The campus of Fort Hays State University has been abuzz for the past several days with inquiries about how to extend assistance to people in the areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but those efforts are on hold pending a response to a major offer of assistance by the university.
Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, offered early this week to house an entire academic program from a university in the affected area. "We are in a unique circumstance right now that allows us an opportunity we wouldn't ordinarily have," he said. "The last of the four units of our new Stadium Place apartment complex is nearing completion, and we could reopen the closed wing of Wiest Hall. That means we could accommodate an entire academic unit of up to 20 faculty and staff and approximately 300 to 400 students."
President Hammond made the offer to one of the universities in New Orleans early in the week, and he also extended the offer generally through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which is coordinating offers of assistance from institutions of higher education throughout the nation.
The president urged faculty, staff and students at FHSU to make donations through other agencies pending a decision on his offer to bring an entire academic unit intact to the Hays campus. "If one of the universities accepts our offer, it will have ramifications for the entire community, including K-12 education," he said. "We would house faculty and staff, and their families, at Stadium Place, and we would house students in Wiest Hall. We would work with FEMA to bring the displaced families and students to Hays. Many if not most would arrive with little or no clothing, so I am confident that our campus would rally at that time with donations to meet their needs."
He said he expected a decision within a few days. It appears now that the universities along the Gulf Coast will be closed for at least the rest of the semester and possibly for the remainder of the academic year.
"This approach of taking an academic unit would help not only students but also the faculty and staff who are uncertain about their immediate futures," the president pointed out.
The university has also taken other steps to help with the disaster. FHSU's Virtual College has identified 88 students in the three affected states, although it is not clear how many are in the areas hit by the storm. The Virtual College has sent e-mail messages to all those students offering to help them in any way possible, from assisting them in dropping classes to making arrangements for incompletes or postponing assignments.
As of this morning, about a quarter of those students had replied and the responses continued to trickle in slowly. "A few of the students have told us they lost everything," said Dennis King, director of the Virtual College and Learning Technology. "We'll work with them any way we can. Some of them said they were able to keep their books and plan to continue with their classes. They are just looking for something to be normal in their lives."
Also, the FHSU Alumni Association has offered to replace diplomas free of charge for alumni in the affected areas who have lost their personal possessions.