New name for WMC: McDaniel College

Professor had many roles during years at institution

May 11, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Ending months of speculation and secrecy worthy of the Pentagon, Western Maryland College unveiled its new name -- McDaniel College -- at a festive campus ceremony attended last night by alumni, students, faculty and neighbors of the Westminster school.

"We name this college for a person who personifies our mission. And our essence. A person who, in turn, changed lives," said college President Joan Develin Coley, whose words were sometimes hard to hear over the rumble of student dissenters chanting "WMC!"

At least 1,000 people packed Memorial Plaza to hear the new name. Many of them were decked out in WMC gear with the added adornment of fluorescent necklaces and headgear.

From the top of the Hoover Library steps overlooking the plaza, Coley read from a script that tried to capture the multi-faceted existence of William R. McDaniel -- an 1880 graduate of the school who would later wear nearly every hat the college had to offer -- professor, treasurer, vice president, acting president and trustee. He died in 1942 at age 80, after an affiliation of more than 60 years with the college.

The announcement concludes a process that began officially in January, when a 32-member committee started whittling away at a list of 418 possible names in the search for one that captures the spirit of the private liberal arts institution.

Of the name that takes effect July 1, Coley said, "This is a person who personifies the 135-year-old mission of our college. This is sort of an everyman, an amazing individual."

"This was an early favorite," said Sam Case, the school's provost, dean of the faculty and co-chairman of the naming committee. "It's not something that came out of the blue."

Alumnus Hugh Dawkins called his wife on his cell phone when he heard the name. "We met here. I love the new name," he said, adding he is familiar with McDaniel's importance to the college.

Board of trustees Chairman Jim Melhorn added, "He's a man for all seasons. He embodies all the reasons for the new name."

"I'm thrilled," said Coley. "It's a wonderful relief. It's hard to keep a secret."

In keeping the name under wraps, Coley has had to fend off inquiries from Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (who asked about the name in January), Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (who suggested "Ravens College," to tie into the NFL team's Westminster training camp) and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

For years, college officials and faculty have lobbied for a new name to reduce confusion over the school's geographic location -- it's not in Western Maryland -- and the tendency of some to assume that the private institution is a state school.

Case, who has been either a student or a professor at the school since 1959, said he has been there long enough to remember the school's niche as a place for "preachers and teachers." He said the school has since lapsed into an identity crisis that he hopes the new name will resolve.

"One thing we won't have to do, we won't have to explain what it's not," said Case.

In making their selection, members of the naming committee considered such factors as clarity and relevance to the college's heritage. When the college sent out 23,000 postcards and e-mails to its alumni, students, faculty, trustees and administrators asking for suggestions, it received 2,100 responses.

By March, the committee had a short list of about 10 names. The college then paid $200,000 to LipmanHearne, an Illinois-based marketing and communications firm, to test the names on the East Coast, outside of Maryland, said Coley. The new name was approved unanimously by the trustees April 20.

But the college also received a backlash from students and alumni.

Last night was no different.

Most students were in a celebratory mood, some even dancing as other students performed "I Will Survive" during a jazz workshop that entertained the crowd before the announcement. But the natives became restless as the presentation went on, and boos became as prevalent as applause.

"I approve of the name change, but the name they chose was terrible," said one of the "WMC!" chanters, senior Athan P. Margetan.

"We knew we would get criticism," said Coley. "But the board and the administration don't have the luxury of just having an emotional response. We have to look to the future. ... If we can look forward and see some serious roadblocks, it would have been irresponsible to not address the problem.

"There are people who will never call this college anything other than Western Maryland, alumni who want to hold onto that. But when people find out the name, and the reason for it, they will readily embrace it."

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