The College of Notre Dame will be known as Notre Dame of Maryland University starting next fall, school officials announced Tuesday at an on-campus pep rally.
President Mary Pat Seurkamp said the new name, chosen by a unanimous vote of the board of trustees Oct. 30, is a nod to a long tradition of all-women's undergraduate education and to Notre Dame's evolution into a more complex institution that offers doctoral degrees in education and pharmacy.
"We needed a name that pointed to the best of both worlds," she said.
Some graduates have expressed misgivings about the switch to a university designation, worrying that it signals a move away from the intimate, all-women's education that set Notre Dame apart. But P.J. Mitchell, chair of the board of trustees and a 1969 graduate, said she hasn't heard such reservations for some time.
Mitchell said that with multiple graduate schools serving both men and women, Notre Dame has functioned as a university for years. "One of the things we wanted to do was bring clarity to the brand," she said. "People weren't sure who we were because all they heard about was the women's college."
She laughed when asked if the prominent placement of Maryland was a stab at eliminating comparisons to the more famous University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
"Yes, we're still weighing the launch of the football program," she joked.
Universities sell better than colleges, said George Dehne, a South Carolina-based consultant who has worked with many schools on name changes. "It's a mouthful," he said of Notre Dame's new moniker. "But I don't think I could have come up with a better name and kept the Notre Dame prominent."
Millie Otenasek, a 1936 graduate of Notre Dame and longtime professor of political science at the college, gave her stamp of approval.
"It's the universal trend," the 96-year-old Roland Park resident said of the switch to a university designation.
Otenasek recalled the Notre Dame she knew, with 129 students. Women's colleges went out of business in droves during that era, with the Great Depression sapping family resources. "But we not only survived, we've grown fantastically," Otenasek said, beaming from her wheelchair.
Seurkamp announced the new name in a campus gymnasium, packed with students, faculty and graduates. Students munched on nachos, soft pretzels and ice cream, served from red-and-white-striped carnival booths. Cheerleaders wagged pom-poms.
For the big reveal, Seurkamp lined up members of the Notre Dame community, each wearing a T-shirt with a large blue letter on the front. They turned around as freshman Kelsey Guthrie guessed letters in "Wheel of Fortune" fashion, and when the name was finally spelled out, confetti rained from above.
"I like it," said Katherine Mohr, a part-time business student who took the day off from work to attend the rally. "I think it was an amazing decision, because we have some phenomenal programs that other colleges don't offer. Going to university status was the next step in my eyes."