The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), known informally as Southern Miss, is a public research university located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It is situated 70 miles (110 km) north of Gulfport, Mississippi and 105 miles (169 km) northeast of New Orleans, Louisiana. USM is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to award baccalaureate, master's, specialist, and doctoral degrees. The university is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a "Research University" with "High Research Activity" (designation "RU/H").
Founded on March 30, 1910, the university is a dual campus institution, with the main campus located in Hattiesburg. The other large campus, Gulf Park, is located in Long Beach, with five additional teaching and research sites, including the John C. Stennis Space Center and the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL).
The university has a particularly extensive study-abroad program through its Center for International Education, and is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the nation for the number of students studying abroad each year. It is especially noted for its British Studies program, which regularly sends more than 200 students each summer to live and study in London. The university is also home to a major polymer science research center, and one of the strongest fine arts programs in the southeastern United States, including music, art, dance, and theater.
Originally called the Mississippi Southerners, the Southern Miss athletic teams became the Golden Eagles in 1972. The school's colors, black and gold, were selected by a student body vote shortly after the school was founded. While mascots, names, customs, and the campus have changed, the black and gold colors have remained constant.
The university's primary mission is "to cultivate intellectual development and creativity through the generation, dissemination, application, and preservation of knowledge." Southern Miss is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and its programs are fully accredited by 30 state and national agencies.
Southern Miss offers approximately 189 programs leading to baccalaureate, master's, specialist, and doctorate degrees. Southern Miss has traditionally drawn many of its students from Mississippi schools and community colleges, hailing from every county in Mississippi, though today the majority of undergraduates come from public schools across the southern United States and around the globe. The University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra has more than 90 members (including undergraduate and graduate students) from the United States and 14 other countries.
The University of Southern Mississippi offers more than 250 clubs and organizations, as well as intramural athletics and special events. Student organizations at Southern Miss include the Student Government Association, The Legacy, The Student Printz (the biweekly student-produced newspaper), The Southerner (the yearbook), Southern Style (the university's student orientation team), national fraternities and sororities, honor societies, and various religious organizations. In addition, the school participates in the NCAA's Division I-A, and Conference USA featuring year-round athletics in 16 sports. Southern Miss also hosts, participates in, and promotes more than 300 cultural events every year. Regular events include the Jazz and Blues Festival held on the Long Beach campus, performances by the theater, dance and music departments, and exhibits presented by the art department. The university's Dale Center for the Study of War and Society hosts several lectures and programs throughout the year. Several guest lecturers including General David Petraeus (2017), Dr. Robert M. Gates (2014), and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (2010) visited Hattiesburg as a part of the center’s Dale Distinguished Lecture Series. 2018 marked the 13th annual Richard McCarthy Lecture Series, wherein students and the community at large could participate in a broad range of events and programming from panel discussions to roundtables focusing on war and the effects it has on the societies surrounding it.
The institution's strengths include its large research endowment, its emphasis on accreditation at the departmental and college levels, its respected music and art programs, and its athletic prowess. Several degree programs at the university rank among the best of their kind in the nation. The New York Times Book Review rates the university's Center for Writers as one of the Top 10 in the country, and the Polymer Science and Engineering department is consistently ranked among the nation's top 10 by U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report also included the university on a list for "Most Popular Universities". The School of Communications is ranked among the top ten programs in the nation, according to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and Southern Miss is one of only one percent of business schools in the nation accredited in both business and accounting by the AACSB International Association for Management Education.
Dr. Rodney D. Bennett became the tenth president of the university in April 2013.
The University of Southern Mississippi is governed by the University President along with the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. The President of The University of Southern Mississippi is the day-to-day administrator of Southern Miss and is appointed by and responsible to the State Institutions of Higher Learning Board.
The university is organized into six colleges, offering academic programs of study in:
In addition to its six academic colleges, The University of Southern Mississippi also offers the following programs:
The Univeristy of Southern Mississippi is planning an academic reorganization changing the academic structure at the University and the roles of administrators. This plan will reduce the number of colleges from six to four:
The University of Southern Mississippi was founded on March 30, 1910, as Mississippi Normal College, a teacher-training school. The Normal College was created to standardize the process of training upcoming teachers. Before the existence of a specialized teaching college, instructors were required to travel throughout Mississippi to prepare their students for teaching. The college's first president, Joseph Anderson Cook, presided over the opening session of instruction on September 18, 1912, and oversaw the construction of College Hall (the academic building); Forrest County Hall (men's and married students' dormitory); Hattiesburg Hall (women's dormitory); the Industrial Cottage (training laboratory for home management); and the president's home (now the Ogletree Alumni House). In its first session, Mississippi Normal College had a total enrollment of 876 students, and stood for "clean, pure, efficient lives.”
As the school developed its curriculum and departments, its name changed to reflect its progress: in 1924, to Mississippi State Teachers College, and in 1940, to Mississippi Southern College.
The college's fifth president, State Archivist Dr. William David McCain, was installed in 1955 and worked to expand Mississippi Southern College. He oversaw the construction of 17 new structures on campus and convinced Gov. Ross Barnett to upgrade the school to university status in recognition of its graduate programs. On February 27, 1962, Barnett signed the bill into law which officially renamed the school as the University of Southern Mississippi.
In 1954 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. But when Clyde Kennard, a black Korean War veteran, attempted to enroll at Mississippi Southern College in the late 1950s, McCain made major efforts with the state political establishment and local black leaders to prevent it. Kennard was turned down three times. After he wrote letters about educational integration to the local paper, he was twice arrested on trumped-up criminal charges; he was eventually convicted and sentenced to seven years in the state prison.
Dr. McCain's direct involvement in this abuse of the justice system is unclear. He was likely aware that the charges against Kennard were fraudulent, but neither he nor other public officials made any objection.
At the very time McCain was working to keep Clyde Kennard out of Mississippi Southern College, McCain traveled to Chicago on a trip sponsored by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. He spoke to the business community to try to attract investment to his state. To reduce any concern about news of integration, he told businessmen that the blacks who sought to desegregate Southern schools were "imports" from the North. But Kennard was a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Eatonville.
McCain said: "We insist that educationally and socially, we maintain a segregated society. ... In all fairness, I admit that we are not encouraging Negro voting," he said. "The Negroes prefer that control of the government remain in the white man's hands."
Kennard was finally released on parole in 1963, when he was terminally ill with cancer. He died six months later.
By the early 1960s, national pressure was growing to integrate Mississippi's institutions of higher learning. McCain was well known to vehemently oppose having any black students at Mississippi Southern. In 1964 James Meredith attempted to enroll at the University of Mississippi, the state's flagship institution. His enrollment was accomplished after white rioting and use of National Guard troops to end the violence.
By the fall of 1965 both Ole Miss and Mississippi State University had been integrated – the former violently, the latter peacefully. McCain, USM and state leaders recognized the state needed to integrate in order to appeal to businesses from outside the state. They made extensive confidential plans for the admission of their first black students. A faculty guardian and tutor was secretly appointed for each to help with the transition. The campus police department was instructed to prevent or quickly stop any incident against the two black students. Student athletic, fraternity, and political leaders were recruited to keep the calm and protect the university from the kind of negative publicity that Ole Miss had suffered during rioting against Meredith's enrollment.
As a result, black students Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni Branch were enrolled without incident in September 1965. In 2018, USM unveiled a Freedom Trail Marker in honor of Clyde Kennard, in front of Kennard Washington Hall, named after him and the first African-American doctoral student to graduate from USM, Walter Washington.
Between 1955 and 1965, USM along with its President, William D. McCain, infringed upon the civil rights of Gay and Lesbian students. Gay and Lesbian students, with an emphasis on male homosexuals, were targeted and expelled. McCain's intentions were to purge the campus of all sexual impurities.
In 1969, the Afro-American Cultural Society (AACS) was founded. Alvin Williams, an early member of the organization and professor emeritus of media at the university, described AACS as an “instrumental part of student life for black students” attending the university in the late 1960s. The organization was later renamed as the African American Student Organization (AASO) in the 1990s.
The transition of the 1960s to the 1970s gave way to a surge of social activism and major changes within the university. In response to growing concerns of black students, the university ramped its efforts to hire black faculty. In 1972, "General Nat" (Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest) was discarded in favor of the Golden Eagles. In 1974, standout football player Fred Cook was voted as the first black Mr. USM. The first black Greek organizations premiered in 1975. By the time McCain retired in 1975, enrollment had climbed to 11,000 students.
In the years following McCain's campus transformation, The University of Southern Mississippi continued to expand dramatically. Notable changes included: replacement of the quarter system with the semester system, creation of the Polymer Science Institute, reorganization of the university's 10 schools into six colleges, affiliation with Conference USA, establishment of the School of Nursing as a college; the implementation of online classes; and an expansion of the Gulf Coast campus.
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In the early 21st century, Southern Miss developed under the presidency of Dr. Shelby Thames. His tenure was characterized by a significant increase in the quantity of research conducted at the university. USM was classified as a "Doctoral / Research Extensive" university by the Carnegie Foundation during the Thames era, a category that includes the largest, most important research universities in the nation, which number approximately 150. The most recent figures indicate that annual research funding entering the university exceeds $100 million per year.
Dr. Thames' work to respond to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina brought praise from the community. In October 2005, the Faculty Senate of the Gulf Park campus passed an official resolution of appreciation. The Hattiesburg American reported that Thames' post-Katrina address to the faculty at Hattiesburg was well received. Thames avoided laying off any University employees after the storm, although the Gulf Park campus alone sustained over $100 million in damage. (By contrast, Tulane University in New Orleans released approximately 25% of the staff. It dropped significant athletic and academic programs, including the Computer Science major and most engineering programs, in retrenchment after closure and damage to the campus.)
The Thames administration gained financing and supervised execution of several construction projects on campus, often in partnership with private-sector entities. An addition to the student union houses the second-largest Barnes & Noble store in the southern U.S., which is open to the community. Barnes & Noble pays $1.5 million in annual rent on this facility. Thames also negotiated a financially favorable food services agreement with Aramark (who will donate $9 million to university construction projects). Other enhancements include the upscale Power House restaurant (at a former college power plant adapted for this use); the $15 million sorority village; additions to the football, basketball, and baseball facilities; and urban design elements to make the campus more open, "green," and pedestrian-friendly.
The university experienced an unexpected, highly publicized drop from "Tier 3" to "Tier 4" in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings beginning in the 2004 edition. This roughly coincided with the height of the Shelby Thames controversy, when he fired tenured professors for "dissension". Several organizations scrutinized the legality of his actions, as tenure was designed to protect academic independence. In 2004, the USM Faculty Senate expressed their grievances to Thames after the allegations were heard. The Faculty Senate later published a review of the Thames Administration describing its controversies. After Thames resigned, by 2009, U.S. News & World Report again ranked the university as in the upper portion of "Tier 3.". In the 2011 U.S. News & World Report College ranking, USM was in the "Tier 2". In 2016, USM was ranked by U.S. News & World Report 125th in national public universities and 220th in national universities.
USM is also ranked highly by Washington Monthly, which has criticized rankings by U.S. News & World Report and developed its own system. These rankings attempt to make a more holistic assessment of an institution's value; USM ranked 98th out of 245 doctoral institutions. This was the highest ranking of any school in Mississippi. As of 2016, Washington Monthly ranked USM 165th in research specifically and 192nd in national universities overall.
On February 10, 2013 an EF4 wedge tornado tore through the Southern Miss campus, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. The tornado formed in western Hattiesburg and continued into Southwestern Alabama. The tornado destroyed two buildings and damaged six others. As most students were away for Mardi Gras break and there were advanced warnings of the tornado, there were no fatalities and few injuries on campus.
In June 2015 Southern Miss released a statement on the removal of the Mississippi state flag from all USM campuses. Later that year on October 25, 2015, university president Rodney D. Bennett released another statement, announcing that the university would only raise flags that he felt united all students. Since the removal of the state flag, protests to bring back the flag have become common Sunday occurrence on the Hattiesburg campus.
In 2003, Southern Miss replaced their attack eagle logo from the 1990s with an eagle head logo. Two years later, when Southern Miss attempted to trademark the new logo, the University of Iowa filed against it, for they believed it looked too similar to their Hawkeyes logo. The new logo was very popular, and was placed on sports venues, advertising, and all merchandise. In August 2011, the US Patent and Trademark Office denied the trademark. In 2014, Southern Miss revealed a new logo that was a redesigned version of the 2003 logo. This new logo was copyrighted and has mostly replaced the 2003 logo.
In early October 2013, the U.S. Army announced that, due to financial constraints and the low production rate of commissioned officers, 13 ROTC programs at various universities would be shut down, including the Golden Eagle Battalion of Southern Miss. The programs were to be ended by the end of the 2014-2015 spring semester, but the universities attempted to appeal the decision. On October 12, a press conference was held at USM to protest the closure; speakers included Governor Phil Bryant and Major General Augustus Collins. In early November, the Army said it had changed its plan to end programs at specified institutions, putting them on a two-year probation, with reevaluation. USM has been taken off probation and the ROTC program continues.
Semesters at the university run from August to December and January to May, with a 10-week summer session. There are two four-week accelerated summer terms.
In Fall 2006, The University of Southern Mississippi dedicated a 4-story, multimillion-dollar addition to its R.C. Cook University Union. The Thad Cochran Center now houses a 2-story Barnes & Noble Bookstore, three ballrooms, a stadium-style theater, student organization offices, and Southern Miss Dining and Fresh Food Company. Several meeting rooms are within the union complex. The Union and Programs team hosts more than a thousand events each year.
At nearly 300, Southern Miss' student organizations appeal to a wide spectrum of interests: Business, Education and Psychology, the Arts, Games and Athletics, Graduate Studies, Greek Life, Health and Human Sciences, Honors Societies, Liberal Arts, the Military, Religious Life, Residence Halls, Community Service, and Science and Technology. The largest organizations based on student membership include the: Student Government Association, African-American Student Organization, Southern Miss Activities Council, The Legacy Student Alumni Association, and Baptist Student Union.
The university has 26 Greek organizations on campus, including 14 fraternities and 12 sororities. There are 19 fraternity and sorority houses.
The university's operations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast began in 1947 when Mississippi Southern College first organized classes at Van Hook Hall, on the Methodist Camp Grounds in Biloxi. In 1958, the operation was moved to Mary L. Michael Junior High School in Biloxi. To meet the educational needs of various occupational fields, the university relocated in 1964 to Keesler Air Force Base. In addition, it obtained classroom facilities for night classes from the Jefferson Davis campus of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College. It called this complex the USM Harrison County Resident Center. One of the most prominent landmarks on campus is the Friendship Oak. This huge live oak tree on the lawn of Hardy Hall and the Administration Building, dates from approximately 1487. The earliest available reference to the moniker Friendship Oak is found in an article written by Bob Davis, correspondent for the New York Sun. He described the tree in his book People, People, Everywhere (1936).
In September 1966, Southern Miss extended its offerings by adding the Jackson County Resident Center, located on the Jackson County campus of the MGCCC in Gautier. The Jackson County Center was built for the university by the Jackson County Board of Supervisors. This effort was encouraged by Dr. Shelby Thames when he was executive vice president of USM. The center was constructed with the intention of enabling students in Jackson County to complete four-year degrees in several fields through combined programs at MGCCC and USM. In 2009, however, the university decided to close its Jackson County Center and consolidate course offerings at other teaching sites on the Gulf Coast.
The Gulf Park College for Women in Gulfport, Mississippi, opened in 1921. The last commencement was held in 1971 and the University of Southern Mississippi acquired the campus in 1972. In March 1972, USM moved its Harrison County Resident Center program from the Jefferson Davis campus of MGCCC to this newly acquired campus, located on Highway 90 in Long Beach.
In July 1972, the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning established the USM Gulf Park and Keesler Air Force Base Center as an upper-level degree completion regional campus of the university. It offered programs leading to degrees at the baccalaureate and graduate levels. University development has continued and on August 19, 2002, Southern Miss admitted its first class of freshmen on its Gulf Park Campus. USM is the only comprehensive university in the state with dual-campus status.
In the early 21st century the Gulf Park campus serves as the central campus for several remote teaching centers, including:
Other USM units in the Gulf Coast region are elements of the College of Marine Sciences; the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs; the J. L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Point Cadet in Biloxi; the Hydrographic Science Research Center; and the Center for Marine Sciences at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused about $115 million in damage to Gulf Park. Classes were relocated to the Healthmark Center in Gulfport. In 2012, the Gulfport campus was closed and all facilities were moved back to the renovated Long Beach campus. The Friendship Oak survived this storm as it survived Hurricane Camille and countless lesser storms that have hit the area.
The University of Southern Mississippi has 13 residence halls, and about 5,000 students live on campus throughout the school year.
Closed residence halls:
Repurposed Residence Halls:
The University of Southern Mississippi is one of the few universities to allow a two-day holiday each year for Mardi Gras. The university does not hold classes on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many USM students expressed a desire for the holiday. The university is near New Orleans and has ties to Biloxi and Mobile, where Mardi Gras is also celebrated. In 1981, Ken Stribling, president of USM's student body, organized a student drive to establish an annual holiday on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). The university's Calendar Committee refused the request, but Stribling appealed to USM President Aubrey Lucas. At an annual Christmas celebration at USM in December 1981, Lucas announced that USM would try the holiday on Fat Tuesday in 1982 to see how it worked. Stribling appealed again in 1982, and Lucas allowed the holiday for Fat Tuesday in 1983. The next year, the holiday for Fat Tuesday was made a permanent part of the university's calendar.
The university's student government in 2003 gained addition of the Monday before Ash Wednesday as part of the Mardi Gras Holiday, creating a two-day holiday for the event and a four-day weekend for students. While many USM students attend Mardi Gras celebrations, the majority of students use the four-day weekend to prepare for mid-term exams or visit family and friends. The novelty of Mardi Gras Holiday has become a recruiting tool.
The Golden Eagles have excelled in all areas of athletics. Southern Miss has captured national titles twice in football and three times in track and field. In 2011, the Golden Eagle football team finished as the #19 team in the Associated Press (AP) College Poll. The Golden Eagle football team has also competed in twenty-four bowl games throughout the course of the program's history. It is important to note that twelve of these bowl games have resulted in a victory for the Golden Eagles. On November 13, 1982 the Golden Eagle football team upset Alabama's Crimson Tide in famed coach Bear Bryant's last home game in Tuscaloosa. M.M. Roberts Stadium is the home of the Golden Eagle football team and can hold up to 36,000 fans. The Golden Eagle baseball team are two-time Conference USA champions and have been invited to twelve regional NCAA tournaments and also a trip to the College World Series. The Golden Eagle baseball team has the #3 recruiting class in the country by Baseball America. The Southern Miss basketball team is a one-time champion of the NIT tournament.
The University of Southern Mississippi is the only institution within the state, and one of a dozen universities in America, to be accredited in all four fine arts emphasis areas: art, dance, theatre and music. It operates the Southern Miss Wind Ensemble and the USM Symphony Orchestra, which has enjoyed soloists such as singers Renee Fleming and Ray Charles, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, violinist Joshua Bell, flautist James Galway, clarinetist Anthony McGill, trumpet player Doc Severinsen, and tenor Plácido Domingo. The Southern Chorale has become nationally and internationally recognized. They recently performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and performed at various concerts in Norway and Sweden. The Southern Miss Pride of Mississippi Marching Band has performed at such events as the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in November 2010. The Department of Theatre and Dance has been active in the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival at times recently placing first in various areas of the national competition. Several productions from USM have been selected for performance at the Region IV (Southeast) festival; two productions (Catfish Moon & The Rimers of Eldritch) have been invited to the national KC/ACTF festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C..
The All-American Rose Garden is a rose garden found near Hardy Street on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. The garden has a semicirular form and contains many various types of hybrid roses in 32 rose beds. It existed since 1973 and was accredited the status 'Public Rose Garden' by the All-American Rose Selection Inc. in 1975. Many biologists and botanists come from all over the world to study the roses found in the rose garden. Due to the large number of rare roses found in the rose garden, plucking out a rose is against college policy, and getting caught currently results in a fine of $500.
Cell and Molecular Biologist
Film and television actor
Robert L. Stewart
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