For South Asia Regional Studies students, the future looks bleak. With only three main faculty members and a recent loss of a major funding source, the department is in danger of falling to pieces. This means that the now independent department could be downgraded to a program -- a course of study which draws on several departments but has no main hub of its own. School of Arts and Sciences Dean Samuel Preston charged a task force of six faculty members to look into the SARS Department this fall. The committee was to report to Preston by tomorrow, but isn't likely to make that deadline. Some students are so worried that they have formed a group called Save SARS. The approximately 20-member organization recently circulated a petition on the need to keep SARS alive. "In like five to 10 years, the department will be gone," College sophomore and Save SARS member Payal Kadia said. The students presented the petition with over 500 signatures to the task force over a week ago. It is important to maintain SARS, students said, especially given that about 6 percent of Penn's population is South Asian. "I think that it appeals to a lot of people because of minority issues," College junior and Save SARS member Shilpa Thakkar said. "It is a South Asian issue." The department's undergraduate chairwoman, Rosane Rocher, said that as of yet nothing definite has been decided, but becoming a program is a possibility. Problems have creeped up on the department over the last few years. Several professors have retired recently and popular SARS Professor Wilhelm Halbfass passed away this summer. "At this particular time, we are losing a number of strong faculty," Rocher explained. And at the beginning of the semester, the department received word that they had not been granted Title VI funding from the the U.S. Department of Education -- which had always accounted for a significant part of the budget. This is the first year SARS did not get the federal funding. "That was a disappointment," Rocher said. "It was really quite a shock." Save SARS launched the effort to retain the department around a month ago following Preston's appointment of the task force. According to College sophomore and SARS major Shaun Gonzales, the group's primary goal is to make sure that the department isn't turned into a program. Save SARS is also working to pressure the University to hire new SARS professors as the current professors head toward retirement -- a possibility that could lead to the elimination of the department altogether. Both Kadia and Gonzales said that student involvement was a key component of the organization. "We want to make it a student effort," Kadia said. "For the students that come here because of this major, that's not really fair." Save SARS is split in half with one research component and one awareness committee. Gonzales, who heads the group's research endeavors, said his committee is looking at other SARS departments that have been transformed into programs. Gonzales voiced concern that SAS administrators need to adequately address the students' desires to keep SARS as a department. "We would like to see the administration listen to what the students want," he said.Comments powered by Disqus
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