October 21, 2009 10:11:00 AM
As each day passes, the discussion surrounding the renaming of Mississippi University for Women more resembles the Abbott and Costello comedy skit, "Who''s on First?"
Who is on first and who is in charge? Seems everyone has their own idea of what the school should be renamed (or not), yet no consensus has developed for any of the names offered. This despite the spending of thousands of dollars for marketing research and the tireless efforts of various naming committees, a process that yielded Reneau University.
Poor Sallie Reneau. The 19th century women''s advocate whose Herculean efforts led to the establishment of the school, won out over the Waverleys, the Weltys and all the geographic names that would either confuse the school with existing state universities or make it sound like a community college. Reneau University is distinctive, relevant and imparts a cachet any school would envy. By the time the name, Reneau, was announced, however, support of the school''s administration had begun to waver for fear lawmakers would not like it.
As it turns out, those fears were well founded. Despite all that went into coming up with Reneau, the name lacks a champion. Rep. Jeff Smith is said to detest the name. Sen. Terry Brown favors a geographic moniker, something like University of Northeast Mississippi. Rep. Gary Chism is against change altogether.
Some argue that since Reneau was a woman, naming it after her does not solve the gender-specific issue. Horse feathers.
With the exception of a handful of outspoken alumnae whose influence is disproportionate to their number, almost anyone who is paying attention will tell you the school desperately needs a gender-neutral name. IHL Board President Scott Ross isn''t the only one saying the school''s survival hinges on that change.
The Lowndes Board of Supervisors, the Columbus City Council, the Columbus-Lowndes County Development Link board and the Mississippi Economic Council all have expressed support for the name change.
The work that now needs to be done is in the Legislature. Brown and others have suggested handing off the decision to the IHL board. That is as it should be. Choosing of a name for the school is not the business of the Legislature. Letting the IHL make the call would give cover to those legislators who fear those angry alums who cling to the old ways.
The squabbling and vacillating need to stop. We agree with Scott Ross. This is a matter of survival for MUW. That the school needs a new gender-neutral name is a given. Through an exacting and deliberative process, a name has been chosen. Now, instead of passing the buck and predicting failure, we expect our legislators to lead -- to authorize the IHL board to make the call shortly after the 2010 Legislature convenes.