On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Honors College Dean Ellen Weinauer sent an email to every Honors College student informing them the Student Government Association recently passed a resolution regarding how Latin distinction is awarded at The University of Southern Mississippi. The following days saw forums, debates, social media posts and opinions arise from many students at USM both for and against the legislation.
Currently, Latin distinction is awarded at Southern Miss based on the completion of a comprehensive examination and the writing of a thesis which involves personal research overseen by a thesis mentor. The legislation would move to award Latin designation based solely on a student’s GPA and without completing a comprehensive exam or thesis. All students can sit for a comprehensive examination and write a thesis for Latin designation without completing Honors curriculum their freshman and sophomore years.
SGA President Cameron Cloud provided the following information concerning the timeline of the legislation.
“On Thursday, October 5, 2017, your elected student body senators on the Hattiesburg campus supported the proposal with a final vote of 23-2-1 (yea-nay-present),” he said. “On Friday, October 6, 2017, your elected student body representatives on the Gulf Park campus supported the proposal with a final vote of 6-3-3 (yea-nay-present).”
Following Weinauer’s announcement, Cloud announced that SGA Senate would host a forum on Thursday, Oct. 12 at 11:30 a.m. to allow students the opportunity to have their opinions heard by SGA.
Senior and Honors College student Caroline Bradley voiced her concerns at the forum.
“[The senate] said they talked to a lot of students, but I believe the reaction since 9:30 in the morning when Dr. Weinauer sent the email proves contrary to that,” she said. “To further that point, many Honors College students emailed after Dr. Weinauer sent the email and instead of getting something back like ‘Hey I hear you’ it was a copy and pasted email. So, we’ve been shown numerous times since this resolution passed that our voice is actually not valued and I think that’s one of the biggest frustration points. In the past when resolutions like this that would affect the entire university regardless of the philosophy was behind it there were multiple forums held, online surveys, there were people talking about it before it even got presented in meeting and that did not happen. That’s the biggest problem for me because the Student Government Association is there as the student government not the governing association of students.”
Students continued to voice their frustrations at the lack of communication to students.
SGA Vice President McKenna Stone stated: “Before this resolution was presented/debated on the Senate floor, Senator Jarrod Colley and I individually met with Dr. Weinauer, Dean of the Honors College. Senators Jarrod Colley and Ceili Rassier met with Stacey Ready, Coordinator of Foundations/Assistant to the Dean of Honors College. Senator Anastasia Walrod, Vice President of Philanthropy on the Honors College Leadership Council, contacted the Executive Team of the Honors College Leadership Council via email and GroupMe explaining the resolution and asking for feedback. She asked the Executive Team, ‘Could we potentially open this question up to all HCLC so we have a representative Honors College body of opinions on the resolution?’ Senator Walrod did not receive a response from the Executive Team following that question. Senators spoke with both honors and non-honors students as well as members of faculty and administration to collect feedback and make necessary adjustments to the resolution. Throughout this process, the Senate Academic Affairs Committee made 10 different iterations of the resolution according to student and faculty commentary.”
Honors College Leadership Council President Michael McDonald said no one on the Honors College Leadership Council Executive Team had been consulted in any official capacity. McDonald also stated none of his executive team had been consulted save for one who is also a Senator for the College of Health.
Throughout the forum, Cloud consistently stated he had not signed the legislation because he wanted to talk to more students. He later announced at the Senate meeting held that night at 5:15 PM that he had signed the legislation in favor of awarding Latin distinction based solely on GPA. However, the resolution will not be taken to the administration until it receives further commentary.
The debate concerning Latin designation has had no shortage of commentary from personnel at the university thus far. For many, the main area of concern is how the way Latin designation is awarded would affect past, present and future honors students as well as how it affects non-honors students as they leave USM.
Senior English and non-Honors College student Melody Bragg said her opinion fell in the middle of the road. “I have a combined opinion. Students that have a high GPA should be rewarded in some manner regardless of honor status, but there needs to be a distinguished separation that recognizes the honor student’s hard work.”
However, for many students not involved in Honors College, the situation is a frustrating one. One student who spoke at the forum voiced her frustration at not being able to be awarded Latin designation despite her high GPA and the effects it would have on her ability to find a job after graduation.
“It is important for our university to continue to advance and seek every opportunity to develop the most well-rounded, exemplary students,” McDonald said. “ I do not believe in lowering standards for Latin distinction, therefore, student research and comprehensive examination is the best way to do so. Nevertheless, as a student representative, I will always support students’ right to voice their opinions and seek change in a positive direction. As the student President of the Honors College, however, I hope that we can continue to strive for positive change in a way that does not negatively impact Honors students.”
Dr. Weinauer provided the following statement concerning the legislation: “The Honors College supports the efforts and lauds the achievements of all students at Southern Miss, regardless of GPA. We know how hard Southern Miss students work, many juggling jobs, families and other external demands on their time while fulfilling their academic commitments. We welcome any effort to garner recognition of outstanding student achievement. At the same time, we take pride in the role the Honors College has played, for more than forty years, in fostering the highest level of academic engagement and in promoting undergraduate research at Southern Miss. We believe that the current practice of requiring a thesis for Latin distinction encourages the pursuit of advanced learning that we embrace at Southern Miss and that makes our university a leader in undergraduate education, and we remain committed to that model. Indeed, we invite sophomores and rising juniors to apply to the Honors College for our Keystone program so that they can take advantage of the opportunity to complete a thesis and achieve Latin distinction.”
Senator Jarrod Colley is the author of the bill, and the co-sponsors of the resolution include the entire Academic Affairs committee on Senate. The co-sponsors are Ceili Rassier, Nytarica Braxton, Shelby Hosch, Caitlyn Chambers, Hannah Jordan, Makalah Wand, and Caroline Carney (she is not a member of the Academic Affairs Committee). Four of these Senators are currently in the Honors College.
Colley chose not to comment and instead directed all communications to SGA President Cameron Cloud.