The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning is expected to vote, in October or November, on a new name for Mississippi University for Women, MUW officials said Monday.
MUW President Dr. Claudia Limbert announced her pick — Reneau University — for a new name, Monday during the school”s faculty/staff convocation.
Featured guests of the convocation spoke in support of a name change, but many MUW alumnae, including some members of the school”s former alumna association, are critical of the decision to change the name, often linking a name change with their dissatisfaction with Limbert”s term as president.
The Columbus City Council, the Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Link and the Mississippi Economic Council, as well as the IHL, earlier voted to support efforts to change the university”s name.
“To move forward with a name change is not just optional, it”s a matter of survival,” West Point Mayor Scott Ross, who also serves as president of the IHL board of trustees, said Monday, careful to note he was speaking about his “personal opinion,” not as a representative of the IHL. “I have a stake in the economic success of this whole Golden Triangle region and I do believe we are tied together. I think what we are talking about today (regarding the name change) is a matter of survival.
“It”s no secret the cost per student here is much higher than it is for our friends 20 miles down the road,” he added. “Let”s don”t kid ourselves. This is not a play thing.”
“There”s a great deal of emotion behind names,” noted Blake Wilson, CEO and president of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.
And he invoked the examples of America Online, which formerly was known as Quantum Computer Services, IBM — formerly called Tabulating Machine Company — and Yahoo!, once known as Jerry”s Guide to the World Wide Web.
“The market changed, the need to expand was there,” Wilson said of the companies” decisions to change their names.
4-County Electric Power Association CEO and Link Board of Trustees President Allegra Brigham, an MUW graduate, recalled her time as a student and noted an important lesson she”s learned in the business world.
“If you always do what you”ve always done, you”ll always get what you”ve already gotten,” she said. “I know the name change will be difficult for some to accept, but the world has changed. We have to get on with you.
“The time has come for other groups to step up and press forward the need for a name change,” she concluded. “It”s time for this process to move forward… with unity and a sense of urgency.”
If approved by the IHL, the name will be submitted for approval to the state Legislature.
Members of the school”s former alumni association — which earlier was disaffiliated from MUW and now is known as Mississippi”s First Alumnae Association — expressed their opposition to the name change and, in some cases, to the university”s current administration, as well.
“As a voter, taxpayer and Columbus native, I oppose Limbert”s name change,” said Lydia Coffey Pierce, a 2009 graduate of MUW, who said she knows “firsthand the prestigious education both women and men receive at the W.”
“Where are the facts?” she asked. “Where is the scientific research showing that the W needs to change its name or it will fail? Where are these people claiming they will not attend MUW because ”women” is in the name? Are they a large enough crowd that the W must change its name in order to survive? Yet at the same time, has the word ”women” or a synonym of the word not worked for 125 years?
“The W”s administration needs to regroup and focus on potential and current students,” she continued. “The money used to pay The Cirlot Agency to research potential names for the W should have been used to recruit potential students, not change the name.”
Pierce also suggested talking to students about their choice of attending MUW and helping the school focus on its mission would have been better uses for the money.
“It is somewhat difficult to separate the issue of the name change from the issue of the current president having taken several well publicized measures that seem destructive and negative, (like) closing The Demonstration School, dissolving the intercollegiate sports programs and disaffiliating the strong and active alumni association,” said Nita Byrd Lumpkin, a member of MUW”s Class of 1967. “The heritage and history of the nation”s first state-supported college for women is one to build on and to see as a unique and valuable asset to the state and the region.
“Changes have come and changes will come, but changing the name will serve to disassociate — shall I say disaffiliate? — the university from the benefits and strengths of that heritage, history and well known name,” she added, noting the name of MUW is “well known and well respected, outside of Mississippi.”
“Why not build on that to recruit quality students and to enhance the financial health of the university?” she asked. “Hopefully, in the near future, there will be an administration that works as hard to promote that name and the reputation as the current administration seems to have worked to demean and reduce it.”
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