College learning what's in a name

WMC holds meetings with alumni, parents to discuss new identity

March 04, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Western Maryland College has taken its mission to rename the school on the road.

Beginning last week, officials from the private Westminster liberal arts college started holding a series of nine information sessions throughout the region for alumni, parents and friends to talk about the school's decision to give the college a new name that better conveys its private status and location near Baltimore.

About 35 people attended the first meeting, which was held Wednesday night at the college-owned Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in Westminster. A second meeting was held Thursday in Frederick. Neither was open to the public.

President Joan Develin Coley, Provost Sam Case, the alumni association's president-elect, and a handful of representatives from the college's faculty and administration fielded questions about the college's reasons for changing its name and how the process will proceed, said Robin Brenton, director of alumni relations. "It seemed everyone had a chance to say what they felt. ... That's really the purpose of these sessions," she said.

Founded in 1867, WMC was named for the now-defunct Western Maryland Railroad. Coley has said that the school's name leads people to believe that the college is a state school in the western portion of Maryland, and hinders its ability to attract students and donors from beyond the Baltimore area.

The school's board of trustees unanimously agreed to change its name in October, but the college did not announce the decision until January. Since then, a committee of 32 administrators, faculty, students, alumni and staff has worked with LipmanHearne, a Chicago-based marketing and consulting firm, to create a new name for the school. Since January, students, alumni, and parents have submitted more than 300 names.

WMC officials say they hope to announce the college's new name in June.

Additional information sessions will be held in Towson, Bethesda, Annapolis, Easton, Ocean City, Northern Virginia and Harrisburg, Pa. The sites were chosen because of the number of WMC alumni who live in these areas.

The name change has met its share of resistance.

James Coleman of Reisterstown, the father of a WMC senior, said the meeting in Westminster was helpful, but did little to change his opinion: "I don't think they should change their name," he said after last week's meeting. "I think they should keep the name and make themselves more competitive in the marketplace."

Dr. Kenneth Shook of Westminster, a former dean of admissions at the college, said that WMC officials are wrong in wanting to give the school more national appeal and instead should focus on its regional presence.

But that's not an option. College officials have stated that their decision to change Western Maryland's name is final.

Linda Cunfer of New Windsor, a member of the Class of 1994, said that before she attended the meeting, she had no opinion about whether the school should change its name. After hearing what people had to say, Cunfer said she believes the name change is necessary.

"It's not going to be an easy process," she said.

Perhaps this was best illustrated by the members of a WMC service group who sat outside the information session last week trying to raise money for their group by selling T-shirts. Each shirt has a hook-and-loop panel on the front that allows the wearer to create a name for the college using stick-on letters.

They sold one T-shirt, for $18, before packing up for the night.

"I don't think we're going to sell too many shirts tonight," said Caroline Daniels, a WMC junior and the chapter president of Alpha Phi Omega, as she gestured to the closed door of the conference room. "They don't seem supportive of the name change."

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