WMC readies for name change

Switch: Preparing to adopt a new image affects members of school community differently.

May 05, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

With less than a week before Western Maryland College announces its new name, the campus is abuzz with speculation.

Does Eaton Hill College have a nice ring to it? Or maybe Eaton College. Those names were the two most commonly bandied about by students. They stem from the largest single donation in the college's 135-year history - $8 million from the late Thomas H. Eaton, a multimillionaire and a 1927 graduate.

"The names I've heard are Eaton Hill College and Emerald Hill College," said Thomas Kalar, a freshman from New Hampshire.

Although the college's board of trustees unanimously agreed to a new name April 20, WMC officials don't plan to divulge it until 8:30 p.m. Friday during a ceremony on the campus at Memorial Plaza.

"We really want to give other people who care about the name the opportunity to be there," President Joan Develin Coley said when the college announced the board's decision last month. "We really feel strongly about how the alumni had to find out in the papers initially. So, this time, we want to let everybody know."

Although school officials, vendors and nearly everyone affiliated with WMC has been tight-lipped about the new name, students were forthcoming as they played catch and sunned on the hilltop campus Friday.

Maybe Old Line College - a reference to Maryland's nickname as the Old Line State. Maybe Mason Dixon College, inspired by the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some speculated about French variations of "beautiful hill" - Beaumont College or Bellemont.

"When I first came back from winter break, there was a big buzz on campus about the name change. It was a big deal," freshman Ted Rossini said as he reclined on a lounge in Decker College Center. "Everyone was against it. But now we're used to it. We just want them to announce it already."

His guess? Ward McDaniel College. That way the abbreviation could still be WMC. J.T. Ward was WMC's first president, and William R. McDaniel was a 19th-century WMC graduate and teacher.

WMC officials want to change the name to make the college more attractive to prospective students who often can't place the school's location near Baltimore. Many of them mistakenly believe the college is much farther from the city or is a state school.

"Some people see us as a spin-off of College Park," said senior Teron J. Powell.

Jobi N. Larrick, 18, and Adrienne N. Glick, 19, freshmen cheerleaders who were sunning on the lawn outside the dormitories, said they had heard Hill, Eaton Hill and Old Line colleges as potential names.

Variations of Eaton would contradict the college's stance that funding played no part in the name change. On WMC's Web site, an article called "Setting the Record Straight" reads, "There is no donor - person, corporation or foundation - with a check large enough to warrant naming the College after him, her or it."

Yet, Eaton has made a noticeable impact on the school. He and his late wife, Catherine "Kitty" Welker Eaton, were featured in the alumni magazine, The Hill, as being the school's most generous donors, with an $8 million endowment last year from their joint estate.

The college's board of trustees voted to change the name in October but didn't announce its decision until January.

One alumni group, the Coalition to Preserve the Name of Western Maryland College, has gathered more than 1,600 signatures - same as the number of students on campus - on its online petition against the name change. They've also received the written support of the state's Western Maryland legislative delegation.

"I think they should keep the name," said Scott J. Shelton, a senior who is sorry to see his alma mater morph into something else. "It's kind of a big deal, but there's not much we can do about it."

Not far from Shelton, students were hitting a baseball and playing with a puppy. One student wore a white T-shirt with "Formerly Known as WMC" printed on the front. On the back was a playful listing of names that included plain old College and Coley College (after the president, Coley, who has confirmed that's not the name).

"It's totally unnecessary," said junior Andrew J. Parsley, who will be among the first class to graduate under the new name. "Everybody knows this college. Prestige is not going to come from a new name, but from how we perform, and our academic reputation is getting better every year."

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