College selects its new name

But Western Maryland will keep it a secret until semester ends

`A well-reasoned process'

Ceremony set May 10 to reveal change that was fought by alumni, friends

Carroll County

April 24, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

After months of speculation, Western Maryland College has a new name - one college leaders hope will make the Westminster school sound more attractive to students and donors.

That new name, however, will remain a mystery until May 10, college officials said yesterday.

The board of trustees voted unanimously to change the name Saturday morning, but college leaders have asked that no one reveal the name before May 10, the last day of classes.

College officials want alumni, faculty and students to receive the news simultaneously - and they will at an 8:30 p.m. ceremony at Memorial Plaza on campus.

"I join the Board of Trustees in believing that those who know the college best and care about it the most - alumni, students, parents, faculty, administrators, staff and friends - should be the first to hear the news," Joan Develin Coley, Western Maryland president, wrote in an e-mail to the college community yesterday morning.

The trustees spent the past several weeks paring a list of 10 finalists that had been market tested by the Chicago consulting firm LipmanHearne.

The majority of the 37 voting board members could not be reached for comment yesterday and those who were reached declined to reveal the new name.

Alumni, parents, faculty and students reached yesterday said they didn't know the new name or wouldn't reveal it.

The trustees voted to initiate the name change in October and announced their intentions in January, saying the name was a hindrance in the college's efforts to become a first-rate liberal arts school.

They and Coley said they no longer wanted prospective students to associate the college with the far western part of Maryland instead of with Westminster, a 45-minute drive from Baltimore.

The name also caused prospective students to assume the private college was a public institution, college leaders said.

Opposition forms

The change has stirred opposition from Western Maryland alumni, parents and friends. Within weeks of the January announcement, more than 800 had signed an on-line petition protesting the process, and others attended discussion sessions with college leaders early last month to register their disapproval.

Critics did not react well to news that the decision had been made.

"I'm very disappointed in the failure of the board of trustees and the president to consider additional information that we have provided to them - documentation from alumni that they will terminate their financial support if the name changes and other legal points that we have raised with them," said Sherod B. Heckle, a 1984 graduate and spokeswoman for the Coalition to Preserve the Name of Western Maryland College.

About four colleges a year change their names, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Some, such as Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., experienced immediate rises in prestige and applications.

Maryland schools

Among Maryland schools, Towson and Salisbury universities have dropped State from their names in recent years and Maryland Institute College of Art dropped a comma from its name last summer.

Coley did not address opponents of the change in her e-mail. She described the search for a new name as "an all-inclusive, well-reasoned process."

She said all 10 finalists, selected from a group of 418 suggested names, tested well in marketing studies.

The college received suggestions from more than 2,000 people, with heritage, distinction, clarity, longevity and overall validity the stated criteria for selecting the winner.

The new name will become effective July 1, Coley said.

Sun staff writer Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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