MUW Renaming process nears end; two choices remain

June 25, 2009



The name-changing process for Mississippi University for Women "is nearing an end" the school announced Wednesday and the finalists are down to two -- Reneau University or Waverley University. 


The statement comes following a June 11 meeting of an MUW Leadership Committee -- composed of leaders of the MUW Staff Council, the MUW Faculty Senate, the MUW Foundation, the Student Government Association and the MUW Alumni Association. As a result of the recommendations and analysis by the Leadership Committee and previously by the MUW Naming Committee, MUW President Claudia Limbert will choose between the two potential names, the school stated. 


"These are the two names that have emerged from this process. The university identified the criteria a new name should have and these two names meet those objectives. They also had the most support in the surveys," Limbert said. 


"The process has been inclusive and transparent. I respect the process and appreciate the dedication and hard work by all of the individuals who participated. Our new name will be one of the two names that emerged from the process." 


The university also issued a joint statement from MUW and the family of Eudora Welty, announcing the Southern writer''s name wouldn''t be considered after the family "declined to agree to the use of her name by MUW." Other names surveyed for consideration included Welty-Reneau and Welty. 


"During the name-change process established by Mississippi University for Women, the university''s Naming Committee proposed that three names be tested, including Welty-Reneau. The testing indicated some support for Welty as a stand alone name for the university. The Naming Committee suggested additional research be conducted. During this process, MUW contacted Welty''s family about the possible use of her name," the statement begins. 


The statement goes on to say, "The Welty family appreciates Eudora Welty''s fondness for The W through stories of her college years and her generous financial support of the university. The family is honored that MUW considered renaming itself for her. The family concluded, however, that Welty''s primary desire was to maintain her home and garden as a tribute to her mother and father and to conserve her collections of manuscripts and photographs. She expressed her intentions by donating these properties to the state and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Therefore, the Welty family, after careful consideration, declined to agree to the use of her name by MUW. As a result, by mutual agreement, Welty will not be considered as a potential name for the university." 


The MUW administrative building and a campus street are named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and annual events bearing her name held at MUW include the Eudora Welty Writers'' Symposium, which recognizes the work of southern writers and scholars, and The Welty Gala that attracts prominent leaders in government, journalism and politics to MUW and has supported the Eudora Welty Chair in English. 


Limbert said she''ll recommend a new name to the state Board of Institutions of Higher Learning for its approval and subsequent submission to the state Legislature by January. A new university name must be enacted into state law to be official. 


Some MUW alumni said they''ll lobby the IHL board and Legislature to reject the new name. 


"I am not in favor of a name change and I would encourage the IHL (board) and Legislature to consider both the cost of such an undertaking and the fact that no statistically reliable and valid research exists which indicates that a name change is likely to have a positive impact on enrollment," said Cheryl Cooper, a 1982 MUW graduate. 


Mack Spencer, a 1997 graduate, said Reneau might have some validity because of the namesake''s -- Sally Reneau, an early advocate and supporter of the institution -- role in creating the university. But "I have yet to see compelling reasoning for the change," he said. "Waverley''s only connection is the W at the front of the word, which is ridiculous reasoning for naming a university." 


Spencer is a board member of the university alumni association that lost its MUW franchise in 2007, when Limbert severed ties with it over various disagreements that soured relations between her and alums. 


The IHL board is backing Limbert''s efforts to change MUW''s name. She plans to pick a name for the board to approve in time for the state Legislature to consider during its 2010 session, which begins in January. 


The 12-member IHL board normally meets once a month, but it''s been planning not to have a July meeting. However, with the state budget still hung up in the Legislature, the board might meet next month to review state universities'' financial status. 


Whatever name is selected, it will be the fourth name for the historic university. MUW was founded as the Industrial Institute and College in 1884 and was the first state-supported college for women. In 1920, II&C became Mississippi State College for Women. And in 1974, MUW adopted its current name. It began admitting men in 1982. 




This story contains reporting from Dispatch Capitol Bureau reporter John Mott Coffey.