College effort to change its name stirs division

Protesters, supporters start petitions at WMC

January 20, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Concerned about Western Maryland College's recent announcement that the Westminster school wants to change its name, more than 800 current and former students, parents and friends of the private liberal arts college have signed an Internet petition to protest the proposed change.

A college spokesman said last week that the petition won't influence Western Maryland's decision to change its name to one more reflective of its location and history. "We think it's the right decision," said Donald W. Schumaker Jr., a college spokesman.

Cindi Bair Pearson, a 1993 graduate of the school, doesn't agree. Pearson, who lives in Owings and started the petition last week, says on the petition that "to change the name is to cheapen the efforts alumni have put forth in attaining our degrees from the institution."

Pearson, 30, vowed to return her diploma to the school if the name is changed.

Others who have signed the petition have commented on it that the school's decision will "alter all that WMC stands for" and "erase" the school's history. Some of the signers say they will no longer support the school financially if it changes its name.

"The name change, that would totally destroy everything," said Ronald B. Bair of Westminster, a retired federal employee who is Pearson's father. He has vowed not to contribute to Western Maryland if the college changes its name.

College administration said the 135-year-old college's name is misleading because it erroneously conveys that the school is in Western Maryland and is a part of the state university system. Western Maryland's 56-member board of trustees unanimously approved changing the name of the school at its fall meeting. The decision, announced last week by President Joan Develin Coley, has been under consideration by the board for 30 years.

Western Maryland has hired an Illinois-based marketing firm for almost $200,000 to help with the six-month search for a new name.

"The board has made the decision it thinks is the best possible decision for the future of the college," Schumaker said.

He added that the school's administration was expecting an emotional response to the decision, especially from current and former students.

"There are going to be emotional arguments," he said. "Nothing anyone says is going to ease that pain."

The petition is not the only one in circulation concerning the name change. Jeremy P. Keil, a member of the Class of 2002 who lives in Glen Burnie, started a second petition online in support of the name change.

"I think if we want to be a top-notch private liberal arts college, we should have a name that reflects that," said Keil, 21.

As of Friday afternoon, Keil's petition had 70 names on it. About half were legitimate, he said.

To sign the petition opposing WMC's changing its name: www.PetitionOnline.com/WMC/petition.html. For the petition in support of the WMC name change: www.PetitionOnline.com/WMC2/petition.html

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