Alisa Holen: ‘Limiting ourselves to small dreams’

February 18, 2010 9:29:00 AM



I write this with a heavy heart. My normal, optimistic demeanor has been sidetracked by the recent announcement by the Mississippi State Legislature to effectively kill the name change for our University. I am truly hopeful that the Mississippi University for Women will be able to survive as a standalone institution, but I am also realistic... and I know that our name is a tremendous hindrance on our ability to recruit students. The statistics are remarkable.  


(The following is from a letter sent out by Mary Margaret Roberts 1/5/2010) 


"The number of students nationwide with ACT scores between 20-24 who would be interested in attending an institution of 1,000-5,000 students serving primarily females was only six." .... SIX!!!  


As much as I would like to let the whole issue go and pretend it never happened, I am so disappointed that I''m quite literally losing sleep over it. Consequently I had to comment. 


Back in August, Dr. Limbert gave an inspiring Convocation speech about the future of MUW and about the decision to go forward with Reneau University as the proposed name change. The information included that in order to move forward in our recruitment efforts, our University requires a name change.... we are, after all, no longer a women''s university. She ended her speech with this poignant quote from Ronald Reagan: 


"It is time for us to realize that we are too great ... to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." 


So ... six months later ... And we''ve done nothing. Bravo. 


I am a relatively new member to the faculty here at MUW. In the short time that I have been here, I have come to love it. The faculty members in my department are talented, driven and 100 percent committed to the success of their students. The administration has been supportive in the growth of our department, and our recruitment efforts. The students continue to raise the bar on excellence in their work. 


I honestly couldn''t be happier with my decision to come to this university. 


Now, however, my feelings are changing. I am so disappointed about the decision to retain our dated, exclusionary, old fashioned and inaccurate name that it makes me take pause about MY decision to be here. 


We pride ourselves as a "leadership" university... but we can''t even take the lead on moving ourselves into the 21st century with an appropriate name. It''s quite honestly embarrassing. 


I will be speaking at a national conference in April. I am uncomfortable introducing myself to a national audience as an "Assistant Professor from the Mississippi University for Women." It feels like false advertising. In fact, it IS false advertising. Do I follow up with ... "and we''re not actually a women''s university, we''ve been accepting men since 1982."? I can hear the thoughts already: "And they haven''t changed the name?"  


I know I am not taking a popular stand with The W alumnae and the friends of the W. I completely respect the pride that W alums take in their university and in their respective educations. I understand the sentimental attachment to the name, but on the national stage, it simply sounds ridiculous, dated, and exclusionary.  


The name requires explanation at every turn. Instead of explaining that we are a four-year state university that excels in the liberal arts, nursing, education and culinary arts, we are instead explaining that we are NOT exclusively for women, despite our misleading name.  


I would much rather explain who we ARE instead of who we AREN''T. 


I would like to be able to take the stage and introduce myself as "An Assistant Professor from Reneau University in Columbus, Mississippi." What does that bring to mind? I hear echo''s of Carleton College, Denison University, Creighton College, Amherst, Grinnell, Colgate, Davidson and Wellesley ... the list goes on. 


These are all prestigious and respected institutions. We have done ourselves a great disservice in not coming together to support this vital evolution in our future. This is devastating. 


At the same time, the fall-out from this year of budgetary uncertainty, rumors of merger, and speculation about our name has left the faculty and staff feeling vulnerable about their futures with this university. How can it not? The information has been sketchy ... there has been so much rumor and speculation. How do people react to this? 


Well, let''s look at the facts. We lost our President, Dr. Limbert, who ceaselessly supported measures to move our university forward, despite constant opposition. We lost our provost Sandra Jordan, a tremendously creative problem solver. We lost our Vice President of Student Services, Dr. Wesley and his remarkably optimistic, but realistic attitude and outstanding communication skills. We lost our Director of Campus Recreation, Amy Swingle who prioritized students above all and truly cultivated leaders. Beyond this, I know of a number of new and tenured faculty members who are actively pursuing alternative positions because of all the uncertainty surrounding our institution. 


As I was getting ready for bed last night, I was reading a novel called the "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel. It''s a good read, but I got to this passage, and put the book down, lost in contemplation and disappointment. Because of governmental unrest in India, the family in the novel is considering a move, and Pi is trying to understand why: 


"People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others. Because of the impression that the future is blocked up ... Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible only somewhere else." 


Knowing how many months Dr. Limbert and the naming committee worked on the task of finding a new name, I felt a direct connection between this quote and MUW. A name change would have been the signal that we were moving forward, that change was in the air, that we were united in our mission to save this university as an independent institution, that we were looking to a future with bright possibilities. 


I hold our State Legislators responsible, as they have now, most certainly "ensured the fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." 


Respectful, and cautiously hopeful,