With the state”s next legislative session two and a half months away, questions abound as to whether or not renaming Mississippi University for Women will be on the agenda.
The proposed new name — Reneau University — hasn”t yet been taken up by the College Board.
And, according to local legislators, the would-be new name has never stood a chance.
“I”ve heard from several of my colleagues, and they have already been contacted by W alums and they are opposed to the name Reneau. I”m opposed to the name Reneau,” said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, who admits he doesn”t want the college”s name to change at all.
Chism met with MUW President Claudia Limbert years ago and advised her to get members of the former MUW Alumnnae Association — now called Mississippi”s First Alumnae Association — on board with the name change.
Without their support, said Chism, the name change is dead in the water.
“W alums are in every county in this state and every House district of this state, and they are going to let their legislators know that they are not in support of changing the name,” he added.
“I haven”t heard much of anybody in support for the name Reneau,” said Betty Lou Jones, a 1966 graduate of MUW, who was president of the MUWAA when Limbert severed ties with the group.
“I have heard plenty of opposition,” she continued, noting the name “takes out the word Mississippi and anything that ties it to the history of the university.
“There”s just no relevance. I mean it”s just a horrible choice. People have said it reminds them of a French car. ”What is it?” ”Who is it?””
Despite a lack of support from the old alumni group — a new group was formed in 2007 when Limbert disaffiliated from the MUWAA — Perry Sansing, assistant to the MUW president, cites positive responses from potential students and their parents.
“Sallie Reneau is a remarkable person and her efforts are the primary reason this university was established,” said Sansing. “The university will continue to work with the IHL board and the Legislature to move forward in a way that best serves the interests of the university.”
Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, is willing to introduce legislation to change the college”s name, but he, like Chism, would prefer a geographical name.
Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, agrees.
“I have supported the name change,” said Brown. “I”m not hung up on (Reneau University). I personally would like for it to be more regional. … It needs to be as non-gender specific as possible.”
Chism offered Mississippi University at Columbus as an alternative to Reneau University. Brown proposed including Northeast Mississippi in the name. Naming the school “after a lady” doesn”t help much in making the name less gender-specific, Chism said.
“I don”t care for it at all,” said Smith of the proposed new name.
“I think I have had three phone calls for it and I can”t even say how much against it — more e-mails than anything else — so I wouldn”t support changing it to Reneau, no,” he added. “I think the sense of our delegation is that Reneau wouldn”t pass muster, but most of us would support a name change.
“It”s a public university. You just run into opposition when you start naming it after people. That”s sort of what the school districts have run into. Everyone has likes and dislikes, and you can”t please everyone when you name it after an individual.”
“I think you need to get away from persons, in my opinion,” Brown echoed. “I think it needs to be more region-specific.”
The State Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning is waiting on the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link before moving on the matter.
“The Link will decide the best time to bring forward any proposals for a name change,” said Scott Ross, president of the College Board. “The campus has made its decision, and we respect that work. The Link is fully vetting it now.”
However long the Link vets the name change and the choice of a new name, changing the name still could be on the table in January.
And, lawmakers have said, Limbert”s recent announcement she”ll retire in June 2010, has little to no impact on the issue.
“All it takes for it to come up in January is for a legislator to file a bill,” said Smith, who suggested charging the IHL with selecting a new name for the college if and when a name-change bill passes the Legislature.
“In fact, like I said, some of the staff members have talked with me and the thought is, don”t let the distraction of the retirement sidetrack the name change.”
“I see it as no bearing,” Chism said of Limbert”s retirement and its effect on the name change. “I don”t see the name change going through whether she stays or goes.
“What”s going to happen is, I think it”s going to stay Mississippi University for Women.”
“I would say yes, it probably does affect it somewhat,” Brown said of Limbert”s retirement. It”s kind of split the Senate anyway. I”ve talked to a lot of members; a lot of them don”t want to address it.”
Some senate members might use the MUW president”s retirement announcement as a reason to delay discussions of the university”s name, he speculated.
If approved by lawmakers, the historic university will face its third name change since its founding in 1884 as the Industrial Institute and College. In 1920, II and C became Mississippi State College for Women. The school adopted its current name in 1974 and has retained it despite admitting men since 1982.
Rep. Esther Harrison, D-Columbus, hasn”t taken a position on the name change.
“I have not decided how I”m going to vote on that yet,” she said. “We are still discussing it.”
While Limbert”s retirement may not make or break MUW”s name-change efforts, Jones believes it will help to unify the alumni.
“There is and always is a desire on the part of the alums to come together, and I feel like as we move through this transition period, you”re going to see a lot more movement in that direction,” Jones said. “We are anxious and willing and stand ready to move toward reunification of our alums and to channel our energy and channel our resources together toward making things a lot better.
“I think that Dr. Limbert”s retirement will have a very positive influence on us being able to mend some fences.”
She went on to wish Limbert well, saying she and other alumnae “hope that her retirement will be very gratifying to her and that she will be able to write and spend more time with her family.”
Mississippi”s First Alumnae Association has continued its financial and other support of MUW with endowed scholarships and contributions.
Jones admits some members of the association have stopped contributing and have avoided campus activities.
“I anticipate that there will be a major change in that,” she said.