The gulf between town and tower

November 23, 2009 11:52:00 AM



While it was disappointing to see less than a dozen townspeople at a Sunday meeting of Friends of The W, it wasn''t altogether surprising. Most of the seats in the Nissan Auditorium were taken, but they were taken by the school''s students, faculty and alumni. 


Gov. Haley Barbour''s suggestion of merging Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University has done for MUW what no one else has been able to do in recent years: It has brought together campus, administration and alumni. Sunday''s meeting, largely orchestrated by W alumni, was an informational and strategy session intended to combat the merger movement.  


Conspicuously absent from the public conversation, however, have been area elected officials, civic and business leaders and private citizens. Fierce infighting at The W these past three years has contributed to local ambivalence about the fate of the school.  


MUW President Claudia Limbert has been unable to heal the rift between her administration and its alumni. And those same alumni, for their part, have vehemently opposed Limbert and her name change initiative, a move considered by many as essential for the school''s survival.  


As Limbert eloquently put it Sunday, "Our name needs to reflect who we are today, not who we were yesterday." 


MUW''s more than $20 million economic impact on the community is alone reason enough for local concern about the fate of the school. The lackadaisical attitude may be rooted in the idea that as part of MSU, the infighting would stop, enrollment would grow and the school would flourish as never before. 


We''re not so sure that''s the case. As a MSU satellite, The W might more resemble a hometown bank that has been swallowed multiple times by larger institutions, little more than a shell of its former self. At this point, it''s unclear exactly what would be gained by merger. 


Local ambivalence didn''t develop overnight. For years the town and tower have been drifting apart. With the closure of Demonstration School, the elimination of intercollegiate athletics and a reduction of programs that brought people to campus, there are fewer opportunities to build binding ties. 


Few downtown businesses display, "Welcome MUW" signs as they once did, and graduation at the school comes and goes with little community acknowledgment. 


All that needs to change. Columbus and The W must find a way to rekindle that old romance. The university has been an essential contributor to the cultural, intellectual and economic life of this community for 125 years; without The W, Columbus would be a poorer place in many ways. Both the town and tower need to put aside memories of the recent unpleasantness and renew their efforts to reforge broken bonds. 


This editorial was changed on 11/24/09.