Tag Archive | University

Underground Student Atheist Groups

Something which might be of interest, from Kimberly Winston @ USA Today:

Late one night over pizza, University of Dayton students Branden King and Nick Haynes discovered neither of them believed in God. Surely, they thought, they couldn’t be the only unbelievers at the Roman Catholic college.

Last year, King and Haynes and a couple of other like-minded students applied to the administration to form the Society of Freethinkers, a student club based on matters of unbelief.

The university rejected their application — and rejected them again in September. Without university approval, the group cannot meet on campus, tap a student activities fund, participate in campus events or use campus media.

For now, they meet at a Panera cafe off campus, relying on word-of-mouth to draw members, up to about 15 now. And they are appealing the rejection.

“A religious campus can be a lonely place for someone who doesn’t subscribe to faith,” said King, now 23 and a graduate student in biology. “We want to reach out to these people.”

The Dayton students are not alone. The Secular Student Alliance, a national organization of nontheistic students with 320 campus chapters, reports at least two other religious universities —Notre Dame and Baylor — have rejected clubs for atheist, agnostic, humanist and other nontheistic students. Students at Duquesne, a Catholic school, say they have little hope of approval on their first application this year.

All the schools say they rejected the clubs because they conflict with their Christian mission _ which perplexes some students who note that Duquesne, Dayton and Notre Dame approved Muslim and Jewish student clubs. Dayton and Duquesne have also approved gay student groups.

“The only difference between us and them is our club’s agenda does not assume the existence of the Judeo-Christian God,” said Stephen Love, 21, a Notre Dame student whose application was rejected twice. “I think those clubs should be allowed, but if they are going to use that line of reasoning to reject us they should be consistent.”

The Rev. James Fitz, Dayton’s vice president, said the school can support a gay student club without condoning the members’ sexual orientation. Approving non-Catholic religious clubs is acceptable, too, because faith in God is involved.

“As a Marianist university we aspire ‘to educate for formation in faith,”‘ he wrote in an email, quoting Marianist principles.

Many students say their peers are supportive of their nontheistic clubs. Others have asked why, if they do not believe in God, they chose a religious school in the first place.

Haynes and King came to Dayton after attending Catholic high schools. Andrew Tripp, president of DePaul University’s Alliance for Free Thought, liked DePaul’s urban setting and its service to Chicago’s poor. Brandi Stepp said as an atheist she worried about choosing DePaul, but was drawn to its theater department’s reputation.

“I thought I might have to keep my mouth shut about a lot of things,” she said. “I was really interested in finding a community of like-minded people. I saw the SSA ad, showed up and had a great time.”

Not all religious schools reject nontheist clubs. California Lutheran University has an active group that regularly cooperates with religious groups on campus, and DePaul has a thriving group that meets with administration support.

“Once they realized we were not going to march on the president’s office demanding the de-Catholization of the university they were very amenable to our goals,” said Tripp.

Suzanne Kilgannon, director of DePaul’s Office of Student Involvement, said the club’s goal of open inquiry into matters of faith — and non-faith — conforms to the school’s Catholic mission.

“We looked at it as we are the marketplace of ideas, so how could we not have an organization like this?” she said. “Because it is important to study all sides of the subject — regardless of the subject — we felt like this club belonged here.”

Other religious schools have arrived at the same conclusion. There are sanctioned Secular Student Alliance chapters at Southern Methodist University, Luther College, Presbyterian College and Iowa’s Central College as well.

Jesse Galef, SSA’s communications director, said some religious universities misunderstand the purpose of nontheist clubs. It isn’t to promote atheism, he said, but to provide “a safe place” for students exploring nonbelief.

“Secular student groups promote discussion, and community and compassion,” Galef said. “If the University of Dayton and other schools value these things they need to stop refusing secular students the same rights religious students have.”

Galef has heard from Baylor students who said they felt threatened with expulsion because of their lack of faith. The Baylor Atheist/Agnostic Society, continues to meet, organizing through a private Facebook page with 69 members. No one in the group agreed to be interviewed.

Nick Shadowen, a philosophy major who proposed a secular society at Duquesne and is currently awaiting the administration’s decision, sees a gap between religious and nonreligious students.

“A lot of students come from small, conservative towns centered around church where there is not a lot of discussion about atheists and so they are sort of forced to keep their opinion to themselves,” he said. “This group is a chance to show the rest of the student body we are just like everyone else.”

What do you read when studying religion (and nonreligion)?

Many people seem to think that I am a bit of a paradox as far as religion is concerned. Maybe this is true, maybe this isn’t. But I thought it would be amusing to share photographs of the bookshelf immediately above my desk – this should give you an idea of the sort of things that I read, or am meant to be reading at the moment. Of course, there are hundreds of journal articles and library books… but these  I actually ‘own’ myself. What do you think? Have you read any? Am I missing any classics? Answers on a postcard…


UCC offers new MA in Contemporary Religions

I received the following information through a mailing list last night, and thought that it might be of interest to some of the readers of this blog:

A new MA Contemporary Religions programme will be offered by the Study of Religions department at UCC Cork from September 2011. This is the first programme of its kind in Ireland.

The MA may be taken full-time (12 months) or part time (over 2 or 3 years) and will be taught in the evenings. The closing date for applications this year is July 1st. Applications received after this date will be considered if places are still available.

Details of the new MA programme can be accessed from the MA Contemporary Religions link on the dept website at http://www.ucc.ie/en/studyofreligions/ or at http://www.ucc.ie/en/studyofreligions/PostgraduateStudies/

For queries about the programme content and delivery or an informal discussion about study options at MA or other levels please contact me or any member of SoR staff (details at http://www.ucc.ie/en/studyofreligions/Staff/ .

Enquiries about the MA application process (online, via PAC, the Postgraduate Applications Centre) should be directed to the UCC Graduate Studies Office – details of the new MA Contemporary Religions and of the PAC application procedure are at the GSO website http://www.ucc.ie/en/study/postgrad/what/acsss/masters/religion/

Kind regards

Prof. Brian Bocking, Study of Religions Department, CACSSS University College Cork (UCC), Ireland

English Universities to become a Privilege for the Rich

Having seen a report on this on BBC Breakfast this morning, I had to look up the article and share it with you. According to the BBC:

Universities in England may be permitted to make extra places available for wealthy British students, under government proposals.

They would be charged as much as those from outside the European Union (EU).

Ministers say the proposal would free up publicly subsidised university places for poorer students.

Under the current system, the government sets a quota for the number of places English universities are allowed to offer each year.

From September 2012, universities in England will be allowed to raise tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year.

It marks an increase in the cap from the current level of £3,290.

Universities wanting to charge more than £6,000 will have to undertake measures such as offering bursaries, summer schools and outreach programmes, to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply.

The policy was developed as the government’s response to a review of higher education funding by former BP chief Lord Browne.

Students from outside the EU pay higher fees and are not eligible for any grants or loans.

Under the latest proposals, wealthy students could pay higher fees for an extra place at the university of their choice as long as they meet entry requirements.

The move would enable the most popular universities to expand.

Universities Minister David Willetts said he wanted the government’s forthcoming white paper on university funding to liberalise the system.

BBC Education correspondent Gillian Hargreaves said the proposals “would be controversial”.

“Critics would argue the wealthiest families would be able to buy a place on a degree course,” she said.

This is absolutely disgusting. Universities are supposed to be centres for academic excellence. Whilst I definitely agree with the ‘critics’ cited at the end of this article (that these proposals will lead to the wealthy being able to buy their university degree), I also have another, much more pressing criticism.

Universities aren’t just magically going to be able to take on more students. If student places are being taken up by those who can afford to pay extortionate rates, then the number of places for ‘normal’ and ‘poorer’ people will decrease. Which people do you think universities will prefer to take on? Those who can afford to pay massive amounts’? Or those who they will have to provide bursaries and scholarships for?

I know the government will say that they will set quotas etc and ensure that this doesn’t happen… but since everything they have said so far has turned out to be so misleading – ‘we won’t raise tuition fees’… ‘okay we will, but only for a small minority of universities and courses’… ‘we’ll raise fees across the board. Hey, it’s a difficult economic time’ – this does not seem like such an unlikely scenario after all…

Rant over.