Waverley top pick for MUW's new name, study finds

COLUMBUS – Waverley University is the top choice in a marketing study for Mississippi University for Women’s new name, but marketing experts say many people would have preferred Welty University to honor former alumna Eudora Welty.

Reporting to an MUW Naming Committee on Tuesday, representatives of the Cirlot Agency from Jackson said Welty University kept coming up as 2,034 people were surveyed, including alums and high-schoolers generally statewide, about what to call the Columbus four-year institution.

“Can we take Waverley University and market it? Absolutely,” Barbara Coates, a Cirlot representative, told the Naming Committee on Tuesday.

“But is it the smartest thing to do?”

Last fall, despite objections from unhappy alums, MUW President Dr. Claudia Limbert said her school needed a new name to reflect its new mission and future for all genders.

MUW was established as the nation’s first public university for women, but it’s admitted men since 1982.

She appointed some three dozen faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members to a Naming Committee. It gathered more than 1,000 suggested names and whittled the nominations down to three in January.

– Waverley University – Waverley came from a Sir Walter Scott book about change.

– Reneau University – Sally Reneau of Grenada was a 19th century advocate for a state university for women.

– Welty-Reneau University – The Welty part came from Eudora Welty, who attended MUW when it was known as Mississippi College for Women.

“Their research was to inform the process, and they did,” said Dr. Sue Jolly-Smith, who chaired the Naming Committee.

To calls for more marketing research on the name Welty, she noted, “I am not uncomfortable hearing more research is needed. This is part of the process.”

Next, Limbert and a leadership group will consider the choices and the research for a name that will sell leadership development to prospective students and faculty, a priority developed in the school’s strategic plan.

“If we’re looking at selling this university quickly,” said committee member Steve Rogers, “Welty speeds that process up.”

Cirlot’s leader Liza Looser, an MUW alum, told the gathering that while Waverley polled strongly among many of those surveyed, “We believe Welty puts you at third base from the start.”

Coates said numerous participants asked why they weren’t given Welty as a choice.

In retrospect, some committee members voiced strong opposition to taking on Welty’s name because, they said, the Pulitzer prize-winning author reportedly rejected their school and transferred to another after only two years on campus.

They compromised by accepting Welty-Reneau University, but many survey participants said they didn’t like the hyphenated name.

Committee member Dr. James Ward also voiced objection to the Reneau name because she and her family were slave owners and supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.

His letter to that effect was read during Tuesday’s meeting, which he did not attend.

Ultimately, the change must be approved by the Institutions of Higher Learning and then the Legislature.

The final priority, said member Michael Burger, is to find “whatever name can pass the Legislature without too much opposition.”

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfield/Daily Journal

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