The checkmate club

UMBC chess champs need a school name worthy of the world- class institution they attend

April 12, 2010

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County may not be the football and basketball powerhouse that its much larger sibling at College Park is, but when it comes to fielding world-class chess contenders, watch out. Its players' victory in the Final Four over three Texas teams at the national college chess championships in Brownsville over the weekend — the sixth championship the school has brought home during the last 10 years — is about as good as it gets.

The team itself embodies in microcosm the ethic of excellence that UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III has tirelessly promoted for the entire school and its programs during the last two decades. It recently topped the list of up-and-coming schools in U.S. News and World Report's guide to best American colleges, and in addition to first-rate programs in the sciences, humanities and fine arts, it boasts an advanced computer graphics lab renowned for its innovation and creativity and one of the largest photographic research archives on the East Coast. If the University of Maryland, College Park is the flagship of the state university system, UMBC surely is one of its crown jewels.

Yet, for an institution that U.S. News ranked No. 4 in the country for undergraduate education — tied with Stanford and just behind Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale — UMBC still doesn't enjoy the instant cachet of those schools, and we've always wondered why. Could it be that its name, burdened with that provincial reference to Baltimore County, is holding it back?

We hasten to add that there's nothing shameful about being associated with Baltimore County, which is in fact a pleasant place to live, work and go to school. But the reference does tend to emphasize UMBC's parochial mission as a commuter school rather than its stellar academics. Some might even say it sounds a tad too much like a community college.

With that in mind, might we suggest that even a modest adjustment of the school's moniker might raise its profile exponentially?

Calling it Hrabowski University, while fitting, would seem immodest while the distinguished president still works there, and obviously, coming up with a name that is even more geographically specific — say, Catonsville College or the University of Arbutus — won't do the trick. So why not go for something more general, like Maryland State University, which also incorporates an implicit comparison to other powerhouse state schools such as Michigan State University, Ohio State University and Florida State U?

It would be even better if the school could somehow get its strong science and technology programs into its name — nerdy is cool these days. The Maryland Institute of Technology? Now that really has a nice ring to it — even though the initials M.I.T. already have been taken by some school up north, we hear. The next best thing, Maryland Technology Institute, or MTI, sounds too much like a trade school. But Maryland University is just different enough from U of M not to be confused with College Park, and broad enough in academic terms to include UMBC's strengths in the liberal arts and humanities as well as in the sciences.

Maryland University doesn't sound like a commuter school or a community college. It just sounds like a great place to get an education, whether you're a budding scientist, a computer geek, a schoolteacher, an aspiring artist — or a world-class chess player. It just fits.

Your move, UMBC.

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