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Religious studies saved from ax

June 14, 2009

HIGHER EDUCATION | FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY

BY MICHAEL VASQUEZ

Miami Herald

13 June 2009

 

In addition to renaming the main campus, Florida International University's board of trustees had quite the busy day on Friday.

 

Actions by the board included:

 

• Approving a 15 percent tuition increase in the coming academic year,

 

• Saving the school's Department of Religious Studies from the budget ax,

 

• Accepting a $20 million donation from Herbert Wertheim for the university's medical school, which will be named after the optometrist and philanthropist.

 

Wertheim's gift is the largest in school history. The medical school welcomes its first class of 43 students in August.

 

The trustees' vote on the tuition increase was unanimous -- with the school turning to higher tuition as a way of coping with large drops in its annual state funding.

 

As part of its efforts to close a budget gap of nearly $35 million, trustees also eliminated 11 sparsely-attended degree programs, including bachelor's programs in mathematical sciences and French education.

 

But trustees refused to cut several more-popular degree programs that were also on the chopping block, including the bachelor's degree program within the Religious Studies Department. Trustees instructed school administrators to find savings elsewhere so those programs could continue.

 

In spring, the Dalai Lama donated $100,000 to keep the school going and the religious icon is now expected to assist in fundraising.

 

Religion students and faculty spoke passionately on behalf of the program, and wore warm smiles after the trustees' decision.

 

''It was a work of the Divine,'' said recent religious studies graduate Yanery Andreu. ``Everyone was just inspired.''

 

Miami Herald staff writer Jaweed Kaleem contributed to this report.

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