January 23, 2010 10:49:00 PM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
When it comes to Mississippi University for Women and this legislative session, no news is good news. And according to two local legislators, that might well be the case.
Funding cuts have long been expected, and the school is braced for that shock. But on the less certain issues of name change and Gov. Haley Barbour''s proposal to merge The W with Mississippi State University, Reps. Jeff Smith and Ester Harrison think nothing will happen this session.
Smith, who has filed a bill that would allow the IHL Board to make the name change, spoke in a phone interview Saturday morning about last week''s meeting between the local delegation and Kelvin Buck, D.-Holly Springs, who chairs the House Universities and Colleges Committee.
The only consensus the group could reach, said Smith, was that name change shouldn''t be tackled at this point.
Smith said he''s gotten phone calls asking him to do nothing regarding name change until outgoing President Claudia Limbert is gone. Limbert has announced plans to retire on June 30.
Name change may be an easier sell with Limbert gone, but whenever it comes -- assuming it ever does -- it will need a strong advocate.
Reneau University, the name that emerged after exhaustive studies, committee meetings and private conversations, has not been an easy sell.
"I do not know anyone in the delegation that does (like Reneau)," Smith said.
Smith argues that naming the school for Reneau, a woman, wouldn''t solve the problem of a gender-specific name.
I don''t get Smith''s argument. Take Millsaps, Harvard, Vassar, Washington and Lee. Does the sex of the namesakes of those schools in anyway suggest a gender bias?
I think people don''t like Reneau because it''s too frilly or too French or doesn''t start with W.
Poor Sallie Reneau. All she did was raise a little hell with the Legislature way back when to get them to create a college for women. And some would say W women, when the circumstances called for it, have been raising hell in the Legislature ever since.
Smith likes University for East Mississippi.
Rep. Ester Harrison likes Welty better than Reneau and Golden Triangle better than either. The truth be told, Rep. Harrison would be fine with keeping it The W.
On the larger issue of merger with Miss State, Harrison doesn''t think it will happen this session. She says, with the possible exception of Sen. Terry Brown, the local delegation is opposed to the move. Harrison says Brown might not want to go against his friend the Governor.
Late last year Brown told me he wants to do what''s best for The W. "Whatever keeps those doors open," he said.
On the subject of merger Smith said, "No merger is going to make it out of his (Kelvin Buck''s) committee."
Smith also said Doug Davis, Buck''s counterpart in the Senate, told two members of the local delegation that he was not going to do anything in the Senate if the House committee doesn''t do anything.
As for beginning a search for Limbert''s replacement, Smith said not to expect any movement until the session is over.
"I think they will have a search," he said.
Who would take on such a daunting and uncertain challenge, an alum?
"You hear the names of alums who would love to have it," Smith said. "I think the IHL Board wants to do a nationwide search."
If it were to be an alumnus of the school, it would have to be one who has "gone on and done well out in the world," Smith said.
A proposed merger of the Mississippi School for the Arts and the Mississippi School for Mathematic and Science could happen this session, said Harrison.
"It''s a hot topic too close to call. It might happen because the Governor wants it and the Department of Education wants it. And, of course, we''re pushing it," said Harrison.
Brookhaven isn''t going to give up the arts school without a fight. Two Brookhaven legislators have filed bills that would move MSMS to Brookhaven.
"They are doing a lot of lobbying," said Harrison.
So what can one hope for The W? That it will survive without being merged with Mississippi State. That the IHL will initiate a search and find a president with vision, charisma and the skills to unite the university community. "A rock star," someone said recently. "Someone like the early Clyda Rent."
A new name, a dynamic leader and a clear, well-articulated vision and it''s a new day for our little jewel of a university.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.