By Jeremy Schwartz
Without support from administrators and in the face of protest from a vocal group of alumni, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed a bill Thursday that would change the name of Southwest Texas State University to Texas State University at San Marcos.
Flanked by dozens of sign-bearing students, Wentworth said the change would increase the value of diplomas at the growing university of more than 25,000.
“The students believe that for the university to progress to a top-tier institution of higher learning, it needs to move away from name-implied regionalism,” Wentworth said. “And I agree with them.”
Noticeably absent from the celebratory news conference announcing the bill was SWT President Denise Trauth, who was also at the Capitol Thursday, testifying about the school’s budget needs.
“Clearly Senator Wentworth has a right to do this — it’s the way government works in a democracy,” she said. “But I would have preferred to have more time to study this.”
Trauth, who was hired in June, wants to wait until the next legislative session in 2005 before making a decision, a position reaffirmed by the Texas State University System Board of Regents last week.
Without support from their administration or the regents, students decided to take the issue into their own hands and approached Wentworth about the new name earlier this year. After the student government voted unanimously in favor of the name change, Wentworth agreed to file the bill.
Student government President Robert Doerr said he has secured verbal pledges from alumni of $1.4 million to pay for the estimated $400,000 cost to change the name on various school signs.
“These kids have been in the school longer than she’s been president,” Wentworth said. “My best judgement is that in two years, she would have come to the same decision as her predecessor Jerome Supple.”
Supple was a strong advocate of the name change before retiring last year but has said in the past that he supports Trauth’s decision and thinks more time is needed to gather statewide support for a name change.
A number of SWT graduates have come out loudly against the change and complain that students are rushing forward with a decision that the SWT community hasn’t endorsed.
“What we’re concerned about is that our voice hasn’t really been heard,” alum Bryan McClung said. “There has not been a real vote on this. . . . My position is we have to dig in and fight this thing.”
And other schools in the Texas State University System have fiercely opposed the new name, saying it confers flagship status on SWT.
On Thursday, Wentworth floated the idea of the eight other schools changing their names as well. For example, Angelo State University could become Texas State University at San Angelo, much the way schools in the University of Texas or Texas A&M systems do. Wentworth said he has contacted representatives in those cities to tell them he would not oppose such amendments to his bill.
That idea caught the attention of John Hageman, chairman of the system’s board of regents.
“Historically, we’ve taken a back seat to other (systems) in the state because of our name identification,” Hageman said. “This would enhance it and give the system more visibility.”