Brown extends aid program to Katrina-ravaged Dillard U.

Friday, September 28, 2007

President Ruth Simmons has committed the University’s continued assistance to her alma mater, Dillard University, as the New Orleans school recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Brown has provided $1.1 million in aid to Dillard and its students since the storm devastated much of the Gulf Coast region in August 2005, but Thursday’s announcement – made at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City ­- extends the partnership between Brown and Dillard into the foreseeable future.

“So many people ran down to New Orleans and did what they could and then they left. One of the important messages for us is not to do that – to be there for the duration,” Simmons told The Herald at the event. “Part of what we can do because we are long-term, stable and have this expertise, is lend that expertise to them.”

Simmons’ commitment on behalf of the University did not come with a check or fundraising pledge, but Marisa Quinn, assistant to the president, said additional funds may be raised to support the partnership.

Most of the University’s assistance has come through in-kind advice and expertise.

University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi flew to Dillard and helped the New Orleans university restore and repair books damaged by the hurricane. Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, has traveled to Dillard at least four times to help its administration with long-term financial planning. Simmons herself has returned to her alma mater several times since the storm, and she said she plans to visit again this year.

“If somebody needed a confocal microscope and help finding scientists with interest in that, we can help them,” Simmons said. “I always promote the idea that we should share what we know how to do. Otherwise we are squandering our greatest resources.”

Brown and Princeton University first partnered with Dillard, a historically black college, in September 2005 to ensure that the school had the resources needed to repair the damage suffered during the storm and in its aftermath.

“These universities are not going to come back to their full strength for many, many years, just as New Orleans is not going to come back to its full strength,” she said. “I think about what if this happened at Brown. … It’s almost building from scratch.”

Simmons said she wanted to honor the presidents of Xavier and Dillard universities at the most recent Commencement to remind those present that “this has not gone away.”

Reviving New Orleans universities is essential to the city’s future, Simmons said. “When you travel to New Orleans, it’s like entering a devastated city as if it was completely destroyed by war. … Then you come to this oasis, which is the Dillard campus,” she said.

When asked how long the partnership would last, Simmons said it was “hard to say.”

Yesterday’s announcement, Spies said, signifies that “rather than seeing this as a short term thing to get them through the immediate aftermath of the storm, this is really a longer-term effort. … They had so much to do, and still do, and Dillard is certainly not a rich institution. They cannot just grab all of the resources they need.”

The announcement was one of three that came during a working session on education at the Clinton Global Initiative, the third annual conference sponsored by the William J. Clinton Foundation to bring together global leaders from government, the non-profit sector and the corporate world to address issues of international concern and gather concrete commitments to tackle specific projects. In the first 24 hours of the three-day event, over 100 commitments had been made, including a $40 million commitment from pop singer Shakira for child education in Latin America and $4 billion from Standard Chartered Bank for renewable energy.

The Dillard commitment may not be the only outcome of the event for Brown. Simmons told The Herald that conversations she had while in New York may lead to an environmental initiative and a program to bring African women leaders to College Hill.

Still, in the middle of a three day whirlwind during which unusual partnerships and lofty projects are launched, Simmons emphasized that the University’s philanthropic focus is on sharing what it knows how to do – educate.

As he presented Simmons with a Clinton Global Initiative certificate recognizing her commitment, former Harvard president Lawrence Summers applauded the commitment as an effort to use the University’s strengths for social good.

“It is, I believe, highly significant in pointing to the importance of universities in these times when they have been highly fortunate in how their endowments have performed, to reach beyond the academy to make a difference not just for their students, but for the world,” he said.

“This is the first example of a high-level, relatively wealthy academic partnership formed to bridge the gulf between rich and poor institutions as a response to great tragedy,” Summers said.

Indeed, the resources available to Brown and Dillard are vastly different. Dillard, with a 100-member faculty and just over 1,100 students before Hurricane Katrina hit, has a $40.8 million endowment, according to its Web site. The school suffered more than $350 million in damage from the storm, according to a Brown press release.

In addition to providing institutional support for Dillard University, Brown offered $1.1 million in scholarships to students from Dillard and two other schools affected by the hurricane out of a $5 million fund set up by liquor magnate and philanthropist Sidney Frank ’42 to assist in hurricane recovery.

Last year’s Clinton Global Initiative raised $7.3 billion in less than 72 hours for a host of socially responsible causes.

– With Herald staff reports

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