Punitive damages sought against Tulane University over Madison closureBy MEGAN PHILLIPS,
After Tulane University’s abrupt closure in January of this year in Madison, the city is demanding $10 million in punitive damages.
The funds, according to Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, will cover hard construction costs, used city resources, and damages to Madison’s reputation and economic development credibility.
“This is about the residents of this city who put their faith in Tulane,” she said.
Madison began working with Tulane in 2008 to bring a satellite campus to the area, and classes didn’t officially begin until 2010.
Tuition cost about $1,100 per three undergraduate credits, and enrollment rested between 180 and 200 students per semester. On average, students were taking six or seven classes, or at least 18 credit hours, each semester.
“Informal reports from Tulane officials showed enrollment exceeded expectations, and continued to do so until Tulane slashed its recruitment (and) advertising efforts in 2016,” Butler said.
Between 75 and 100 students were graduated from the Madison campus with a mixture of two-year and four-year degrees.
The city wasn’t notified of the campus’s closing until January 3 of this year. Officials immediately requested a meeting with the school’s administration January 9 to see if the situation could be rectified. No such request was granted.
“Tulane officials personally advised (city officials) that the decision to close this campus had already been made, without any advance notice to the city or any opportunity to address any issues… Students were notified of the closing on January 4, and this information was immediately released to the media,” Butler said.
The issue for the city, according to Butler, is that the university had assured the city the Madison program would continue as long as enrollment remained “satisfactory.”
“Enrollment continued to grow, and new programs were added until the leadership changed at Tulane and recruitment (and) advertising budgets were discontinued or drastically cut. Was the school obligated morally to tell the city? Ethically? Legally? Yes, yes, and we will allow the court to decide,” she said.
Butler didn’t say whether or not a contract was drawn to keep the Madison campus open for a certain length of time, but that the city and university “always had long-term plans.”
The city invested $1 million in hard costs for the renovation of the Tulane facility, which was located off the corner of U.S. Highway 51 and Madison Avenue.
Some of that money also went toward staff time as well as promotional and partnership efforts in hopes of raising support for bringing a nationally recognized educational institute to the city of Madison and to the state of Mississippi.
“That was the purpose of the city’s investment. (The Jackson State University) and Belhaven (University) campuses are so close to the city that neither of these programs have the growth potential that was discussed in the original Tulane proposal,” Butler said.
With the city’s major loss of Tulane, the mayor said the city will definitely think twice before bringing in another school in the future.
“The city acted in good faith and relied upon Tulane to respond in good faith. If Tulane had honored its assurances, there would be no claim for reimbursement.”
For now, the city has made no final decisions on what will become of the building in which the Tulane University was located.