OPINION: MUW name change will run complex political gauntlet

Now that Mississippi University for Women President Claudia Limbert has formally announced her recommendation of changing the school’s name to Reneau University, the real battle to implement that change begins in earnest.
First, Limbert must win approval for the proposed name change from the state College Board. That effort will toss new Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds into the middle of a highly controversial decision early in his tenure as the leader of the state’s higher education system.
Clearly, changing the name of one of the state’s eight universities – one with a famously loyal and politically active group of alumni – is likely not how Bounds would have scripted his first year in the commissioner’s post.
Limbert’s fractious relationship with a vocal segment of MUW’s alumni base is one in which she enjoyed strong support from former Commissioner Tom Meredith. With Limbert perceived to be “all in” from an administrative standpoint over the name change, Limbert’s opponents among MUW alums will try with all their might to kill the name change and make it a referendum on Limbert’s leadership of the school.
The Mississippi Legislature must also approve of changing the name from MUW to Reneau University.
State Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando chairs the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee. Committee members include:
Vice chairman Sen. Sampson Jackson II, D-DeKalb; and Sens. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson; Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi; Alice Harden, D-Jackson; Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg; Billy Hudson, R-Hattiesburg; Gary Jackson, R-French Camp; Tom King, R-Petal; Nolan Mettetal, R-Sardis; Gray Tollison, D-Oxford; Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville; and J.P. Wilemon Jr., D-Belmont.
State Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, chairs the House Universities and Colleges Committee. Committee members include:
Vice chairman Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg; and Reps. Noal Akins, R-Oxford; Jim Beckett, R-Bruce; Donnie Bell, D-Fulton; Cecil Brown, D-Jackson; Kimberly Campbell Buck, D-Jackson; Clara Burnett, D-Tunica; Credell Calhoun, D-Jackson; Tad Campbell, R-Meridian; Alyce G. Clarke, D-Jackson; Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven; Mark DuVall, D-Mantachie; Jim Evans, D-Jackson; Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville; Jack Gadd, D-Hickory Flat; Esther Harrison, D-Columbus; Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst; Steven A. Horne, R-Meridian; Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc; Roger Ishee, R-Gulfport; Kevin McGee, R-Brandon; Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman; Margaret Rogers, D-New Albany; Ferr Smith, D-Carthage; and Gary V. Staples, R-Laurel.
In the Legislature, many influences will come to bear on the decision – perhaps the least of which will be how lawmakers feel about how the name Reneau University rolls off the tongue. It’s a no-win political game.
Lawmakers could politically wash their hands of the controversial decision and simply follow the lead of the College Board. That would allow lawmakers to stay as far away from the decision as possible – something many desperately want to do.
There will also be the question of whether Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant or other statewide political players engage on the question. Barbour’s an unlikely intervener, but Bryant is likely to be pressured from both supporters and opponents of the name change alike. Stay tuned.

Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

Sid Salter