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Steve Mullen: A cold day for The W

 

Steve Mullen

 

It''s fitting that the Legislature is convening on what is predicted to be the coldest week of the year -- maybe the coldest week in Mississippi ever. 

 

To paraphrase the old expression, we knew it would be a cold, cold day when the Legislature would consider some of the things that are on its plate. 

 

Draconian layoffs of state employees. Huge cuts to education, and the possibility of consolidating some school districts. Raising taxes -- oops, I meant raising fees, such as steep increases to the cost of car titles and other state services. (Sorry I mentioned the T-word.) 

 

And topping it off: the idea of merging Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University. 

 

The proposal, floated by Gov. Haley Barbour in his budget recommendation to the Legislature, doesn''t have much visible support, but that doesn''t mean it''s dead. If the idea were a hospital patient, we might say it has tubes in its nose. Things may not look too good now, but it''s a defibrillator hit away from bouncing back. 

 

Notice I''m not mentioning the governor''s idea to merge Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State with Jackson State University. That idea, most certainly, is dead. But The W and MSU? There isn''t the same historical and political baggage there, as there is with the historically black universities. 

 

Even if the idea to merge Mississippi State and MUW turns out to be "dead on arrival," as Columbus'' Republican Rep. Gary Chism likes to say, the fact remains that something has to be done to make the university viable. And I don''t mean more viable -- I mean viable, period. The university, the smallest in the state, will likely face a 25 percent funding cut in the budget that legislators will spend the next six months cobbling together. State Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, suggested Tuesday that consolidation may even be the only way to keep the campus open. 

 

If the school doesn''t merge, it''s still going to take a punch that will hurt it more than any other school. 

 

The W, plain and simple, has to grow its student base. It can''t keep slogging along with 2,000-odd students. The university may stagger, weakened, to its feet after this recession, but what about the next one? 

 

Broken-record time: Mississippi University for Women, which is not a women''s-only university, needs to change its name to something that will attract more students, both male and female. Will a name change fix the school overnight? No, but keeping things the same obviously isn''t working. 

 

 

 

''A valuable resource'' 

 

MUW alums, at least the ones sanctioned by the university, are mobilizing to convince lawmakers to pass a bill that would give the state College Board the authority to authorize a new name for the school. 

 

Sadly, when things are down to the wire, they''re still trying to convince local lawmakers. 

 

"I wanted to let you know that we are working over the next few days to encourage alumni and friends to call our local, Lowndes County legislators and let them know how important it is to change the name of the University," reads an e-mail sent to alums today from Mary Margaret Roberts, executive director of Alumni Relations at the school. "We will soon expand our efforts but want to focus on Lowndes County legislators during the next few days at the beginning of the legislative session." 

 

These folks should already be convinced. 

 

In her e-mail, Roberts includes these "talking points" to share with legislators: 

 

· In order for MUW to be successful and grow its enrollment, the Legislature must give the IHL Board the authority to change the name of the University. A new name that truly and accurately reflects who we are is critical to our efforts to attract more students. 

 

· While the current name may have served us well in the past, it now alienates up to 97 percent of potential students. Changing the name is the first step in moving the University forward by attracting more students. For more than two decades, a low percentage of girls, about 3-4 percent, says they would "consider" a women''s college, and a much lower percentage actually ends up attending one, according to a Vanderbilt University study,  

 

· More students enrolled at MUW will help both the local economy and state economy. A filled seat means more money coming in locally and to the state. 

 

· The University is a valuable resource, and we certainly do not want to see another Mary Holmes College-type decline in our area under our local legislators'' watch. We do not want MUW to starve to death, and we need our local legislators to be our champions on the name change issue. 

 

· Some people claim we have not marketed the university properly to attract students and would increase enrollment if we marketed nationally. We requested data to determine the number of students nationwide who took the ACT and scored between 20 and 24 who would be interested in attending an institution of 1,000 and 5,000 students serving primarily females, and the result was only six students from the nationwide pool of those scoring 20-24 on the ACT. 

 

· While there has been talk of a merger with MSU, this is not a good option for us. MSU is facing budget cuts of at least $40 million. How would MSU possibly be able to invest funds to operate a second campus in Columbus? 

 

· Changing the name of MUW to attract all students is what is needed in order for enrollment to grow and for the University in our community to thrive. 

 

All these points are sound. I''d add another, less logical, more psychological one: Columbus itself is on the ropes right now. Tax revenue is down. We''re losing population; Starkville has surpassed us as the largest city in the Golden Triangle, according to Census estimates. Columbus has been the seat of an independent state university for 125 years now. For this city to lose that, and to be handed a satellite campus of Mississippi State, or worse -- an empty, crumbling campus -- would be a devastating blow to the city''s psyche. 

 

 

 

Think about baseball 

 

I know an old guy, from Chicago, who used to be a huge Cubs fan -- the same Cubs that haven''t won a World Series in 101 years. 

 

Like most Cubs fans, he began each season hopeful, and by the All-Star break, he was disgusted. 

 

After decades of this, he had an epiphany. His typical refrain: Cut down the ivy in the outfield -- get rid of it. Heck, knock down Wrigley Field. Don''t just fire the manager, fire the whole team. Change the team name. Change the uniforms. His reasoning: You can either be the lovable losers, and bask in the familiar, lovable trappings that go with it, or you can show the world that you''re serious about winning. 

 

It''s tough to admit, but he has a point. 

 

I say that to say this: The W, and those that want to see it grow and thrive as an independent university, need to prove to the state that they''re serious about survival. There is no clearer way to prove this than with a name change -- a commitment to grow, with a new identity, and a fresh start.

 

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment Ellen commented at 1/6/2010 12:09:00 PM:

"Notice I'm not mentioning the governor's idea to merge Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State with Jackson State University. That idea, most certainly, is dead. But The W and MSU? There isn't the same historical and political baggage there, as there is with the historically black universities."

What planet do you live on? Of course the W has the same historial and political baggage as the black universities..Did they not get sued by a black man to allow men to attend the college? Is the W not historial with all his history and awards?? Go read your history book about the W before you start reporting that junk.

 

Article Comment Kim Laird commented at 1/6/2010 1:24:00 PM:

Ellen, Joe Hogan, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that ended with men attending the W, was white.

 

Article Comment Lenore Griffin commented at 1/6/2010 1:38:00 PM:

I find it interesting that the Dispatch has read the email from Ms. Roberts early enough to include it in this editorial, and yet alums that I know, including myself, have NOT received such email!
At a time when both alumnae/i organizations have joined efforts, along with Friends of the W and faculty/staff, to save this historic university, the Dispatch and Limbert continue to throw the name change out as their only means of salvation! Sounds like you just like to keep the pot boiling?!

 

Article Comment Avery Insinger commented at 1/6/2010 1:43:00 PM:

"There are lies, d@#$%#d lies, and statistics" a common phrase particularly used to bolster weak arguments, with which Mr.Mullen's article is filled regarding Mississippi University for Women. Based on his argument for name change, we might out to start with The United States of America as it excludes 97% of the world's population. How about "The Transnational States of the World?" Then I'll be happy to consider a name change for MUW.

 

Article Comment Margaret Gardner commented at 1/6/2010 2:37:00 PM:

At least Avery had the courage to use his name, unlike What?

 

Article Comment Walum commented at 1/6/2010 7:36:00 PM:

OK this statement ... MUW alums, at least the ones sanctioned by the university... has got to be one of the most glaring examples of the fact that MUW is being led by someone who has no clue whatsoever on what is really important in the grand scheme of things. Sanctioned alumni... does this mean that I am no longer able to consider myself a true alumnus since I must not be sanctioned. At a time when alumni have chosen to join together to fight merger there are still individuals so focused on their own misplaced agenda that they continue to build the us against them mentality. By the way statistics can be twisted to reflect anything you want them to reflect.

 

Article Comment D.Matt commented at 1/7/2010 9:23:00 AM:

I'm a man & a W Alum. the W is on life support & has been on life support for years.
The Ol' girls Society never faced the fact that most of America does not want to go to a School called "the University for Women."
How can you recruit "nationally" when you can't recruit "locally."
Now, "The whole college experience" includes College Football & co-ed drinking games. Women are not looking for Pilot trainees to marry (as much) anymore.

MUW should have address this name change & dwindling enrollment more than a decade ago.

Now, they are in a "do or die" stage.
No way they survive w/o a merger & the Columbus Campus turning into an Adult education/Outreach Center.

 

Article Comment George commented at 1/7/2010 10:48:00 AM:

Keep the name and let the place close. If the majority of W Alumni are so stupid that they can't see a problem/solution here, then the education they got must not be worth a toot anyway.

 

Article Comment Flabbergasted Alum commented at 1/7/2010 5:37:00 PM:

My first semester of college (I was also in my last semester of high school) I took a class called Symbolic Logic I. In it we reduced written arguments to mathematical formulas - much like diagramming sentences - based on the types of statements made in the argument. For example, "Blue and yellow make green" would be converted to "A + B = C". We would then evaluate a series of statements or arguments to determine if they were true or false: "Blue and yellow make green. Green is a Color. Purple is a Color. Therefore, Blue and Yellow make Purple." Even without reducing this argument to a mathematical statement we know it's false. I feel like I'm reading this same sentence every time I read an article or comment that emphatically states that failure to change MUW's name means categorical failure. This is what it looks like: "The W is an historically female institution that is still predominantly female. All institutions must market themselves according to identity. Students seeking women's institutions would love the W. Students seeking co-ed football institutions would not love The W. Marketing The W to students seeking coed football institutions has been a failure. Therefore, The W institution must change it's name."

Uh, no, the correct statement is "Marketing The W to students seeking women's institutions would be marketing The W according to its identity." (A move that would cost less than a name change, protect the historic name and mission of the university, AND increase enrollment.) DUH!!!

 

Article Comment Bubba Gump commented at 1/7/2010 9:49:00 PM:

I am a W grad and a male. During my time there I could actually feel the contempt some at the school had for males students. It didn't stop me, but you could feel it in all the little ways certain individuals treated you.

And you could tell it by who got the opportunities the school had to offer and who didn't get them. Daughters of families who "contributed" to the school were given choice jobs within the school and students who were simply students got the crumbs. They would also use the race of a student toward their own end. I knew of one black student who really didn't do much of anything special during his time at the W I was ever aware of, but once he graduated he was given a job touring the prospective black students around campus.

I went there, graduated, but I'm not impressed with the place, and given the chance to have done it all over again, I would have gone to State instead.

 

Article Comment Frank commented at 1/8/2010 9:46:00 AM:

"Blue and yellow make green. Green is a Color. Purple ..."

Failure to make an obviously needed name change makes RED. Red ink and the end of the institution. Put that in your pipe and smoke it along with that other stuff you are smoking!

 

Article Comment ETG commented at 1/8/2010 12:57:00 PM:

George, yours is by far the best comment!! It seems to me that the majority of "W" alums care far more about tradition than they do about the school itself. I'm with you --- just let it die!!!

 

Article Comment NonAlum commented at 1/8/2010 5:41:00 PM:

Flabbergasted Alum says, "Marketing The W to students seeking women's institutions would be marketing The W according to its identity." By all accounts, that would be marketing to 3% (at most) of students thinking about college. Please explain the marketing strategy that is designed to get to that 3% scattered across this country. It may be possible, but can The W afford it? I think a better strategy would be to target the other 97%

Here's some symbolic logic for you... marketing(A) + 3% interest in what you are marketing (B) = stagnation or decline (C).

 

Article Comment D.Matt commented at 1/8/2010 6:07:00 PM:

Flabbergasted Alum,

You're logic as well as your grammar is flawed.

"The W is an historically female institution"
The article "an" is follows vowels, while the article "a" follows consonants.

You also didn't read the story.

"We requested data to determine the number of students nationwide who took the ACT and scored between 20 and 24 who would be interested in attending an institution of 1,000 and 5,000 students serving primarily females, and the result was only six students from the nationwide pool of those scoring 20-24 on the ACT. "

Six students out of 1000 nationwide showed interest!
That's less than 1%!
Also, they didn't even mention MUW by name which is safe to assume the number would have been lower!

So, your statement of "Marketing The W to students seeking women's institutions would be marketing The W according to its identity."

I ask you, "What students?"

 

Article Comment flawedgrammar? commented at 1/8/2010 7:43:00 PM:

Well, D.Matt, let's check your grammar, shall we?

1. "You're" logic as well as your grammar...
Comment: You just stated, with the incorrect spelling on "you're", "You are logic as well as your grammar..." Oops.

2. "an historically" is perfectly acceptable.

3. ...continued from item 2...although in most cases, you're (you are) almost correct. Articles do not "follow" as you describe. They "precede".

I'll stop picking your grammar to pieces now, but I did want to help you recognize that when you're not all that well-versed in a given subject, please don't criticize someone else's mistakes.

Beyond that meaningless fluff, I do agree with everything else you said! Great points, all!!!

 

Article Comment Walum82 commented at 1/8/2010 8:50:00 PM:

If we are going to correct one another, let me make it clear that the statistic cited is if stated accurately: 3% of graduating females in America in that given year were willing to consider attending a women's college. That translated to more than 50,000 girls graduating from high school as prospective incoming freshmen for the approximately 50 women's colleges in the nation. That is a sizeable number of prospects.

Another correction: no one believe MUW shouldn't change. Even the most ardent of the "non-sanctioned" alumnae know that it MUST change, just as today's young women have changed and are different than we were when we chose MUW. What we believe has NOT changed is the role that a women-focused institution fulfills for the state and for the students who attend it.

MUW must change - but we believe the change should be to embrace and proclaim the women's mission! In an age when "girl power" is used to market everything from TV programs to computers, at a time when women outnumber men in population and on college campuses and yet women are underrepresented in politics, in corporate board rooms, and earn only a percentage of their male counterparts - this is the time that MUW should transform itself into a contemporary oasis of what a woman's institution can and should be.

Change yes. Mission change no. Name change, not until the women's mission is preserved, enhanced and celebrated.

MUW faces many recruiting challenges. It is a small, liberal arts, predominantly female public institution located in a non-urban area within the state of Mississippi. And no matter what you call it, it will still be a small, liberal arts, predominantly female public institution located in a non-urban area within the state of Mississippi. The name change is not the solution to MUW's recruiting challenges. Many of us "non-sanctioned" alums are convinced that the W can - and should - change. We simply happen to believe in a positive, proactive approach to that change which has the potential to actually increase MUW's student population.

 

Article Comment Bubba Gump commented at 1/9/2010 6:11:00 AM:

Uh huh, change but it's still a female college. Change but it still has a female mission.

Yeah, take another hit on the pipe honey.

The W should be known as MSU at Columbus.

 

Article Comment NonAlum commented at 1/9/2010 11:58:00 AM:

According to Walum82, there are approximately 50,000 students across this country interested in a college like MUW (should be). There are also approximately 50 other schools that may interest these students. Let's assume that everything is equal. That would mean that MUW would be trying to find 1,000 students spread across the USA. Even if MUW was the only school of its kind in America, they would still be looking for needles in a haystack (or maybe gems in a gravel pit). Can those students be found? Sure. Can The W pay for the marketing execs and strategy to find them and get them to enroll? I doubt it.

The marketing to young girls that Walum82 refers to probably deals with iphones and North Face jackets. These companies have billions to market their product. No regional institution in MS has the funds for this type of marketing, and things are looking far worse.

I appreciate the passion of those who want MUW to remain MUW, but their passion is clouding all other decisions about that school. Sometimes I am convinced that it is more about winning an argument than anything else.

 

Article Comment D.Matt commented at 1/9/2010 6:42:00 PM:

Flawd,
You got me Bro
I don't feel like rebutting you but if The "W" wanted to go private & keep it's identity I'm all in favor for that, but even if it were PRIVATE, how many would want to come to a small liberal arts school in MS when they could get the same education for cheaper w/in their own state or region, PLUS, the economic situation only accelerated the W's demise.

They should have embraced change over 20 years ago. Now, it will be History.

 

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