Article Comment 

Birney Imes: A call for unity


Birney Imes



Our Wednesday editorial on name change at Mississippi University for Women has drawn a flurry of online responses from many of the usual suspects. In that editorial, we again urged lawmakers and the public to proceed with a name change and to go with Reneau University, the name chosen through a long and painstaking process. 


In response, Helen Pridmore, who is not one of the usual suspects, wrote an eloquent letter expressing her concerns that the school she can see from her front porch will soon be shuttered. As a business owner in a small town, Pridmore says she is reluctant to ruffle feathers but has been silent long enough.  


She writes, "Contrary to what these three men (Reps. Jeff Smith and Gary Chism and Sen. Terry Brown) think, there happens to be a lot of support for Reneau University from us "silent" alumni. The truth is  


that a lot of us live and work here in Columbus, and we are too darn busy trying to make a living to rip off letter after letter to make our case. 


"Yes, we mumble under our breath as we read every bitter diatribe opposing the new name. Of course the name should be changed." 


On the other hand, one respondent, an alumna who has "ripped off" many letters, wrote that a name change would be the death knell for the school. 


Will changing the name to Reneau University cause one student to reject The W? I don''t think so. Does the current name with its "for Women" repel students? Decidedly so. The W is no longer a women''s college, folks. Hasn''t been since 1982. That The W needs a gender-neutral name is so obvious, it seems ridiculous that we''re still talking about it. 


Gary Chism, I hope you''re paying attention. 


The W, as we know it, is in a precarious position, name change or no. The future of the school may well be in jeopardy, and it''s past time to stop bickering about what should have been done years ago. 


There are those who have said they would rather see the school disappear than lose its "W." Those people may be closer to getting their wish than they realize.  


"All the bickering has done more to harm The W than anything else," wife Beth, a W alumna, said last week. 


No one who has thought about it, is arguing that a gender-neutral name will fix all that ails the school.  


"Mississippi State University at Columbus," a coworker recently suggested. MSU interim President Vance Watson, before "Treegate," told a local business leader he would love have the room provided by moving the MSU''s fine art department to The W campus. 


"The W has had to fight for its survival before," an older alum countered when I mentioned MSUC. Yes, but then the alumni was marching in lockstep behind a dynamic president. Today the alumni, the more influential ones, are so fixated by their opposition to name change, they can think of little else.  


The school has a lame-duck president; it faces unprecedented and what look to be long-term financial challenges and it has a splintered legislative delegation. The easy thing for the IHL to do ... well, you figure it out. 


Most of the people I talk to have had enough of the alumnae squabble; they''ve long ago tuned to other channels. They may appreciate the economic impact of the school, but the close connection that once existed between town and tower is now faint. 


The school has plenty going for it: a strong faculty, low student-teacher ratios, a lovely campus and a quality education. That''s not to say it doesn''t have problems and challenges: an ill-defined identity, splintered alumni base and meager on-campus life. Fortunately these problems can be fixed. 


Friday afternoon one of the more outspoken members of the disaffiliated alumnae group stopped by The Dispatch to talk. Other than changing the name, our hopes for the school are the same. Foremost we want The W to survive and flourish. We think it could as a fine liberal arts college, on the model of a Millsaps, Rhodes or Sewanee. Continue strong programs like nursing and bolster an already strong humanities division. 


Before this can happen, the school, legislative delegation, alumni and community must join hands. We need to change the name to Reneau University and move on. There are other, more daunting challenges out there. 


Birney Imes is editor and publisher of The Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment MUW Grad 07 commented at 10/24/2009 11:00:00 PM:


Once again, you don't really seem to get it, Mr. Imes. You cannot call for unity while insulting the people who oppose the proposed name change for the university. It doesn't work that way, and it's one of the many reasons why I continue to oppose not only the proposed change itself, but the manner in which it has been presented to those who care about the issue (as if opposing opinion comes from the lips of the devil himself). You continue to point to those who dare to challenge your opinions about the "best" direction for MUW as "squabbling" or, infamously, "shrill" (I hope you realize that you never should have used that word), declaring them without basis for their opposition. You continue to insist that changing the name is the best thing for the school and that those of us who oppose it are merely clinging to tradition, that we have no other reason behind our opposition. Had you actually been inventorying the litany of justifications and defenses from those "usual suspects," rather than dismissing their concerns on sight, you would see that there are many, many reasons why certain factions of alumni, community members, and interested parties within the state oppose removing "Women" from the name of the university. In fact, I've seen a multitude of them in letters to your paper and in comments on these editorials. For further explication of this matter, perhaps you should check out Cheryl Jackson Cooper's article on the issue in this fall's edition of the MFAA newsletter:


Article Comment Pam Harris-Griffith commented at 10/25/2009 1:35:00 PM:

Well , Mr Imes- I don't usually agree with you on most of your views.....but YES , it is time to change the name of the"W". As a graduate (75) of that fine school I am proud to say where I attended college. I enjoyed my time on campus. But time marches on and now that men attend the university the name is now longer true or relevant ! Let it go !!!!!! Get back to what is IMPORTANT- getting PEOPLE to attend this great institution---that means MEN and WOMEN. What a shame that a few vocal loudmouths have had such a detrimental effect on the situation. How sad to see my Alma Mater suffer the consequences of such a bitter battle over a NAME ! But I will carry it one step further and challenge those opposed to the name change-----how many of you have SONS that have chosen to attend the "W" ? How many of you that no longer live in Columbus , have tried get friends to send their SONS to the "W"? I can tell you- IT IS NOT HAPPENING !!! So,do you want to hang on to the name or hang on to the university?

Pam Harris-Griffith
Mamselle 1975


Article Comment silent alumnus commented at 10/26/2009 12:26:00 AM:

I wonder if Florida State had these same problems when they where wanting to grow. I wonder if their alumni ever still wish they had not changed the name. I wonder if their enrollment would be just under 40,000. I wonder if anyone in Tallahassee wishes it was still called FSCW. I wonder if Bobby Bowden would be coaching there if it was still Florida State College for Women.


Article Comment silent alumnus commented at 10/26/2009 12:41:00 AM:

I forgot to comment on the lame excuse that Reneau is not gender neutral. What? It's just Reneau University, not Mrs. Reneau University.


Article Comment KJ commented at 10/27/2009 12:53:00 PM:

While I agree that a name change would be beneficial, it's laughable to continue to call for unity while the University continues to disaffiliate the real alumnae association. If unity is what's wanted and needed, then the administration (now "lame duck" in addition to "lame") should hit control-z on the ridiculous disaffiliation and demonstrate that they mean it by rolling back the by-law changes to the minimum IHL requirements instead of the over-the-top set a divisive and vindictive and temporary University administration decided to demand--knowing that they were unreasonable--so as to provide an excuse for splitting the Alumnae and forcing a name change instead of doing the more difficult work of building a consensus. You can't chop down a tree, split the wood, and then put the whole mess back together with duct tape and bread ties and expect it to whether a storm.

Had Limbert left the original group alone, she would have had the opportunity to allow them to look like they were the problem, if indeed they were. Instead, she poisoned her own credibility and authority. The only way to fix the situation is to return to status quo ante, allow the blame for wasted years to accrue to Limbert (where I believe it belongs), and start over with an IHL-appointed president openly charged with getting a name change done (or not) the right way.

If at any point in that process or afterwards the Alumnae wish to make their point against changing the name by disaffiliating themselves one-by-one or en masse (and vindicating Limbert in the process), then so be it.

I don't have a past or present affiliation with MUW, but I can't abide the "blame the victim" leanings of this piece.


Article Comment You Win commented at 10/28/2009 11:44:00 AM:

Dr. Limbert is retiring. Her departure is what all disaffiliated alums have wanted for the past six years. My guess is that the first thing the new president will do is to unite the alums..... if there is a new president. Now that Dr. Limbert is leaving, and reunification of the alums is almost certain, can you...will you unite around the University you profess to love and give it a chance of survival by supporting the name change? I agree with Steve Mullins' assessment. Every day this battle continues, the W sinks deeper in a hole.


Article Comment Saving MUW commented at 10/28/2009 2:50:00 PM:

We *win*???? Hardly! This issue has never been directly about Dr. Limbert -it's been about what she represents. She represents a school of thought that believes that it's okay to sacrifice the legacy and history of The W as the nation's first public institute for women to achieve a complete transition to generic coed liberal arts university. Florida State may be successful, but it doesn't honor its original mission. Georgia College & State University may be successful but it doesn't honor its original mission either. Those of us opposed to the name change (and many of the other changes perpetrated by Limbert & her followers) believe that the school could and should be successful while maintaining it's women's mission. Texas Women's University found a way and so should we. Those of us who believe that the W's women's mission is still valid are dedicated and loyal to trying to preserve that opportunity for future students. While I welcome a new president - and hopefully a new approach toward marketing and bolstering The W's enrollment - and while I pray that a new president WILL return the original Alumnae Association to an affiliated status, I cannot sit back and think that those two issues make it okay get on broad with the dismantling of an historic university.


Article Comment Heard It All commented at 10/28/2009 3:13:00 PM: you are willing to repel the success of Florida State and Georgia College & State University to hold on to your precious women's mission, at any cost to the school. BTW, I've never heard any discussion about changing the mission, only the name. And one more thing, if name does change, the legacy as being the first public college for women will still be there. That won't just vanish into thin air.


Article Comment JC commented at 10/28/2009 4:26:00 PM:

Florida State may be successful, but it doesn't honor its original mission.

Uh, FSU still educates women.


Article Comment DLN commented at 10/29/2009 5:12:00 AM:

Let's not bicker on the name change. Let's concentrate on getting the Art department at MSU and the teacher education program moved to "our" University in Columbus. Let's write letters to our legislators - not about name change - but about programs that need to be at "our" University.


Article Comment Ready for Change commented at 10/29/2009 8:14:00 AM:

As much as I would like to see MUW keeping its name and traditions, it is time for a change. The campus will have much more capacity to grow if it becomes an extension of MSU. I have a feeling that the campus would nearly overflow through the rafters with students if this name change occurred (MSU-Columbus). I know there are those in favor of keeping the school as "The W" and those who now want it to be "Reneau," but it just makes sense economically for the school to be a part of MSU. Naming the school "Reneau" is still going to be a tough sell for many prospective students...but calling it "MSU-Columbus" is going to bring a packed campus. Isn't this campus operating at full capacity what we all want to see? MSU-Columbus is a fine name.


Article Comment How Now commented at 10/29/2009 9:03:00 AM:

Rep. George Flaggs has said that if all 4 smaller universities' budgets were given to the 4 bigger schools, the system would still be $80 short. How will taking the smallest budget in the system and merging it with the biggest make a significant economic impact?


Article Comment George commented at 10/29/2009 2:31:00 PM:

Change or perish. It is that simple. Like it or not.

All that "tradition", "original mission", crap is just that ... crap. Fantasy land. It is 2009 folks.


Article Comment Ever heard of... commented at 10/29/2009 8:05:00 PM:

Ever heard of TWU - TX Woman's University? Google it. See how pathetically they are upholding the women's mission and how unsuccessful they are. It CAN be done. Apparently you have to live in a state with less closed-minded jack*sses than Mississippi has, though.


Article Comment George commented at 10/29/2009 9:29:00 PM:

Dream on...


Article Comment KH commented at 10/29/2009 9:49:00 PM:

The Dallas Texas metro area has a population near 2 million people. Ditto for Houston. To compare Columbus to that is ridiculous. If you can't depend on local enrollment (like TWU) to support the school then you must make it more attractive to perspective non local students.

The TWU argument is simply invalid. You folks better use some common sense and save your beloved school. It may already be too late.


Article Comment RandyO commented at 11/12/2009 10:13:00 AM:

I think the association with Mississippi State University at the W would do wonders for the campus and community. [email protected] Very Cool.


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