COLUMBUS – Reneau University won’t be Mississippi University for Women’s new name until it’s approved by the state College Board and the Legislature.
But the change got a big boost Monday when a year-long process yielded the name as MUW President Claudia Limbert’s choice for the liberal-arts school’s future.
“This is an exciting moment,” she told the campus audience of faculty, staff and dignitaries. “I see it as the foundational moment for renewal and growth.”
Last fall at a similar convocation, Limbert announced that she wanted a new name for the 125-year-old institution to better reflect its diverse student body and modern mission.
She handpicked a campus, alumni and community committee, which sorted through some 1,000 suggestions to yield finalist names of Reneau and Waverley.
Sallie Reneau was a 19th century Mississippi advocate for women’s higher education, and Waverley came from a novel by Walter Scott. Waverley also is the name of a former plantation developed into a golf course between Columbus and West Point.
“We must remember, our university is not an island,” Limbert told the crowd. “It is of and for the entire state.”
She also gave details about Reneau’s life and contributions to the advancement of higher education and charity.
Quoting former President Ronald Reagan, Limbert told them, “We are too great to limit ourselves to small dreams.”
Her announcement closes the campus phase of the process. For Reneau to replace MUW, approval must come from the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning and then from the Mississippi Legislature.
Some W alumnae are strong critics of changing the name of the school, which began admitting men in 1982 after a court case ended its single-gender status.
Eighty-five-year-old Peggy Campbell of Pontotoc, who attended in 1942-43 when it was Mississippi State College for Women, echoed many of their sentiments about Limbert’s decision.
“I feel like she is selecting a name and it may be something we like or don’t like,” Campbell said Monday. “But she’ll move on her merry way, and we’ll be stuck with something forever.”
She said she’ll speak with her legislators about voting against the change, if she gets sufficiently unhappy about the situation.
Corinth’s Kim Jobe, though, said Monday she really doesn’t care what they called her alma mater, “I’m still going to call it The W,” the 1985 graduate said.
But the change got quick support from some well-placed officials Monday.
“I’m going to vote for the name change,” said state Sen. Terry Brown of Columbus.
He predicted debate from some legislative colleagues, “but I believe it will go through.”
Numerous faculty and staff not involved with the naming process ducked public comment, but one female professor said she liked the new name and was “inspired” by Limbert’s address.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith pledged the city’s “full and unconditional support” for the name change.
IHL Board Chairman Scott Ross, mayor of nearby West Point, said he personally supports the change, although he was not speaking for the other trustees.
He recalled his experience as a legislator in 1986 when he and others pushed back efforts to close MUW.
And he linked the new name and changes he expects it to usher in with ensuring the Golden Triangle university remains vibrant.
“This decision is not just optional, it’s a matter of survival,” Ross said, reminding listeners that IHL trustees are unanimous for The W’s name change.
But he couldn’t predict when the board will take up the issue.
New IHL chief Dr. Hank Bounds and Blake Wilson, CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, added their support.
Bounds said the name “is a real issue to students.”
“Changing the name can have a real impact on access and retention,” he predicted.
And he praised Limbert for her courage to spearhead change.
MEC’s Wilson compared the controversy to Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues, whose feuding brought tragedy for their children, Romeo and Juliet.
“We must come together and find a way to move this great institution to the next level,” Wilson noted, “by finding a name we can rally around.”
MEC’s board recently endorsed the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK’s work with MUW to promote a new name.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com.
* Established 1884 as the country’s first public college for women.
* Began to admit men in 1982
* 2008 enrollment – 2,500
WHO IS RENEAU?
Sallie Eola Reneau grew up with relatives in North Mississippi because her father was away much of the time earning a living. At 18, she petitioned Gov. John McRae to convince the Legislature to establish a public university for women. She did so three times, won approval but never funding. She also established a Panola County nurses corps to help wounded soldiers during the Civil War, in which her family showed divided loyalties.
She died at age 41 near Memphis, where she had gone to help nurse victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic.
REACTION TO NAME PROPOSAL
* Adrean Hall, 18, freshman from Lena – It’s OK. It’s still going to be known as The W.
* Sean Conner, 17, senior at Miss. School for Math amp& Science from Philadelphia – Reneau seems a little more appropriate, more fair. Maybe it will encourage more males to apply.
* Suprina Dodd, 20, junior from Kosciusko – Reneau? It won’t be The W anymore, but it will be a lot easier to say than Mississippi University for Women. I could get use to it.
* Brandon Hudson, 23, senior from Oxford – I preferred Waverley, that way they could save some money and just keep it The W.
* Allegra Brigham, W Class of ’69, CEO 4-County EPA – A name change is difficult for some to accept. If I could, I wouldn’t change it, but the world has changed.
* Terry Brown of Columbus, state senator – I’m going to vote for the name change.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal