What's in a name?
History, tradition and lots of fond memories according to some area residents who attended Mississippi University for Women.
On Monday, MUW President Claudia Limbert formed a committee to recommend a new name for the university that reflects the campus' coed population. Early reaction by local alumnae has not been favorable.
"Oh, no!" said Dorothy Thompson, of Causeyville, a 1965 graduate of The W, upon learning about a possible name change for the Columbus university.
Acknowledging her pride at being an alum of "The W," as the university is affectionately known, Thompson likened response to changing the school's name to what happened when a popular soft drink changed its formula.
"It's like Coca-Cola changing the recipe; why mess with something that works?" she said. Limbert made the announcement in a speech to faculty and staff in Columbus, saying the change is needed for the university to continue to grow, compete and remain relevant.
‘‘Our name no longer represents who we are,’’ Limbert said in her speech. ‘‘It is not right for the men on our campus to leave here with a diploma that they are embarrassed to display on a wall because of the name, Mississippi University for Women, even though they are proud of their education.’’
But Thompson, who said men attended MUW when she was a student there, doesn't agree.
"I don't see any reason why it would bother men, they've been doing it for years. It's a respected school, so what's the difference in the name? Do they think that will bother men that they graduated or went to a college that says 'women' in it?" she said.
"To me, it is the oldest state-supported women's college in the nation; it's a tradition," Thompson said. " What's the big deal? Everybody's not supposed to be worried about 'men,' 'women,' whatever. So why not just leave the name as it is?"
A court battle led to the first male enrollment in 1982. Marsha Rush, of Daleville, who was a student at The W at the time, described the new proposal as "deja vu." She opposed the name change then, and still opposes it.
"The initial foundation MUW was built on is history; you don't change history to make someone comfortable. When a person chooses to attend a university, they choose to attend it as it is," Rush said.
"The quality of education does not diminish because of the name. It has nothing to do with it, regardless of whether it's Mississippi University for Men and Women or just women," Rush said. "When you start with things like that, you are tampering with history; and I think we are too easy to wipe away history and overlook the foundation of what certain things are built on."
Today, 15 percent of the school’s 2,400 students are male.
Discussions about whether the university should bear a name that’s more inviting to men has gone on for years. The proposal apparently was one of several factors in MUW’s split with its longtime alumnae association.
On Monday, Limbert said she’s hopeful the rift can be repaired, but she also said a representative of the alumnae association told her that ‘‘there would be no unification if MUW moved forward with its name change.’’
But Betty Lou Jones, of Meridian, who was president of the MUW Alumnae Association when it was disaffiliated with the university in 2007, said talks between the university and the association are ongoing.
‘‘I think the issue of the name change is premature at this point,’’ Jones said. ‘‘The major issue is the unification of the group.’’
Limbert said it could be months before the university is renamed.
‘‘That would be quite a process. We would need to have a committee to look at names. We would give it to the state College Board’’ before it could move on to the state Legislature for approval, she said.
Earlier this month, the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, an economic development organization that brought truck engine manufacturer PACCAR, Inc. and Eurocopter to the area, adopted a resolution supporting the change.
There were 298 women’s colleges in the country in 1960. By 2003, that number was down to 65, the resolution said.
‘‘The name ’Mississippi University for Women’ creates the perception that MUW is an all women’s college and makes it difficult for the recruitment of men and certain women,’’ the resolution said.
The university in northeast Mississippi dates back to 1847, when it was founded as a private boarding school called the Columbus Female Institute. In 1884, the school’s board of trustees donated property to the ‘‘Mississippi Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls of the State of Mississippi in the Arts and Sciences,’’ according to the resolution.
The school’s name was last changed in 1974.
Members of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link said the university’s identity is critical to its economic viability.
‘‘It not only has an economic impact for the region, it has a cultural impact and adds to quality of life for the things we do here,’’ said Bart Wise, the organization’s chairman. ‘‘As far as a recruiting tool for industry, it is a major plus to have a university located in your town.’’
In 2003, after a consultant had proposed a name change as part of a broader marketing campaign for the college, Limbert decided against it after talking with faculty, students, staff, alumni and others.
• The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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