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2 schools of thought on university’s name

The Dallas Morning News (06/22/2003)

By Terrence Stutz

AUSTIN — It’s all in the name, if you ask both sides in the hot debate over a moniker change for one of the state’s largest universities.

After several contentious hours of public hearings and months of lobbying in the Capitol by students, alumni and faculty, the Legislature recently approved a new name for Southwest Texas State University. As of this fall, the 25,000-student institution will be called Texas State University-San Marcos.

For Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a Texas Aggie whose Senate district includes the school, the new name just has a better ring to it.

“ This is a name that will help the university be taken more seriously as the top-flight academic institution it is,“ said the San Antonio Republican, who sponsored the bill renaming the school.

“ The current name implies a regionalism that is detrimental in attracting research grants, faculty, students and student athletes, particularly those from out of state.”

Mr. Wentworth said efforts to change the name have been under way for several years and noted that his office received hundreds of e-mails, letters, phone calls and faxes from students, faculty and alumni supporting the change.

Acknowledging strong opposition to the idea, the senator said, “It is human nature to resist change.”

But for Brennen Knight, a Southwest Texas State University graduate who lives in Seguin, the reasons for the name change make no sense.

“ Changing the name is not going to make better teachers, better students and will not make us any smarter,” he said. “A name does not create prestige nor does it win football games.”

Mr. Knight said the forces behind the proposal are “a small minority of disgruntled and upset people.”

He also warned that the new moniker will slash alumni donations to the university and, no matter what supporters say, cost the taxpayers money.

Responding to the latter complaint, the student leader of SWT pointed out that $1.4 million in private donations has been raised to offset costs associated with the new name.

“ The name change will further establish the university on a national stage at no cost to the students or the taxpayers of Texas,” said Robert Doerr, president of the associated student government at the university. He noted that the student government has voted four years in a row to rename the school.

Mr. Doerr said he was initially against the proposal until supporters of the idea opened his eyes to the inherent problems with the current name.

“ All you have to do is ask someone from out of state about the university,” he said. “Usually they think of a small, inconsequential regional school in the middle of nowhere.”

Besides that, he added, the university already has had several names in its century of existence.

The institution began in 1903 as Southwest Texas Normal School. In 1918, it became Southwest Texas State Normal College, and five years later it was Southwest Texas State Teachers College. It became Southwest Texas State College in 1959, and a decade later dropped “college” and added “university” to its name.

Mr. Wentworth said adding to the school’s identity problems is that 11 colleges in Texas now have “southwest” in their names. Besides that, he pointed out, the university “is not even located in southwest Texas.”

Liz Rosenblath Brunner, a 1982 graduate of the school from New Braunfels and past president of the alumni association, accused backers of the new name of engaging in “twisting of the facts and outright falsehoods” to gain legislative support.

“ Those against this change far outnumber those in favor of it,” she insisted. “There is no valid reason to think a name change will benefit our great university. This would be a step backwards.”

At one of the first hearings on Mr. Wentworth’s bill, some of the most vocal opponents were from other universities that already use the abbreviation “TSU.”

Nearly 40 students from Texas Southern University showed up to object to the legislation. There was also criticism from students at Tarleton State University, and other colleges in the Texas State University System – which includes SWT – who complained that the new name would automatically make SWT the flagship school of the system.

Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill into law Thursday. The only higher-education institution in the state to have graduated a future president of the United States will be called Texas State University. Of course, when Lyndon B. Johnson attended the school, it was called Southwest Texas State Teachers College.

But what’s in a name?