Prior to Katrina, Tulane University was the largest private employer in the city of New Orleans; immediately afterward it became the city's single largest employer of any type - public or private.
During the storm, Tulane University Hospital & Clinic lost power and received patients from neighboring hospitals and from the Louisiana Superdome. These patients, along with all hospital staff, staff family members present, and patients were evacuated within five days via helicopters from the top floor of a neighboring parking garage. This rescue effort was organized, directed, and paid for by the hospital's parent company, HCA. On February 14, 2006 it was the first hospital to reopen in downtown New Orleans after the hurricane.
The American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities urged their member institutions to help displaced students from Tulane and the area's other universities. Hundreds of universities (492 in total) made provisions to allow Tulane students (and students from other affected colleges) to enroll as "provisional students" for the fall semester. When the university reopened in the Spring, Tulane transferred credits earned by students elsewhere. To further help students graduate on schedule, Tulane offered two academic semesters between January and June 2006. A regular spring term began January 17, with a seven-week "Lagniappe Semester" which ran from May 15 through the end of June.
Tulane School of Medicine relocated its students and essential teaching staff to Houston, Texas, and continued its fall semester at Baylor College of Medicine. This was aided in part by the support of Michael DeBakey, pioneering heart surgeon, graduate of Tulane School of Medicine and chancellor emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine. Students taking the basic science medical courses used the facilities at Baylor, while 3rd and 4th year students did clinical rotations in several of the nearby teaching hospitals located in Houston, Galveston, and Temple. Tulane attempted to keep the medical students together, and discouraged transfer, except in the most extenuating of circumstances. Students were able to request transfers, but many medical schools supported Tulane's attempts to retain their student body and thus their school, although some students were successful in their appeals to transfer. The School of Medicine's stay in Texas ('Tulane West' or 'Tulane at Baylor') ended, with the students and faculty returning to New Orleans in July 2006.
Under the Renewal Plan, Tulane eliminated six undergraduate and graduate programs in the Engineering School: mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, environmental engineering, and computer science, and also a bachelor's degree in exercise science. The university cut twenty-seven of its forty-five doctoral programs and suspended eight NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic programs.
As a result of the plan dismissing so many tenured faculty without what the American Association of University Professors considered "due cause," Tulane, along with three other New Orleans based universities, was censured by the AAUP . Tulane’s responses purportedly showed that the AAUP's draft report was flawed significantly and contained numerous errors of fact, omission and interpretation. Tulane's administration responded that the final version of the AAUP report acknowledges (mostly in footnotes) some of the corrections Tulane offered, and continued to assert that errors and meritless conclusions remain in the final version.
For spring 2006 the administration reported that "94 percent of all students" returned. By keeping the school smaller, officials said they will not have to lower admission standards.
The university Renewal Plan created a single undergraduate co-ed college in July 2006, discontinuing Tulane's liberal arts and sciences coordinate college system that comprised Tulane College (for men) and the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (for women). On March 16, 2006, the board announced establishment of the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College Institute, an umbrella organization for extracurricular programs, "to enhance women's education at the university."
Claiming that dissolution of Newcomb College violates conditions on the gifts and will of its founder Josephine Louise Newcomb, Mrs. Newcomb's heirs are suing Tulane to enforce their ancestor's donor's intent. The action, Howard v. Tulane, is now pending in Louisiana District Court.
Critics of the Renewal Plan charge the school administration of using Katrina as the excuse to push an agenda that would otherwise have been difficult to accomplish. In response to cutting several engineering degree programs, students, faculty, and alumni started the Save Tulane Engineering campaign to reinstate the five engineering majors and the separate school. The American Association of University Professors expressed concern at the lack of meaningful faculty involvement in crafting the Renewal Plan, as did many students.
On April 4, 2007, Tulane University announced that the School of Science and Engineering will introduce a new major beginning fall 2007, Engineering Physics. The major, the first new engineering major added since the School of Engineering closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is designed to meet the criteria of the Engineering Accreditation Commission, and is geared towards preparing students in quantum physics and nanotechnology.
On May 8, 2007, Tulane announced that more than 1,375 high school seniors had committed to coming to Tulane University as part of the class of 2011. This increase in enrollment, surpassing 882 students from the class of 2010, and a planned 1,200 students for the class of 2011, marks a strong return in enrollment that nears the level prior to Hurricane Katrina. Tulane welcomed 1,500 new students including 128 transfer students in fall 2007.