Limbert: Committee to recommend new name for MUW

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mississippi University for Women President Claudia Limbert has formed a committee to recommend a new name for MUW that reflects the campus’ coed population.

Limbert made the announcement in a speech to faculty and staff on Monday in Columbus, saying the change is needed for the university to continue to grow, compete and remain relevant.

“Our name no longer represents who we are,” Limbert said in her speech. “It is not right for the men on our campus to leave here with a diploma that they are embarrassed to display on a wall because of the name, Mississippi University for Women, even though they are proud of their education.”

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A court battle led to the first male enrollment in 1982. Today, 15 percent of the school’s 2,400 students are male.

Discussions about whether the university should bear a name that’s more inviting to men has gone on for years. The proposal apparently was one of several factors in MUW’s split with its longtime alumnae association.

On Monday, Limbert said she’s hopeful the rift can be repaired, but she also said a representative of the alumnae association told her that “there would be no unification if MUW moved forward with its name change.”

Betty Lou Jones, who was president of the MUW Alumnae Association when it was disaffiliated with the university in 2007, said talks between the university and the association are ongoing.

“I think the issue of the name change is premature at this point,” Jones said. “The major issue is the unification of the group.”

Limbert said it could be months before the university is renamed.

“That would be quite a process. We would need to have a committee to look at names. We would give it to the state College Board” before it could move on to the state Legislature for approval, she said.

Earlier this month, the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, an economic development organization that brought truck engine manufacturer PACCAR, Inc. and Eurocopter to the area, adopted a resolution supporting the change.

There were 298 women’s colleges in the country in 1960. By 2003, that number was down to 65, the resolution said.

“The name ‘Mississippi University for Women’ creates the perception that MUW is an all women’s college and makes it difficult for the recruitment of men and certain women,” the resolution said.

The university in northeast Mississippi dates back to 1847, when it was founded as a private boarding school called the Columbus Female Institute. In 1884, the school’s board of trustees donated property to the “Mississippi Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls of the State of Mississippi in the Arts and Sciences,” according to the resolution.

The school’s name was last changed in 1974.

Members of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link said the university’s identity is critical to its economic viability.

“It not only has an economic impact for the region, it has a cultural impact and adds to quality of life for the things we do here,” said Bart Wise, the organization’s chairman. “As far as a recruiting tool for industry, it is a major plus to have a university located in your town.”

In 2003, after a consultant had proposed a name change as part of a broader marketing campaign for the college, Limbert decided against it after talking with faculty, students, staff, alumni and others.