Our opinion: At The W, a bitter conflict resolved

April 19, 2011 11:52:00 AM



It was Columbus'' own Israel and Palestine. It was Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and East and West Germany all rolled into one. 


We say that not to trivialize those conflicts, but to help those of us, who might be scratching our heads over the fuss over four-year split of alumni groups on the Mississippi University for Women campus, understand what the impact of the feud meant to the 2,500-student school. 


One official involved in the negotiations to bring the groups back together -- negotiations that took months of excruciating detail over every word, every detail in the new groups'' charter and path to reunification -- likened the impact to the cost of renovating one building on campus. 


Some brief background: Back in 2006, past MUW President Claudia Limbert had accused workers and members of the official MUW Alumnae Association of trying to undermine her leadership and hinder fundraising efforts. She fired a beloved alumnae director, and when things reached a boiling point in 2007, terminated the century-old group''s official ties with the school. The spurned alumnae sued, won, then lost on appeal to the state Supreme Court. A second, official, alumni group was formed, though it never was able to gain real traction. 


Along the way, deep trenches were dug. Alumni, and the supporters of the school in the community, were forced to choose sides. 


The disenfranchised alumnae sabotaged Limbert at every opportunity. They actively lobbied against her plans to find a gender-neutral and enrollment-boosting name for the school. The plan was strongly endorsed by local governments, business interests, and this newspaper, but was dead on arrival in the Legislature, thanks to the lobbying against it. 


All this has happened of course, during the Great Recession. School funding, and enrollment numbers, have never been more important, Budgets have been slashed. Just when help from help from alumni was never needed more, many alums vowed to withhold donations to the school until the conflict was resolved -- and many did. 


Even worse, the constant bickering among the groups led to a sense of apathy and disinterest about the school itself among the Columbus community. The school is a critical economic engine in the heart of downtown. With increased support, it could be so much more. 


That support has withered these last four years. 


The costs are incalculable, really. 


These groups would never reunite under Limbert -- that was a given. Her retirement, and the pitch-perfect choice of alum and former 4-County Electric Power Association CEO Allegra Brigham as interim president, paved the way for reunification. 


Enough praise could never be heaped on Brigham, who reached out to the disenfranchised groups at every turn, publicly apologizing on behalf of the school in front of every civic club and chicken-dinner lunch that would have her. She brought the groups back to the table. 


She was our own Carter at Camp David. 


Countless hours of meetings and phone calls culminated what we saw on campus on Saturday: Misty-eyed members of both groups, locked arm in arm, singing the school song, "Hail to Thee." We have a road map to peace, which will end on July 1 with the groups officially reunited. 


We hope that the end of the feud will mean increased donations to The W from alumni. The school has never needed it more. We also hope that the Columbus community renews its interest in, and support of, the university. Frankly, one can''t survive without the other.