February 2, 2010 9:36:00 AM
If the actions of the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee are any indication, the Legislature won''t pursue a name change for Mississippi University for Women this session. A bill that would give the Institute for Higher Learning authority to rename the school and would likely result in a new gender-neutral name died for lack of a motion late Monday afternoon.
It''s a shame. While one might argue this isn''t the most propitious moment to make such a move, with the state budget in the condition it is and the school without a strong leader to shepherd the transition, the move is long overdue and needs to happen sooner rather than later.
The school has been admitting men since 1982; its "for women" moniker harkens back to a time long past and is an albatross in a day when the university needs to build enrollment and studies show a diminished interest in women''s colleges.
The most damaging message Monday''s inaction sends, however, is that the fate of The W remains in the clutches of a small group of alumnae who cling to a vision of the school that is long past and irrelevant today. That is not a healthy situation for any university.
Under these conditions, one cannot be optimistic the school can attract the charismatic and independent leader it needs to guide it in these difficult times. That is assuming a new leader will be sought.
There is strong interest in merging the school with nearby Mississippi State University. With Monday''s inaction, those prospects got better. As one official remarked, "You either change the name or merge with State, but the status quo is not an option."
IHL President Scott Ross told the committee Monday: "If there is no name change, The W will be a very different place in two years."
About the alumnae group fighting name change, another official whispered, "They''re going to love it to death."
We''re disappointed. We''re disappointed in our Legislative delegation, who with the exception of Sen. Terry Brown, were nowhere to be seen Monday. Rep. Gary Chism showed up briefly to shake hands and pose for pictures, but neither Chism, Jeff Smith or Ester Harrison sat in on the committee proceedings.
A new name isn''t going to fix all that ails The W. No one has suggested it will. But a new, gender-neutral name will send a powerful message -- that this is a dynamic university, one rich in tradition, yet one with the ability and desire to embrace present-day realities.
Our beloved university needs to survive and flourish as a free-standing school. For that to happen, we need dynamic leadership, unified support, effective marketing and a pinch or two of good luck. A new name will enhance chances of those things happening.