Renaming Mississippi University for Women ought to achieve two central goals: dramatically raise its name identity and enhance its marketability (and its survival) to a broader pool of potential students.
Welty University is the name to choose.
A marketing study presented this week to W alumni and supporters on the Columbus campus cited the Welty identity – for famed novelist, Mississippian and one-time W student Eudora Welty – as a spontaneous choice offered by many of the people polled, even though it was not among the choices offered.
Welty, who died in 2001, stands in the diadem of great American writers, and her literary stature is worldwide and enduring.
The recommended name, Waverley University, is rooted in the work of Sir Walter Scott, but it is frankly obscure – the opposite of what the W needs in changing its image and raising its profile.
There’s danger that the Waverley name would easily, mistakenly be linked to the nearby, historic Waverly Mansion, or to Old Waverly Golf Club, the championship course just outside nearby West Point.
Welty University would reflect the life, work and literary magnetism of a great Mississippian, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature ( “The Optimist’s Daughter”) and a prolific creator of short stories, other novels, memorable characters and plots deeply rooted in the culture of our state and region. It would also reflect a historic strength of the university, liberal arts and the humanities.
Welty did not graduate from the W. She transferred to the University of Wisconsin, and then she attended Columbia University, but her imprimatur is distinctively Mississippian.
She lived most of her adult life in the Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson – in the house where she grew up. She was deeply committed to promoting the intellectual life, the arts, and the literature of our state.
MUW was founded as a bellwether of higher education in the United States: the first state-supported college for women in the country.
In 1982, it admitted men, in part compelled by court rulings holding single-gender, tax-supported schools in violation of civil rights laws.
Its enrollment peaked in 1983 at about 3,300, and its male enrollment remains less than 20 percent.
The W’s heritage is an adaptation to changing times:
n First, as the demand for higher education for women developed.
n Now, as a coeducational institution with opportunity to thrive as an easily recognized, marketable liberal arts university.
Other notable institutions have successfully changed their names, among them Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi, Rhodes College and Delta State.
Welty University could become one of the notable success stories in higher education in the 21st century.