Article Comment 

Alisa Holen: ‘Limiting ourselves to small dreams’


Alisa Holen



I write this with a heavy heart. My normal, optimistic demeanor has been sidetracked by the recent announcement by the Mississippi State Legislature to effectively kill the name change for our University. I am truly hopeful that the Mississippi University for Women will be able to survive as a standalone institution, but I am also realistic... and I know that our name is a tremendous hindrance on our ability to recruit students. The statistics are remarkable.  


(The following is from a letter sent out by Mary Margaret Roberts 1/5/2010) 


"The number of students nationwide with ACT scores between 20-24 who would be interested in attending an institution of 1,000-5,000 students serving primarily females was only six." .... SIX!!!  


As much as I would like to let the whole issue go and pretend it never happened, I am so disappointed that I''m quite literally losing sleep over it. Consequently I had to comment. 


Back in August, Dr. Limbert gave an inspiring Convocation speech about the future of MUW and about the decision to go forward with Reneau University as the proposed name change. The information included that in order to move forward in our recruitment efforts, our University requires a name change.... we are, after all, no longer a women''s university. She ended her speech with this poignant quote from Ronald Reagan: 


"It is time for us to realize that we are too great ... to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." 


So ... six months later ... And we''ve done nothing. Bravo. 


I am a relatively new member to the faculty here at MUW. In the short time that I have been here, I have come to love it. The faculty members in my department are talented, driven and 100 percent committed to the success of their students. The administration has been supportive in the growth of our department, and our recruitment efforts. The students continue to raise the bar on excellence in their work. 


I honestly couldn''t be happier with my decision to come to this university. 


Now, however, my feelings are changing. I am so disappointed about the decision to retain our dated, exclusionary, old fashioned and inaccurate name that it makes me take pause about MY decision to be here. 


We pride ourselves as a "leadership" university... but we can''t even take the lead on moving ourselves into the 21st century with an appropriate name. It''s quite honestly embarrassing. 


I will be speaking at a national conference in April. I am uncomfortable introducing myself to a national audience as an "Assistant Professor from the Mississippi University for Women." It feels like false advertising. In fact, it IS false advertising. Do I follow up with ... "and we''re not actually a women''s university, we''ve been accepting men since 1982."? I can hear the thoughts already: "And they haven''t changed the name?"  


I know I am not taking a popular stand with The W alumnae and the friends of the W. I completely respect the pride that W alums take in their university and in their respective educations. I understand the sentimental attachment to the name, but on the national stage, it simply sounds ridiculous, dated, and exclusionary.  


The name requires explanation at every turn. Instead of explaining that we are a four-year state university that excels in the liberal arts, nursing, education and culinary arts, we are instead explaining that we are NOT exclusively for women, despite our misleading name.  


I would much rather explain who we ARE instead of who we AREN''T. 


I would like to be able to take the stage and introduce myself as "An Assistant Professor from Reneau University in Columbus, Mississippi." What does that bring to mind? I hear echo''s of Carleton College, Denison University, Creighton College, Amherst, Grinnell, Colgate, Davidson and Wellesley ... the list goes on. 


These are all prestigious and respected institutions. We have done ourselves a great disservice in not coming together to support this vital evolution in our future. This is devastating. 


At the same time, the fall-out from this year of budgetary uncertainty, rumors of merger, and speculation about our name has left the faculty and staff feeling vulnerable about their futures with this university. How can it not? The information has been sketchy ... there has been so much rumor and speculation. How do people react to this? 


Well, let''s look at the facts. We lost our President, Dr. Limbert, who ceaselessly supported measures to move our university forward, despite constant opposition. We lost our provost Sandra Jordan, a tremendously creative problem solver. We lost our Vice President of Student Services, Dr. Wesley and his remarkably optimistic, but realistic attitude and outstanding communication skills. We lost our Director of Campus Recreation, Amy Swingle who prioritized students above all and truly cultivated leaders. Beyond this, I know of a number of new and tenured faculty members who are actively pursuing alternative positions because of all the uncertainty surrounding our institution. 


As I was getting ready for bed last night, I was reading a novel called the "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel. It''s a good read, but I got to this passage, and put the book down, lost in contemplation and disappointment. Because of governmental unrest in India, the family in the novel is considering a move, and Pi is trying to understand why: 


"People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others. Because of the impression that the future is blocked up ... Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible only somewhere else." 


Knowing how many months Dr. Limbert and the naming committee worked on the task of finding a new name, I felt a direct connection between this quote and MUW. A name change would have been the signal that we were moving forward, that change was in the air, that we were united in our mission to save this university as an independent institution, that we were looking to a future with bright possibilities. 


I hold our State Legislators responsible, as they have now, most certainly "ensured the fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." 


Respectful, and cautiously hopeful, 




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Reader Comments

Article Comment MUWgrad commented at 2/18/2010 12:02:00 PM:

Please understand that you do not alienate ME nor many other MUW alumni because we feel the same way you do. It's amazing to me how the very people who fought so hard against the name change would probably also be as vehemently opposed to a PUBLIC institution with a name such as Mississippi University for Men.

Of course, when we have a lawmaker who believes that naming the university after a female means that the name is still gender specific, we don't have much of a prayer of getting anything done.


Article Comment WGirl commented at 2/18/2010 12:42:00 PM:

Alisa, thanks for a well articulated letter. Just this week I had to explain to a gentleman from Ohio that I did not attend an all girls' school.
It is ridiculous and I am appalled that, in the year 2010, anyone could be against the name change.


Article Comment Elizabeth Ervin OLeary commented at 2/18/2010 2:59:00 PM:

I was not in favor of changing the name of MUW, but after reading
this letter I am in favor. I was against the name changes that came
up. Maybe we should open the list again.
Libby OLeary, 1956cantee3ns


Article Comment ETG commented at 2/18/2010 4:28:00 PM:

This was really a GREAT letter; the absolute best one I have seen on this subject. Alisa is a practical and visionary thinker; unfortunately for the "W", too many of its so-called "supporters" would kill the institution to preserve its outdated and inappropriate name. Tradition dies hard in Columbus, MS, and we are about to see the fallout from that unfortunate reality.


Article Comment Well Said commented at 2/18/2010 4:30:00 PM:

EXTREMELY well said, but unfortunately too late. The W refused to take its future in its own hands and now it's in the hands of others.


Article Comment Avery Insinger commented at 2/18/2010 4:54:00 PM:

No disrespect, Ms. Holen, but I am assuming you could read prior to getting the job at MUW. Knowing this was the name of the university, why are you embarrassed now and you weren't when your interviewed and took the job? And, if you are having second thoughts, I am sure your job could be filled and that you are free to go to a university whose name you are proud to speak.


Article Comment predictable commented at 2/18/2010 5:48:00 PM:

Avery, your response was so predictable. Disagree with us, and we'll ask you to leave. Bring in knew ideas or a fresh perspective, and we'll show you the door. I applaud your courage Ms. Holen, but watch your back. The daggers are drawn I assure you.


Article Comment Elizabeth Hereford commented at 2/18/2010 11:21:00 PM:

I have tried to locate the often quoted "research" that the administration used to justify a name change but have been unable to fine it. As we all know, the results of a survey depends on the actual question asked. It would be helpful if those quoting that research would give the original reference.

Ms. Holen sounds defeated. I am amazed that just because the name has not been changed that she feels this way. The defeatism is most likely due not to the name but the attitude of the Limbert administration that focuses on the negative than the many positives of our beloved university. This attitude has caused many to leave, not the name--MUW.


Article Comment ETG commented at 2/19/2010 8:56:00 AM:

Ms. Hereford, I find your logic interesting; you criticize the W administration because you cannot "fine" the research they used to justify a name change, but at the same time, you make the blanket statement, "This attitude has caused many to leave, not the name".

So, where is the data to back up YOUR statement??


Article Comment noway commented at 2/19/2010 9:47:00 AM:

I am a male. I am an MUW graduate. I and many other had no problem attending MUW in the 90's. Enrollment was high and the name was the same. We did however have much better leadership and opportunities. (athletics, choir , social clubs, fraternities.) The alumni are so much a part of these activities. Limbert has burned so many bridges with the Alumni and Politicians. Her errogance is the downfall. Limbert is the problem. IMO. She has not listened and we need to get her out...and get an Alumn to be an interum leader. We need someone that knows our heritage and history.


Article Comment Mark Bean commented at 2/19/2010 9:55:00 AM:

Ms. Hereford,

Al Holen is anything but a defeatist. She is a highly productive young faculty member who is very well respected by her peers. Her letter reflects the feelings of a number of us on campus who believed that a name change could have provided the impetus for the kind of growth the University desperately needs. She should be applauded for publically taking a position. She is the kind of faculty member that embodies everything the W is about. She does not deserve implications of illiteracy or invitations to leave. She certainly does not deserve to be classified as a defeatist. You and Ms. Insinger owe her an apology.

I can tell you unequivocally that insulting excellent young faculty members at MUW is not good for its future.

And by the way, I have the ACT query data she refers to and would be glad to send it to you. It is, however, moot now and quite frankly the data has never mattered.


Article Comment Nail on the head commented at 2/19/2010 10:39:00 AM:

Well said, AL! You hit the nail on the head. Its a shame, but can lead a horse to water, but can't make the drink. Traditions die hard in these small towns, and so often its too little too late.


Article Comment Elizabeth Hereford commented at 2/19/2010 11:12:00 AM:

I have tried to locate the often quoted "research" that the administration used to justify a name change but have been unable to fine it. As we all know, the results of a survey depends on the actual question asked. It would be helpful if those quoting that research would give the original reference.

Ms. Holen sounds defeated. I am amazed that just because the name has not been changed that she feels this way. The defeatism is most likely due not to the name but the attitude of the Limbert administration that focuses on the negative than the many positives of our beloved university. This attitude has caused many to leave, not the name--MUW.


Article Comment Amy Swingle commented at 2/19/2010 11:13:00 AM:

Noway - Statements such as "We did however have much better leadership and opportunities. (athletics, choir , social clubs, fraternities.)" are extremely misleading and, in my opinion, disrespectful. MUW continues to have many oppotunities for students to get involved on campus. The only thing that is not at MUW now compared to the 90's is athletics. But let me inform you of what IS there: One of the best recreation facilities and programs, not only in the state of MS, but in the region. I assure you, more people from the community, alumni, students, faculty/staff are walking through the doors of the Stark Recreation Center each day than attended most athletic events. There are more programming and leadership opportuntities available to even more students now than ever before. This includes the Hearin Leadership program, IMAGE, Student Programming Board and many more. This is in addition to the social clubs and fraternities. Oh..and did you know that there are MORE male fraternities on campus now than in the 90's? I know you're proud of what MUW was like when you were here, but don't diminish the experiences the current students have just because they are different than yours.

Oh and one more thing. It's the same administration that you and many others condemn that has brought all these wonderful opportunties to today's MUW students. They've made tough decisions when faced with opposition and budget cuts. Just because you don't like them, doesn't mean they weren't the right decisions.


Article Comment Elizabeth Hereford, M.D. commented at 2/19/2010 11:13:00 AM:

Mr. Bean, could you post the link to the ACT research? Sorry about my typo in the original comment.


Article Comment MUWstudent commented at 2/19/2010 2:02:00 PM:

Dr. Hereford,
Mark Bean should be referred to as Dr. Bean.


Article Comment Elizabeth Hereford, M.D. commented at 2/19/2010 3:46:00 PM:

Sorry. They was no way for me for know Mark Bean has a M. D. or PhD. However, I would still like the link to the actual survey that has been quoted so many times.


Article Comment MUWgrad commented at 2/23/2010 9:30:00 AM:

Dr. Hereford, if you knew as much about MUW as you should, you would be well aware that Dr. Bean is a professor at the University and one of its strongest advocates.


Article Comment Elizabeth Hereford, M.D. commented at 2/23/2010 8:57:00 PM:

I am glad that Dr. Bean is an advocate for the W. However, as I graduated in 1975 and now live in California, I do not know the professors on campus. I would imagine that few that graduated more than 15 years ago could name many of the W professors on campus at this time.


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