On my last morning in New Orleans, I went back to Tulane and wandered around the campus by myself for awhile, trying to get a feel for my daughter's new home. The evening before, I had visited the Audubon Park across the street -- an absolutely lovely, manicured, but somewhat natural area, lined on either side by beautiful homes, and host in the slanted light of early evening to runners, cormorants, and fulvous whistling-ducks. I didn't have a camera with me to record my life-bird of the week, but the next morning I did try to compile a record of the Tulane campus. Don't forget that you can click on the pictures to enlarge them
Tulane University is in possession of something that the rest of our country lacks: a visionary and insightful leader of extraordinary skill. As a result, the campus looks reasonably acceptable, the students are housed and already volunteering all over the city, the classes are moving forward, and the mail system is only a minor disaster.
I think that my first picture is of an original Newcomb College building. Newcomb was the women's school, Tulane College was the men's and, until Katrina, they retained separate identities for administrative purposes. For all obvious intents and realities they have been merged into Tulane University for some time, with Newcomb having lost most of its identity to the men's school, just as Radcliffe and Pembroke have to Harvard and Brown -- but it is only with Katrina that the final blow has been dealt to whatever individuality they did maintain. Although I'm not sure exactly where Newcomb begins and ends in a geographic sense, it's easy to see from the rough outlines of that portion of the campus what a lovely southern college for women it must have been. I found some humor in my daughter's enrollment last spring in Newcomb -- she had steadfastly resisted all my efforts to interest her in eastern women's colleges and then, somewhat by accident, found herself a student at a southern one. With sororities, no less! And now I feel saddened by Newcomb's demise; her diploma, should she decide to stay, will read "Tulane University" only.
The fourth picture, by the way, is a little present for Carol, a proud graduate and loyal alumna of Newcomb College.
I tossed the second picture in to demonstrate that, while Katrina may be somewhat responsible for the effect, frat houses tend not to look like the gracious buildings maintained by southern women's colleges, regardless of the circumstances. The cardboard sign on the second floor says, "Yes, We're Open," a familiar enough message around New Orleans, but certainly an important beacon to college students on a Saturday evening.
The third image illustrates the center of the Tulane Campus. I myself am not a fan of the combination of yellow brick and yellow grass, but I am confident that the grass will return to its original pre-Katrina green at some point in time. And the yellow bricks, which I consider particularly ugly, are at least bolstered by a humorous story. It seems that at some point in time, the same architect was designing clusters of buildings for both Tulane and Vanderbilt. The bricks for each school's buildings were shipped to the other by mistake, and the universities agreed that they would not bother with an exchange. From what I hear, the yellow ones would have been much more in keeping with the Vanderbilt campus as a whole. All I know is that I wish they were anywhere but Tulane.
And finally, the last image, with a student running alongside one of the buildings more aligned with my taste in Gothic university architecture, honed by my own alma mater and my son's years at Chicago, represents what was truly a delightful sight to me on that early Sunday morning: a campus at peace, a campus on which students who had adapted to extraordinary circumstances all over the country were finally able to engage in ordinary activities in the place they call home.