By Angie Smith
AUSTIN -- Southwest Texas State University alumnus Bryan McClung walks the Capitol’s hallways with a thick, black folder of meticulously organized information, seeking allies wherever he can find them.
With what some might call the fervor of a Bible-thumping preacher, McClung is on a mission to persuade lawmakers not to change the name of his alma mater.
“If this thing goes through, I’m going to view it as a very dear and loved relative that was killed,” he said.
Senate Bill 928 by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and House Bill 1961 by Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, would change the school’s name to Texas State University at San Marcos.
The Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education heard three hours of testimony on Wentworth’s bill in late March. The House Committee on Higher Education heard testimony on April 9. Both bills were left pending.
Proponents of the name change say it would bring greater recognition to the school, which is commonly associated with small regional universities.
But McClung, a paralegal who lives in San Marcos and works in Austin, says they haven’t made a strong-enough case for the change. He says he has put a lot of time and money into the fight and has joined forces with other alumni who oppose the change.
Recently, he prepared large, black notebooks full of information, including articles and poll results, and distributed them to members of the House and Senate committees.
“The sad thing is, the money that I have put into fighting this change could probably have funded half a semester for one student,” McClung said.
The issue was brought to Wentworth by the Associated Student Government at SWT, which supports the name change in hopes of attracting greater national recognition as a large research university.
“We're tired of the debate, and so the students are pushing this forward,” said Robert Doerr, the student government president.
He says he has received more than 950 letters in support of the change.
New signs and other steps associated with a name change would cost an estimated $350,000, but Doerr said alumni have pledged $1.4 million.
But not all students and alumni want to change the name of their school, McClung said. One SWT student started a petition and has collected the signatures of more than 3,600 students and alumni.
McClung said there has never been a formal student or alumni vote on the issue. The university’s president and the Texas State University System Board of Regents, SWT’s governing board, also has put off a recommendation until 2005.
McClung said he believes many people haven’t been given an opportunity to speak out.
Wentworth has no qualms about taking on the issue before the regents vote on it.
“They are not a legislative body,” he said. “They do not have the power to change the name.”
Some alumni vow that their financial support of the university will end if the name is changed.
Evelyn Hughes, whose late husband, Sidney C. Hughes, was a 1939 graduate and distinguished alumnus, said she and her husband have been longtime contributors. Within the past two years, she gave $25,000 to the Athletic Department.
“If they change the name, my contributions would cease,” Hughes said.
Helena Banks, president of the Student Government Association at Sam Houston State University, which is in the same university system, said many people at her school believe that changing SWT’s name would unfairly make the campus appear to be the central school of the system.
So far, no other school in the Texas State University System is seeking a name change.
Wentworth said he wants to give SWT a name that more accurately represents the school, a large university with doctoral and graduate programs and more than 23,500 students from 70 countries.
“The name today does not do that,” he said.
McClung disagrees and says he will continue the fight as long as it takes.
“At the end of the day, if we lose, I can look back and say there was not one thing I did not do, there was not one stone that I did not leave unturned,” he said. “We can all say that we gave it our best shot, and good luck to Texas State University at San Marcos.”