Students petition in response to budget cuts
Published: Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 23:09
Thursday night after the USM budget cuts revealed the threat of losing the religion major, 18 students came together to create a petition in defense of the four-year-old program. The students consisted of majors in religion, science, health and the arts, all determined to preserve the program for one common reason, which is stated in their petition: Without the religion program, USM is just another university.
The students call themselves Students for Creative Solutions, and their mission is to eventually present the petition to the UPC and President Saunders.
The petition states, "As a student of The University of Southern Mississippi, regardless of my major of choice, I believe the religion department is a crucial element to this institution." Many students have been eager to sign it.
"I work in the library, and lots of students approach me asking about the petition," said West McKellar, a senior religion major of the first 18 to start the petition.
McKellar changed his major to religion his second semester of freshman year after taking Comparative Religion with Daniel Capper, one professor soon to lose his position with the elimination of the program. Many students have taken this class, and it is part of some majors' core curriculums. Not only the classes, but also the teachers, McKellar said, have taught him so much about the world and other religions.
McKellar agreed to be a part of Students for Creative Solutions because he considers the decision to cut the religion program too hasty. USM is losing not only great teachers but also great people, he said.
"Dr. Capper was here before there even was a religion major," McKellar said. "He was definitely fundamental in getting the program running, and this is his dream job."
The Comparative Religion course also influenced Molly Richard, a junior religion major with a minor in Spanish and nonprofit studies. Her participation in the petition stemmed from the lessons she learned in the course, she said. Richard said the religion program provides a more personal look into different religions, providing a different approach than a history class.
"In classes like Comparative Religion, students get a world view of religion that most people in South Mississippi wouldn't know about," she said.
Richard agreed that the program is important to the students of Southern Miss, regardless of their majors. She explained that with classes like Comparative Religion, students learn about themselves, their world and most importantly, conflicts overseas such as the war between Palestinians and Israelis.
"Without religion, they wouldn't understand the religion behind the war," she said.
Dylan Harris, a double major in religion and political science, said he disagrees with USM's decision to cut the religion program, but by signing the petition, he hopes to demonstrate not anger but rather that students can come up with creative solutions for President Saunders and the UPC.
Harris said he believes the program could have been preserved despite its small size because the program didn't cost much money. The number of students who took the course allowed the program to be self-contained and therefore a profit-maker for the university, he said.
Harris also said that without the program, USM won't be the same.
"A lot of students chose to come to Southern Miss because of the liberal arts, and now they're cutting the program," he said. "Going in this direction, I think our school is just going to be generic."
He also said he studied the program to learn more about humanity, and this is the same for other students. "The fact that the program is leaving is just going to leave a lot of people in the dark," he said.
The petition, along with other letters written by the students Thursday night, will be mailed to President Saunders to help in the appeal process that will soon take place. Teachers like Daniel Capper and Amy A. Slagle have also written letters.
According to West McKellar, there is a plan for a town hall meeting on this matter. President Saunders and members of the UPC and SGA will be present, and students are encouraged to come and ask questions. The meeting will be from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14, in Ballroom I of the Thad Cochran Center.
Harris said representation is most important in this process. "You are affected," he said. "Show them you care. Be involved."