families in their small apartments. Some of us have discovered that the care and feeding of just a few displaced faculty members can be more draining than that of an extended family with fewer pretensions.
Most displaced faculty members at nationally known New Orleans institutions are still drawing their salaries, many of which are higher than our own. A good number of their houses are in the New Orleans neighborhoods which did not sustain serious damage from the storm. The majority are well insured. Evacuees who are not university faculty are seeking, or already working at temporary jobs here, and volunteering with relief agencies in their free time. Local faculty and students, including displaced New Orleans students, are doing volunteer relief work on a regular basis. There are surely many more, but I have direct knowledge of only one New Orleans faculty member who is doing this kind of work in my area. I personally know some faculty members who are, in their own words, “taking a vacation.” We cannot.
This semester, I am teaching four courses on four different topics, presenting a paper at a conference, applying for a large external grant, and serving as an outside evaluator for a tenure case elsewhere. I have a heavy service load including specialized technical tasks which require daily attention. My colleagues and I are holding extended office hours to help orient the many students who have transferred in from New Orleans institutions, and to lend moral support to students, old and new, who have lost family members in the flood. No deadlines have been extended for faculty at my institution, nor can we expect to receive any special consideration for external funding. We will not receive any compensation from our institution for the workload increase resulting from this storm.
In a normal year, I arrange my budget to pay for membership to the MLA by deferring a dentist visit or a car repair. This year, I have already spent these resources on the collateral costs of hosting displaced New Orleans faculty—not MLA members, it must be said, as there are displaced faculty in all disciplines.
My job, however, is still here and my house is solid. Many research faculty from New Orleans, although temporarily displaced, in fact have situations at least as secure as my own. I am very concerned, however, for the instructors, adjuncts, and part-timers at all New Orleans institutions, and the full time faculty at non-elite institutions who may not hear that MLA membership and conference registration is free to them this year. It is for these reasons that I suggest a serious effort be made to publicize the MLA’s generous offer to these colleagues. This could, by the way, be an excellent recruiting strategy. If the offer is extended in such a way that it includes my institution, I will divide a donation in the amount of my MLA membership and conference registration between the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (see Naomi Klein, “Needed: A People’s Reconstruction,” The Nation 281:9 [September 26, 2005]: 12) and one of the reputable environmental organizations supporting restoration of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.
I appreciate the time it has taken you to read this letter, and all of your efforts on behalf of New Orleans. It is a beautiful town, built and sustained by the people now housed in shelters across the country and by their ancestors. I lived in New Orleans for many years, and I love the city. You may meet some of these people in your town, or on your travels. If you do, please tell them we miss them at home, and we are doing all we can to bring them back.