August 10, 2009 10:22:00 AM
The saga to find a new name for Mississippi University for Women enters a new phase today. With this morning''s announcement by MUW President Claudia Limbert that the campus choice is Reneau University, the rough and tumble business of selling it to the IHL Board, Legislature and alumni begins.
Limbert hopes a new name -- the school''s fourth -- will be approved during the 2010 Legislative session. She has left wiggle room on the actual choice. Getting rid of the school''s gender specific name is the main thing, she says.
Until then, we expect what has been a long, costly and contentious battle will rage on. Chief opponents of the change are a vocal faction of disaffected alumni who think the only thing that needs changing is the occupant of the president''s office. The group launched a letter writing campaign last week and has been lobbying the Legislature to reject the change.
The two are separate and distinct issues. Regardless one''s opinion of Limbert''s leadership, a name change is in the best interests of the university. MUW is no longer a school for just women; that''s been the case since 1982. Studies have shown that many men just aren''t interested in a school that bills itself as a women''s university. We believe the welfare of The W, perhaps even its very existence, is dependent on a name change.
Regardless what critics of the selection process say, Reneau University is an inspired choice. Sallie Eola Reneau was everything one could hope for as a patron saint for a school with The W''s heritage. It was Ms. Reneau''s tireless lobbying of the Legislature that led to the creation in 1884 of Industrial Institute and College, the first state-supported school for women in the country.
Reneau has a distinctive sound. It suggests quality, refinement and tradition, attributes that define The W, attributes any university would envy. Suggested names that use a geographic reference -- University of Columbus, East Mississippi University, Mississippi University -- are either ambiguous (There are more than 30 communities in the U.S. named Columbus and the University of Mississippi is already taken.) or sound like a community college.
A new name will be a welcome change, but it is not going to be a cure for all that ails MUW. Far from it. The rift between Limbert and the disgruntled alumni is a debilitating condition. The school still lacks a clearly defined identity and mission.
That said, MUW, with its high academic standards, storybook campus and welcoming, student-focused emphasis, is a wonderful place for men and women to get an education.
A gender neutral name will make that point as nothing else can.