Banking on the hope that the worst of this year's hurricane season will have passed by then, Dillard University has pushed back the starting date for fall-semester classes to Sept. 25: a month later than usual.
With this revision in the academic calendar, Dillard officials hope to avoid a repetition of last year when, less than a week after classes began, Hurricane Katrina's approach forced them to shut down the Gentilly campus and evacuate about 2,200 students.
Delaying the start of the fall semester to late September -- later than any other local institution of higher learning -- was a strategic decision "to reflect the realities of the environment," said Walter Strong, Dillard's vice president for institutional planning and advancement.
"We just revised our academic calendar to reflect the fact that by that point in time, 80 percent of the hurricane season will likely be behind us," he said. "It represents to us a much better time for the opening of classes, and that's going to be our approach from here on."
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's records of hurricanes that have hit the New Orleans area, 75 percent of them, including all of the most destructive storms, have struck in either late August or September.
So while starting school in September doesn't completely avoid the height of hurricane season in Louisiana, starting late in the month has history on its side. State climatologist Barry Keim has said research shows that the pinnacle of the Gulf Coast hurricane season is Sept. 10, and that three weeks before and after that date -- Aug. 20 through Oct. 1 -- are when the biggest storms have hit.
"All the signature storms for the Gulf Coast -- Betsy, Camille, Gilbert, Andrew, Katrina -- occurred during that time period," Keim said at the start of this year's hurricane season.
With Dillard's calendar change, the fall semester won't end until January, reversing a trend several decades old to let students finish their final exams before the December holiday break.
"That was the biggest lament," Strong said.
But the delayed exams mean that "students . . . will have that extra time to prepare for them during the Christmas holiday," he said.
"We wanted to give students and faculty a bit of a break," she said. "Next year we're going back to our regular time frame, in the middle of August."
Weather had no bearing on Xavier's schedule, Dotson said.