MFAeA Free Speech Zone - Issue 2, October 2009

In this issue, please enjoy Mack Spencer’s editorial regarding the proposed name change for Mississippi University for Women.

The Scarlet W

The farce of a renaming process that is Limbert’s Folly at Mississippi University for Women is winding and weaving and stumbling its way toward a finale. University … figurehead - the best term I can come up with, and that’s really too grandiose for what she actually is and does - Claudia Limbert says she’s going to announce her choice for a new name for the university on Aug. 10.

She’s picking between Reneau, as in Sallie, one of the school’s founding forces; and Waverl(e)y, a Sir Walter Scott novel and a Clay County plantation. The “obvious” choice, Welty, is no longer under consideration. The great writer’s family declined to grant permission to use the name. Can’t say I blame them, given the way this idiocy has played out.

After all, Limbert broached name change not long after she arrived, caused an uproar, went on a listening tour and then declared, why, yes, we can be successful with our current name. Then she did her best to turn the place into the impersonal commuter school she had come from, because what the W had always been was outside her comfort zone. She and her underlings did nothing to market the school effectively, either as it was or as they have tried to make it. She apparently thought disaffiliating the original alumnae association and installing her own would be confusing or disheartening enough to finally make her little plot work.

Little did she know.

So now, in this final push, she’s trying to convince people that she’s right, using the same tired canards she’s tried to palm off on everybody from the beginning:

•  The name is outdated, since men gained full access to attend in 1982.
•  Men don’t want “Women” on their diploma. It’s “embarrassing.”
•  Most students, male and female, don’t want to attend a women’s school, which the name suggests. Ergo, the name must change. She says this, notwithstanding the facts:
•  The W, at paramount, is a school with a women’s mission. That it admits men does not and should not affect that bedrock foundation.
•  Many men, myself included, have attended the W and proudly display the name on our diplomas. It has been a benefit and an entree, not an embarrassment. Those who would be embarrassed probably aren’t W material, anyway.
•  “Women's school” cited without context as a survey question surely can’t mean much. Descriptions of what the W actually is and what it actually offers should carry more weight, and we might know that it would if the marketing had been done properly. (When was the last time you saw a W advertisement, or heard of a W visit somewhere nearby?) Besides, as Limbert so insists on repeating, the W isn’t single-sex anymore. More people would know that if the university did any decent marketing. Texas Women’s University has good enrollment figures, including males, and no controversy over its name. Does Texas value education for women more than Mississippi does?
•  Despite its heritage as an all-women school, the W’s enrollment has recently hovered between 14 and 16 percent male, the campus’s historical minority. Compare this to the state’s historically black universities, which all have fewer than 10 percent of students who are white, despite a financial imperative under the Ayers discrimination suit decision to recruit white students. (Alcorn comes closest to the 10 percent threshold, about 8 percent, as of fall 2008.)
•  Women are now the majority of college students nationwide and in Mississippi; only Mississippi State University, probably due to its agricultural and engineering tilt, retains a slight male majority in the state college system. The gap is growing wider, with women’s majority in college enrollment increasing. And yet, Limbert and her minions want to base the school’s future on growth in a demographic falling nationwide.

Don’t get me wrong. Seeing more men in college would be a good thing. But basing growth plans on drawing the kind of student that increasingly doesn’t want to be a student is counterintuitive at best. The mixed messages and seeming general ineptitude of the reigning regime at the W doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that they could pull of that kind of marketing coup, anyway. (See complaint above.)

Limbert is right about one thing: The W does need saving. Unfortunately, what it needs to be saved from is her.

Mack Spencer is staff writer for The Monitor-Herald. He graduated from MUW in 1997 and serves on the Mississippi's First Alumnae Association board of directors.