Article Comment 

Steve Mullen: Let them eat cake

 

Steve Mullen

 

Rep. Gary Chism told a story on a talk radio program a couple months ago, shortly after the governor released his proposed budget that called for The W to merge with Mississippi State University. 

 

The W will always be safe, Chism explained, because each year, the little old ladies from the Alumnae Association bring cakes down to the Capitol to all the legislators. In turn, they secure the promise that "nothing will happen" to The W.  

 

The Legislature, apparently, can''t say no to cake. 

 

I don''t know what they''re baking into those cakes, but whatever it is, it works. Our lawmakers in Jackson scarfed them down and declared the merger idea "dead on arrival" before the session began. Then, apparently still affected by alumnae sugar, they did the same thing to the university''s name change proposal, which would have helped The W build a viable student body. 

 

Give points to Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, for at least giving each side its day in court, even if the outcome had already been decided. He brought the name change bill he authored -- which would have allowed the College Board to decide on the change -- up for committee discussion on Monday. After hearing from leaders for the name change, and alumnae who oppose it, no one on the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee would make a motion to move the bill along. 

 

By doing nothing, the Legislature slammed the door on years of research, hundreds of hours of time, and thousands of dollars spent making the case for a name change.  

 

The need for a name change should be obvious. The W isn''t a women''s-only university, and hasn''t been since 1982. Even if we pretended it was, it isn''t even the only university in the state with a mission to educate on women''s issues. Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all offer robust women''s or gender-studies programs, as does the nearby University of Alabama.  

 

We know this stuff by heart by now. Not only do few-to-no male students want to attend a women''s college, 97 percent of graduating high school won''t consider doing so either, according to a study oft-cited by MUW President Claudia Limbert. And because of the name, the perception is that this is a women''s university. 

 

Clearly, this is the way the vehement supporters of The W''s current identity want it. They see the university as it was in 1981, or ''71 or ''61, or years earlier. If only we had a strong president at the helm, and ignore the fact that we admit men, and come up with a better marketing campaign (presumably targeting the 3 percent of women nationwide who might consider a women''s-only college, something The W isn''t anyway), then all would be right with the world. 

 

But these arguments have fallen on deaf ears; no sense wasting more breath, or ink. The cakes have been baked and delivered. The Legislature has made its decision -- a decision not to make one. 

 

 

 

What''s next? 

 

Now that the Legislature has sided with the no-name-change alumnae, where does The W go from here? Deeper into a period of belt-tightening uncertainty. 

 

The W is increasing tuition 10 percent over the next two years, to offset what''s shaping up to be a 25-percent cut in its budget over the same time period. Some leaders inside and outside the Legislature wonder if the school can even keep the lights turned on. It will find a way, but The W''s biggest selling points -- cheap tuition and a low student-teacher ratio -- are in danger here. 

 

Even amid the budget crunch, I just don''t see a merger with Mississippi State happening. If you''re a freshman enrolling in MSU, you want to be on the main campus. You want to be in the shadow of Davis-Wade Stadium, living in the dorms on campus, or in the fraternity and sorority houses. You want to be sipping Starbucks in the union. If you''re a junior or senior or grad student, you''re living off campus, not in a dorm at The W. Some have suggested Mississippi State could run buses between the two campuses. Really? 

 

So how does The W become viable? Maybe there will be some seismic cultural shift that will send scores of women back to women''s universities. Or there will be some equally dramatic occurrence in the Legislature that would cause the name change bill to come up again, and then pass through committees, and make it off both floors, and get signed by the governor. Or maybe the school will see its enrollment slip further over the next decade or two, until there is no choice but closure. The alumni will have finally "loved it to death," as some officials say. 

 

Whether the name change comes up again in next year''s legislative session or not, Limbert won''t be here for alumnae to kick around anymore. She''s retiring, much to their delight. Maybe next time they''ll get the strong leader with the marketing savvy they''ve been dreaming of.  

 

Whoever takes the job, we know she will be someone who loves a challenge. She will find a school in financial crisis, shackled to an outdated identity. She will have to pacify an influential group of alumnae who fiercely opposed the last president, and will certainly do the same to the next one if they don''t get their way. 

 

She will know the alumnae know just how to do it -- it''s a cake walk, in fact. Never mind that all The W gets is the crumbs. 

 

 

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment Layla commented at 2/3/2010 11:42:00 AM:

I could not agree more!

 

Article Comment Brad commented at 2/3/2010 1:38:00 PM:

I think it is when more like will the Dispatch pulls its head out and maybe see that alums and legislators have looked at the facts. I agree with the legislator that said the only name change needed is basically on Limberts door. Get in the game Dispatch -- the bias is old.

 

Article Comment Latisha commented at 2/3/2010 1:47:00 PM:

The bill was a bad one to start with. The Senate does not like IHL's overreaching authority. This bill had little to do with the W. Don't lay this at the feet of the alumni/ae. Not ONE Senator was willing to make the motion to move that bill. Start dealing with the facts. And maybe run one of those shrill blue hairs for Governor since they control the world as you know it.

 

Article Comment Andy commented at 2/3/2010 1:54:00 PM:

Quoting Steve:

You must be right, of course. TWU must be wrong. Guess they will start sending students home and their money with them because there is no longer a market for a public university with a woman's mission. Thanks for setting that straight. I have been woefully confused and misinformed.

 

Article Comment Bobbie commented at 2/3/2010 6:06:00 PM:

Steve, not only did they not like Dr. Limbert but they got rid of Dr. Rent and Dr. Strobel. The only reason Dr. Hogarth was spared, many of them had just graduated or were not even born when he retired. They are not going to be satisfied with next administration because they simply know better!

 

Article Comment Almost Right commented at 2/3/2010 8:11:00 PM:

Bobbie, your are for the most part correct. But you must remember that the alums did not run off Drs. Rent or Strobel. That was the faculty. Why? Because they knew better. The W seems to have a bunch of folks that simply know better. Another correction...the plan of the "blue hairs" (a term of endearment, not disrespect) is to seat one of their own on the throne of their majestical (is that a word?) university. Have you seen the comments like, "the W needs somebody who really loves it?" Of course, the W doesn't need a president with admistrative experience or a history on a college campus, it just needs someone (a W alum) who loves it. Why? Because Columbus doesn't love it. The college board doesn't love it. I'm not sure if the legislators love it or just prefer to keep it at a great distance.....but I digress. Here's my point, and where you may be wrong....when the queen is anointed over the Queendom (is that a word) of the W, all will be well. Facts won't matter. Ideas won't matter. They never have. All that will matter is......she is one of us. It is the classic good ole boy system minus a penis or two.

 

Article Comment J commented at 2/3/2010 9:55:00 PM:

Ah Steve, you like to beat to death the one number that everyone seems to harp on when really if you look at the actual numbers it changes its meaning. Do you really think that 97% of all American high school students would be coming to the state of Mississippi anyway? Any of the schools in this state would be lucky to have the many thousands of students that equal 3% of all high school students. If any school gained even a portion of those students their numbers would soar. The problem has been that no one has wanted to figure out what those students really want and need in order to get them to come. Some vague question on a survey is certainly not going to do it for any of our fine universities. The larger schools in the state have the advantage of having free advertising for their universities every Saturday in the fall. The state has got to stop giving the biggest portion of their funds to those schools and distribute them more evenly to the smaller schools. Hopefully the next administration of MUW as well as the community of Lowdnes county and Columbus will be able to convince them to do that.

 

Article Comment Dead wrong commented at 2/3/2010 11:45:00 PM:

Almost Right, you have it dead wrong. Why is it that you think W alums are any different that those from other universities? What did they want in a new MSU president .... and alum, and what did they get..... an ALUM. (Also, remember who was instrumental in having Foglesong "retired"). What about Ole Miss? Robert Khayat.... an alum. Who did they want to replace him .... an alum, and what did they get .... an ALUM! Take the University of Southern Mississippi. After the last president was ousted, what did the alums request ...... an alum for their new president. What did USM get? AN ALUM!! I don't believe there are any thrones at any of those schools, although I am sure there are many alums who feel their alma mater is majestical in their eyes. Why should W alums feel any differently? Why should they be treated any differently?!

 

Article Comment I''ll Take IT commented at 2/4/2010 8:42:00 AM:

Dead Wrong, If The W can find an alum with a carrer in higher ed. like Khayat, Jones, and Saunders it would be great. I don't know that I would lift Doc Folgelsong up as a success story. Of course he had never been on a college campus other than as a student. That was most likely part of the problem. I am confident, however, that the W has better sense than to pursue someone like that. Do you really think seeing where you went to college as "majestical" is normal or even healthy? Maybe that's the problem at the W.

 

Article Comment KJ commented at 2/4/2010 12:32:00 PM:

I believe, Mr. Mullen, that it was Limbert doing the kicking, with the full assistance of the IHL board. I also don't believe that "years of research" constitutes anything meaningful in this case, but will happily concede that "hundreds of hours of time, and thousands of dollars spent making the case for a name change" were wasted by an administration that chose to ignore and alienate the W's largest group of supporters, conduct as much of its business in secret as possible, and waste valuable resources to satisfy the combined egos of Limbert and Sansing.

Perhaps the IHL will recognize both the necessity and advantage of hiring a replacement for Limbert who is capable of healing the rift; but given that the IHL is as responsible for the deteriorating situation at MUW (perhaps more so given their support for Limbert's more outrageous adventures) I seriously doubt that they will.

 

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