November 19, 2009 12:59:00 PM
Reading the newspaper lately, I''ve begun to feel like the man who survives a shipwreck and when he finally makes it home, learns his family has already buried him and is so thrilled about the insurance money, they won''t accept the fact that he''s still alive. Or perhaps I should say, I feel like the Grandma whose ungrateful family wishes she''d just keel over so they can get their inheritance sooner rather than later. Too bad for them, Grandma is a smart old bird and she ain''t dead yet.
The Commercial Dispatch is full of letters and editorials tolling the death-knell for MUW, yet when I walk around campus, I don''t see a university at death''s door. One letter writer says we need to look at the facts. Well, U.S. News and World Report looks at the facts of universities around the country every year and has consistently ranked MUW high among Southern public Master''s-level universities. This doesn''t sound like a last gasp, if you ask me.
MUW does face challenges, as do all of Mississippi''s universities and others around the country. MUW faces additional challenges, due to changing funding formulas from the IHL system, yet our deans and department chairs have submitted proposals to meet these challenges without cutting programs or faculty. We are prepared to weather this financial storm as we have weathered many in the past, and if difficult decisions about programs do become necessary, we are fully equipped to make them on our own without being merged with a larger university.
Let me be clear: Merger would not "save the ''W" and it is doubtful it would save much money. Governor Barbour''s budget predicts that a merger would save $35 million after one year, though he doesn''t specify how. So let''s look at some facts. MUW''s total appropriation in 2009 was $13.5 million. The other two schools the Governor proposes to merge are Alcorn with an appropriation of $21.6 million and Valley with an appropriation of $17.5 million in 2009 (IHL System Profile, January 2009). Appropriations for the 2010 fiscal year were cut from these figures, so the current appropriations would actually be less.
How the state can save $35 million from $52.6 million (or less) and keep these campuses open is a mystery. The only way to do it would be to dramatically cut programs on the merged campuses, since administrative costs do not make up over 2/3 of the budgets of these schools. My guess is that Jackson State would take the bulk of the remaining $17 million to run two greatly reduced satellite campuses, and Mississippi State would get a smaller amount to run a few programs in Columbus.
Anyone who believes that after a merger MUW would look anything like it does today is sorely mistaken. The liberal arts college atmosphere and most of the professional programs would be gone or dramatically changed. The only way to "save The W" is to support it as an independent university with its current, distinct mission. Every letter and every editorial that falsely claims we are at death''s door has the potential to drive away prospective students and weaken our prospects. These doom and gloom scenarios do more to hurt MUW''s enrollment than its current name ever has, and we''ve lived with both for decades.
When the BRAC commission threatened closure of Columbus Air Base, the community went to the mat to support it. I remember banners on Main Street, letters and editorials praising the base, and an all-out effort from community leaders to convince the commission that the community would do whatever it took to keep its base. I call on community leaders now to make the same effort for your university that you did for your base. Unless you want Columbus to become a satellite city of Starkville, it is in the best interest of the community and of the university to do so.
Kendall Dunkelberg, Professor of English, MUW, Columbus
Kym Gore commented at 11/19/2009 1:34:00 PM:
I want to publicly thank Professor Dunkelberg (one of my professors when I was a student at the W) for speaking out on the community's role in opposing merger. I was born and raised in Columbus, but I'm now simply a former resident and return to Columbus only to visit family and to attend functions at the W.
Because I "know" Columbus, I've been hesitant to speak about the lack of community support for the W because I know that Columbus residents resent "outside" criticism. In light of the deadly serious threat to the W's survival, however, I'm going to risk it. EVERYONE in Columbus, from its leaders to the average citizen, must speak against Governor Barbour's merger proposal. If the W does not remain an independent, free-standing university, the city will suffer irreparable damage.
I now live in a larger metropolitan area out-of-state. When my area loses a sizable business or entity, it impacts entire neighborhoods. The departure of a major employer (like the W is for Columbus) changes the value of the surrounding property, the "feel" of the area, and the viability of neighboring businesses. While that is an unfortunate reality in a large city, it would be catastrophic to Columbus.
The W has served Columbus faithfully for 125 years. It's time for Columbus to rally around the W and give back to her.
Kym Golden Gore
MUW Class of 1997
''96 Alum commented at 11/19/2009 1:40:00 PM:
Well said! As a former Columbian and '96 graduate of MUW, I will stand firm in my support -- all the way from Atlanta!
Thumbs Up commented at 11/19/2009 3:16:00 PM:
Amen, Dr. Dunkelberg.
msgalnca commented at 11/19/2009 4:53:00 PM:
I, too, am a "W" alum who has moved out of state. I am now a high school English teacher in California, and the education I received at the "W" carries me through every single aspect of my profession. I learned invaluable lessons from my professors, who taught me that to be the best you must be more than just a brain - you must be well-rounded and strive for the betterment of everyone around you. That lesson will be lost if the "W" is forced to merge with Mississippi State. The programs that make the "W" special will become just a satellite of the programs at a large, impersonal state school. I know this firsthand, because my master's degree came from Mississippi State. Both are good schools, but the "W" is the one with the tradition of excellence, and the professors with the ability to reach their students. I will do whatever I can from California to get that message through to Haley Barbour!!!
Jan Miller commented at 11/21/2009 11:34:00 AM:
I have not wanted to speak before now but I need to say how I feel about what is happening. I would like to address Kim Gore's remark about the community and their support of the University. Kim I think you are mistaken on the support of our community (our meaning I live here). I have worked and lived in Columbus since I graduated from MUW in 1979 and never once have I felt that Columbus has not supported MUW with money and assistance when asked. The business community has repeatedly come out in support of MUW. We may not support your group or your views but we do support MUW, the current president and administration. We have repeatedly said as the business community that we want a name change, we want the bickering between the two alumni groups to stop and we would like to see the W grow and continue to exist in Columbus. You continue to criticize the community, the university and the president of the university and quite frankly I am sick of hearing about it and I think that the business community is too.
There has been no plan presented to anyone on how we are going to approach the merger and after watching the IHL meeting on Thursday I don't think they have any idea of what the Governor is doing. So don't say that the community has not supported MUW because we do on a daily basis. Give me a plan on how to help with the immediate crisis and a plan to sustain the University with hard numbers and I will jump on board but I will not be a part of a group that is baking cakes and having tea parties. We must approach this with sound business practices. I will do what the University wants and I will follow the lead of the Alumni Director and the President of the University. I believe that MUW is a viable part of the community but when you have a president retiring, the alumni divided, can't decide on a name change and money to the foundations not at the level needed to sustain the university I can see why the Governor is thinking merger. Three strikes and you are out. This is not what I want to happen but Kim have you ever thought that you might be a part of the problem and not the solution. Let's get a plan and work together for what is best for Columbus and the University.
Not Kym or Kim commented at 11/21/2009 1:56:00 PM:
Jan Miller did not so much address Kym Gore's remark about the community as she remarked about Kym Gore and the former MUW Alumnae Association, now Mississippi's First Alumnae Association. And it is not appreciated by readers who are trying to look at this matter objectively and not colored by personal affronts like this one. Kym Gore was born and raised in Columbus and lived and worked in the area as a respected professional after her graduation from MUW and law school; I believe she has just as much right to claim Columbus as "our" community as does Ms. Miller.
And when someone enters this discussion about preserving MUW while it is being threatened by a severe budget crisis solely in order to attempt to reframe the issue as one of "us vs. them" with the the "us" being the newly formed MUW Alumni Association and the "them" being the original and historic Alumnae Association - well, I hesitated to speak out before now but I just have to say what I think! (And I chose "think" and not "feel," which was Ms. Miller's chosen descriptor; perhaps she is responding emotionally and not rationally after all?)
Get up to speed on the real issues, please! The MUW Alumni Association and Mississippi's First Alumnae Association have agreed to work together under the banner of Friends of the W in order to collaboratively address this crucial issue - jointly saving MUW from merger. At this time, there is no bickering between alumnae and alumni associations - or at least there wasn't until Ms. Miller began her inappropriate attack on Ms. Gore.
I do think Ms. Miller's comment was inappropriate but I did not mark it as such in order to continue the discussion and not let my personal disagreement with what she had to say limit the discussion. Hopefully, she will see that in order to do as she says - to "get a plan and work together for what is best for Columbus and the University" - she needs to let go and move forward.
Thanks,Professor Dunkelberg, for YOUR call to the community asking for support for MUW. Hopefully, the real message will continue to be heard.
And Thus... commented at 11/21/2009 4:48:00 PM:
And thus we see through Ms. Miller's comments exactly how much resentment is out there. Great job, Ms. Miller....
bert commented at 11/23/2009 11:06:00 AM:
Nice post Professor Dunkelberg but remember this about your BRAC analogy. Leaders and the community fought to keep it open but were certainly open to changing its mission. CAFB was a SAC base, it morphed into a training base to stay relevant. As the need for human pilots decreases with the advent of unmaned drones CAFB may need to morph again or lose its relevance.
Is the "W" willing to become something else in order to stay relevant and survive? Again, we hear all about tradition and value but it's plain to see the customers aren't buying. Why is it then that enrollement is down? Blaming Limbert is a red herring, I've never met anyone who made their decision on where to attend college based on administrative turmoil.
The faculty is smart and, presumably, so are the alums. Let's hear some real ideas on how to make this once great institution relevant. If you can't do it then perhaps we should bury the old gal with dignity while we still can.
Current W Student commented at 11/23/2009 7:13:00 PM:
If the W changes its mission, I cannot see how it can "stay relevant and survive." The reason Mississippi needs the W is because it provides something other than what larger universities like Mississippi State have to offer. It's why I'm working, living, and spending money in Columbus, and it's why a lot of people I know are as well. If the W changes its mission, a lot of us will change our enrollment to other small, liberal arts colleges in another state rather than move somewhere we don't want to be, which, to me, seems pretty counterproductive.
Bridget Pieschel commented at 11/23/2009 10:00:00 PM:
In response to "Bert," I continue to be surprised that people assume that MUW's enrollment has been dropping. It has been steadily rising, and between 2002 and fall of 2009, it rose over seventeen percent. Last summer we had a 14 percent increase from the previous summer school's enrollment. This fall we increased about six percent in enrollment from last fall. We have talented and intellectually engaged students, all of whom chose to attend the university with the current name and mission. I appreciate my faculty colleague Kendall Dunkelberg's comments about how vital the campus appears to those of us who are there every day teaching these students. What would help MUW the most in coming year would be an increase in giving and a change in the IHL funding formula to give a fairer level of support to the smaller schools in the state. MUW, Alcorn, Mississippi Valley and Delta State are all sound educational investments for the state of Mississippi.
bert commented at 11/24/2009 7:52:00 AM:
No offense, but when "W" folks talk about enrollment increases they use percentages, not real numbers. Why? Because the actual numbers are not nearly as impressive as the percentages since we're dealing with a small number to start with. It is much easier to see a double digit percentage increase when you're dealing with 2,500 students vs. 18,000.
Also, if I remember correctly, didn't the "W" get caught using inflated numbers when Dr. Rent was the president?
More to the point, every university has "talented and intellectually engaged" students and I'm sure the campus is vital, whatever that means. But you cannot be on campus and not get a sense of the empty space, the empty buildings,the empty classrooms. Take out MSMS and it's even worse.
If the "W" can sustain itself then more power to her. Asking for more funding from the state at this particular time seems to imply a lack of acknowledgment to the fiscal crisis at hand. Reps. Gary Chism and Jeff Smith caved so hard and fast on this it was almost comical. Smith's cave was bad but Chism, who's made his living as the poster child for the extreme right fringe of the Republican party (that's saying ALOT in Mississippi), has really tucked tail and run.
Haley's plan is stark and cuts to the bone. If there's a better alternative to his invasive surgery lets hear it. But, please spare us the laying of hands while chanting glittering generalities about tradition and value.
My guess is that most of the faculty think the theory of evolution belongs in the classrooms of their university. Well, we need some of that hard science now. The dogma approach to problem solving isn't going to solve anything.
Sure Bert commented at 11/24/2009 7:30:00 PM:
Bert actually has a point. If you have one student and you grow to two students, that is a 100% increase, but it really doesn't have a great impact on the overall number of students going to college. One point that Bert missies is that while the W folks like to tout their recent percent increases in students, they want us to forget that the college had over 3,000 students in the late 1990's. But, as Bert points out, that was under Dr. Rent who was accused of inflating enrollment. The faculty, including Drs. Dunkelberg and Pieschel, ran her off for that and other sins. I am confused about what the W folks really want. I believe it is success for the school, but it always seems to be success as "they" define it. Reality seems to change based on the "they' yelling the loudest. It was the faculty, now it's the alums.
I agree that the university should not be merged with MSU. It should be given a chance as a separate college with a new identity and a new attitude.
1. Ask Rufus: Coming home at Christmas LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Dana Milbank: Marco Rubio's fury NATIONAL COLUMNS
3. Birney Imes: A Christmastime ramble LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Michael Gerson: A global conspiracy of health NATIONAL COLUMNS