Marvalene Hughes has tracked down her provost and chaplain, and late yesterday afternoon she located a vice president.
Now the Dillard University president needs to find the rest of her faculty and staff and let students know what's going to happen for the rest of the school year.
She's still not sure what the answer will be.
"My campus is underwater," she said, "about five to eight feet underwater."
From her sister's home in Alabama, Hughes spent yesterday on the phone talking to emergency management officials, insurance agents and administrators scattered across the country -- and watching TV footage of a city submerged.
Tens of thousands of evacuees from New Orleans colleges and universities are scattered across the country, trying to figure out how to salvage a school year that started with disaster. Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education estimated that 75,000 to 100,000 college students in the New Orleans metropolitan area have been displaced by the storm and that more than 30 schools in the region have been affected.
As emergency workers labored, administrators scrambled to find colleagues, establish Web sites and begin figuring out what next. Schools as far north as Massachusetts, including some in the Washington area, began opening their doors to stranded students, offering help ranging from a single course to full academic and residential packages. Relief drives for students were launched across the country.
And federal education officials promised that they would "put away the red tape," including easing timelines for repaying student loans.
Hartle said five public schools in Mississippi have been shut down for lack of power. He also said he had been told that Tulane University was airlifting its president, Scott Cowen, off campus last night and working to establish operations in Houston. Hartle's organization was still trying to reach leaders at most New Orleans campuses.
Nobody had heard late yesterday from the president of Xavier College, Norman Francis, said Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund. Francis, who has served more than 40 years, longer than any president at any other college in the country, had remained in the city with his family because Xavier "is his life," Lomax said.
Nobody connected to any college or university in New Orleans could say yesterday when schools might reopen.
The Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education are trying to coordinate plans with various campuses. Washington area schools, including George Washington, Catholic and Georgetown universities, were talking about the best ways to help. The University of Virginia announced yesterday evening that it would welcome academically qualified Virginia residents enrolled in New Orleans colleges as visiting students if they contact the school this week.
Many students spent yesterday swapping stories by phone and e-mail about how they got out, where they had landed and what they would do next.
Early Saturday, Tulane third-year students Sarah Atkinson and Matt Smith were welcoming excited freshmen to a newly built dormitory. Within hours, residential college director Erica Woodlee stood on a table and shouted that evacuation procedures were to begin. Atkinson, 20, said that while she tried to get students to repack their things, some parents insisted on unpacking, failing to grasp that the computer they were setting up might not be there after the storm passed. "A lot of parents didn't get it," Atkinson said. "We had some from suburban New York, suburban Chicago, suburban D.C. They would be more comfortable handling a terrorist attack than a hurricane."
Some students left the city in their own cars; others piled into the vans of friends and wound up in states far from their homes. Planes ferried some home before the airports closed, but hundreds of foreign students had nowhere to go and were bused to universities beyond the area affected by the storm, to be housed in gymnasiums.
At Dillard, the historically black university in New Orleans, Hughes has been in charge for just two months. At 6 p.m. Saturday, she locked her office, then climbed onto each of six buses to say goodbye to students being evacuated. She gave them all a Dillard University pep talk and watched them drive off.
About 250 students went to Centenary College in Shreveport, La. One chartered bus caught fire, burning up the week's worth of provisions each student had been told to pack, said Centenary spokesman Lynn Stewart.
On Sunday, Hughes flew to Shreveport to visit with students staying in the gym, thinking they would be able to return home soon.
Then the levee broke. Since then, she has been helping students get home. Two engineers who had stayed on the Dillard campus to assess damage had to be airlifted out. Last night, a few dozen students were still at Centenary, but most had found other places to go. And cell phones weren't working, she said. "No one knows where anyone is at this point," she said, except for the few top administrators who have found one another by land line.
Many schools have offered campus space, she said, and Dillard officials are considering moving operations to Atlanta, finding temporary classrooms and just continuing with conference calls. Hughes might go home to California, she said, and run the university by phone for a while. For how long, she has no idea.