USM to celebrate 100th anniversary

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The University of Southern Mississippi is lighting the candles on a year-long birthday party in 2010.
The school will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary with a schedule that includes events in nearly every month.
“Bringing people together for a centennial is exactly what we need to be doing during these tough times,” university President Martha Saunders said Monday during an editorial board meeting with the Daily Journal.
While the centennial celebration will feature dozens of events, it will focus on three:
n The Founder’s Day Convocation on March 30, which marks 100 years to the day that the state Legislature established what was then called Mississippi Normal College as the first state-supported teacher training school.
n The May 15 university commencement, which will feature a well-known speaker whose identity has not yet been released.
n Homecoming, which will be held the weekend of Oct. 15-16.
As the university remembers its first 100 years, it will have some help from history professor Bo Morgan, who has published a centennial history of the university.
“Despite being a Hattiesburg native and alumnus, I was most struck by how rich the heritage of that institution I had know all my life was,” Morgan said. “There has been a lot of perseverance and overcoming obstacles.”
The latest obstacle is the reduction of state funding, which has been cut by more than 8 percent since the school year began. Universities could see even deeper declines over the next two years.
“We’ll take a careful look at low-enrollment programs, and we’ll be reducing programs,” Saunders said. “The campus has really held together and nobody is blaming anybody. My intention is to be better when we come out of this.”
The school’s current enrollment is over 16,600, and the goal is to increase retention and market share by 2 percent every year. That rate could lead to an enrollment around 18,000 by 2015.
“While enrollment growth is important, we don’t set our plans by how big we want to be; we set our plans by how good we want to be,” Saunders said.
The school is paying for its centennial from money it set aside in 2007 and private donations. Saunders said the celebration has been pared down in response to the economy.
“Even families in hard times don’t ignore children’s birthdays,” she said, “and we’re not going to ignore this one.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.