Time for a new name?

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On December 17, 2006

For 42 years, this campus has been known as the University of Missouri-Rolla, or UMR. But does that name really reflect the university’s true identity?

That’s one of the questions UMR alumni, students, faculty and staff are pondering as the university community considers the possibility of changing the campus’s name.

During his “State of the University” address on Oct. 9, Chancellor John F. Carney III called upon students, faculty and staff to enter into a discussion about the university’s name. He’s also seeking feedback from alumni.

Among the reasons for considering a name change:

To distinguish UMR from the other University of Missouri campuses. Among the four University of Missouri campuses, UMR is unique because of its focus as a technological research university. But our name doesn’t differentiate it from the other UM campuses. (Think about all the times people have thought you graduated from the Columbia campus.) Moreover, the hyphenated name is often perceived as a “branch campus” or a “feeder” school. “We’re very different from the other University of Missouri campuses,” Carney says. “We are a highly focused technological research university. But our name doesn’t reflect our unique qualities.”

To reflect the university’s mission. The goal of UMR’s Strategic Plan is to make UMR one of the nation’s top five technological research universities by 2010. Many of UMR’s “comparators” for that position have names that better reflect their mission. Schools such as the California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute all have names that describe their technological nature. “When you look at our peer technological universities, you find that many of them have names that reflect their status,” Carney says. “We should have that same kind of designation.”

To broaden our share of the national student pool. The percentage of high school students interested in engineering has never been high. But today, fewer than 5 percent of all college-bound students express an interest in any field of engineering. Compounding this issue, the number of high school graduates in Missouri is expected to peak in 2010 and then decline by more than 15 percent. Traditionally, UMR has attracted most of its students from Missouri and the Midwest. But due to these demographic shifts, the college-bound population is declining in our traditional markets. A name that better describes our focus could help us attract the students interested in studying at a technological research university.

To enhance the university’s reputation. While UMR is known throughout Missouri and in much of the Midwest for its academic excellence, it is less well known on a national scale. Beyond the Midwest, prospective students often view UMR as a branch campus. One indicator of this lack of visibility can be seen in the number of ACT scores UMR receives from high school seniors outside of Missouri. Of the 1.1 million seniors in the nation who took the ACT in 2006, only 551 non-Missouri seniors – or .05 percent – sent their scores to UMR. A more distinctive name would afford UMR several advantages in recruiting students on a national level at a time when the number of prospective students interested in science, engineering, mathematics and related fields is at an all-time low nationally. Increased national recognition could also strengthen our footing for recruiting faculty, more funding for research, stronger graduate programs and additional research funding.

Still part of the system

Once UMR officials gather input from alumni, students, faculty, staff and others on whether to change the name, they must then determine whether to recommend a name change to the University of Missouri Board of Curators. Any name change can not go forward without the Board of Curators’ approval. Regardless of the university’s name, however, we would still be part of the four-campus University of Missouri System.

Any costs associated with a name change would be covered through private donations. No student fees or state funds would be used to pay for any expenses incurred as a result of a name change.

We want to hear from you

What do you think about this idea? Let us know by completing the following survey (page 14) and mailing or faxing it to us. We’ll share your thoughts with Chancellor Carney.

If you’d like more information about this discussion, we’ve prepared a white paper that is available online at www.mst.edu/namechange.

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On December 17, 2006. Posted in Features, Winter 2006