Villa Julie considers identity change

University status or new name possible

October 10, 2007|By Jennifer Choi | Jennifer Choi,SUN REPORTER

Villa Julie College went coeducational in 1972 and became a four-year school in 1984, but a lot of guidance counselors don't seem to know that.

The college separated from the Roman Catholic Church four decades ago, but to many employers and would-be students the words "Villa Julie" still summon images of a religious institution.

Now the suburban Baltimore college is considering changing its name.

"There are people who don't open our envelopes because they think we're a two-year girls college," said Glenda LeGendre, vice president for marketing and public relations at Villa Julie.

It's too soon to know what, if any changes, will be made, LeGendre said, but she added: "We'd like to be more recognized for who we are today."

Some say that if the college is going to change its name, now is the time.

The 60-year-old private school is in the midst of an unprecedented growth spurt. In recent years, it has more than doubled in size, with the opening of new dormitories and classrooms at an Owings Mills site to complement the campus in the Stevenson area of Baltimore County's Green Spring Valley.

Construction of a 60,000-square-foot academic building that will house a newly organized school of business began a few months ago, and the college has received approval from its board to become a university.

No one is ruling out the possibility that Villa Julie College might simply become Villa Julie University. But how does Greenspring Valley University sound? Or Billiart University or Seven Oaks U?

Those and other suggestions are on the table.

"It's a great move to be able to grow the college to a university status," said Gregory Stanley, an art professor at the college. "Certainly, with that change, I think there does need to be a name change that's a reflection of the new school. The current perception is that it's a Catholic girls school."

Others are against tinkering with the school's identity.

"They worked so hard to get recognized for Villa Julie College," said freshman Kessie Gress, 17. "If they change the name completely, they're going to have to go through the whole process again."

Mindful of the importance of image and "branding," institutions of higher learning across the country have grappled with names that had outlived their usefulness.

"Colleges and universities need to compete for the best professors, the best students, and the best funds," said Mark Gobe, chief executive officer and chairman of Desgrippes Gobe, an international branding and design company. "Colleges and universities are increasingly trying to recognize what their markets are and are creating images to reach those markets."

Beaver College, with a name that became talk-show fodder, became Arcadia University. Trenton State College changed its name to the College of New Jersey.

A decade ago, Towson State University became Towson University, a move designed to enhance the school's image and dispel from donors the notion that the school is fully financed by the state.

Salisbury State University became Salisbury University for similar reasons, with the president also acknowledging that the "Salisbury steak" jokes had become tiresome.

After much consideration, the then-Maryland Institute, College of Art, formally removed the comma from its name to erase the sense of division that the punctuation mark conveyed.

But the local name change that seemed to spark the most controversy played out in Carroll County, where Western Maryland College became McDaniel College. The old name sounded to some like a state college. And the school, named after a railroad company, is more suburban Baltimore than Western Maryland.

Still, the change - the school was renamed for William R. McDaniel, an educator who had been affiliated with the college for more than 60 years - irks some alumni to this day.

"I'm still hurt," said Sherod B. Heckle, a 1984 graduate and former spokeswoman for the Coalition to Preserve the Name of Western Maryland College. "I vowed I wouldn't set foot on the campus. I have no connection to that school anymore."

She said she would feel sad for Villa Julie students and alumni if the name is drastically changed.

"I assume that they'll feel the same way that we do, like our history has been stripped away from us," she said.

Villa Julie was named for St. Julie Billiart, founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. "Villa" refers to the mansion on the property, which the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur used as an infirmary. The school was founded in 1947 as a college for women, specializing in medical-secretarial training.

Villa Julie became an independent institution when it separated from the Catholic church in 1967.

In 2004, the college opened its first school-owned housing complex in Owings Mills.

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