Last spring much of Colgate’s religious community was outraged after former President of the University Rebecca Chopp made the announcement that the school would enact a “hiring freeze.” This decision would have effectively eliminated the permanent position of Protestant Chaplain at Colgate, which was vacated by Mark Mann at the end of the 2008-2009 academic year and filled temporarily by Dearthrice Dewitt.
The Reverend James “Putter” Cox, a longtime contributor to religious life at Colgate, has recently agreed to fill the position on a part-time basis
Junior Laura James, who has been involved in University Church since her first year at Colgate, said her reaction to the announcement last semester was one of astonishment. The situation arose after a 21 percent drop in endowment last year as a result of the troubling economic times forced Colgate to cut costs. The administration sought to tighten its belt without laying off staff members, instead implementing a hiring freeze. Although James recognized the necessity of the cut due to the economy, she said the Protestant community was hard-hit by the announcement.
“I think we all understood the economic [conditions] made it difficult,” James said. “You don’t want to let go of professors or custodial staff, but it was still very disappointing. That [religious life] is of course what gets cut, it made it seem as though the administration didn’t feel that religious life was that important.”
The mood has since changed with the addition of Rev. Cox, according to University Chaplain and Director of Jewish Life Rabbi David Levy.
“He [Cox] is a fantastic addition to the chapel team here,” Levy said. “He has been active in the community and has been involved [with the school] for a number of years.”
Cox, who serves as minister at the Hamilton Bible Fellowship has been involved with the Colgate InterVaristy program since 1985 and has since remained an active part of Colgate’s religious programs, becoming an officially-sanctioned volunteer staff member in 2000.
Although plans were made last semester to accommodate the Protestant students in the event that the position would not be filled, Levy said the addition of Cox will help to serve the students’ needs better.
“We are in a much better standing now that we have a fuller staff,” Levy said. “We are able to meet the needs of the Protestant community, which is very important.”
Reverend Cox’s duties as Protestant minister are primarily directed
toward leading Bible study on Tuesdays and Protestant services on Sundays in the Memorial Chapel. However, in addition to serving as a part-time minister on campus, Cox said he will continue to serve as minister of the Hamilton Bible Fellowship in town. Having worked with students at Colgate in various capacities since 1985, Cox said he was confident that he would be able to take on both roles.
“From my perspective, it was kind of a logical choice,” Cox said. “I know the other chaplains are glad to have me here because things are settled and I am already a known quantity [on campus].”
Although the position was filled, Cox’s role is less administrative-based than that of Levy or Associate University Chaplain and Catholic Campus Minister Mark Shiner.
Nonetheless, the addition helps the Chaplain’s Office better cater to the diverse religious groups on campus, Levy said.
“It felt like we were really being hit hard,” Levy said of the situation that arose last semester. “It [the situation] is much more functional now.”
James likewise thought the situation with the religious community is looking much more promising this semester.
“I thought Putter was a very good choice,” James said. “He is already very rooted in the community and he is just a really great guy.”
Cox said the framework put in place by Mann has also allowed the office to function better and has allowed the transition to run smoothly.
“Mark Mann really revolutionized the Protestant chaplain’s role,” Cox said. “I walked into a lot of ways of thinking and ways of doing things which he set in place and are very good.”
Although James said the situation was not perfect, it is much better than anticipated.
“It would be nice to have a full-time pastor, but considering the circumstances, I think we are very fortunate to have Putter at Colgate,” James said.