Mississippi University for Women -- for Men Too

When I go on a long car ride, I always end up with a long mental list of things to look up on Google or ...
by | January 19, 2010

When I go on a long car ride, I always end up with a long mental list of things to look up on Google or Wikipedia or elsewhere when I get to my destination. If I see a marker for a Civil War battle, I want to know who won it. If I pass a town with a funny name, I want to know its origins. Since I'm a political junkie, I want to look up the presidential election results of every county I visited.

I experience the same thing when I'm reporting a story. As a journalist, you encounter people, places and institutions that cry out for more research, even if they're tangential to the topic you're actually covering. That definitely happened to me when I wrote this month about Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's plan to merge his state's three historically black colleges.

That plan is part of a broader public school consolidation effort the governor is proposing. Another piece is consolidating the Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State University (neither of which is historically black).

Here's the interesting thing about the Mississippi University for Women: It's admitted men since 1982.

That made me wonder why they never changed the name -- and how a "University for Women" that actually admits men markets itself.

With regard to the second question, it's easy to tell from the school's Web site that they are cognizant of the challenge. Often the school refers to itself by its initials, MUW, which looks like a way to deemphasize the "women" part. The top of the home page includes the tagline, "A tradition of excellence for women and men."

Still, only about 15% of MUW's students are men. I have to think that confusion about the name is part of the reason.

As far as I can tell, the state and the school has been arguing about changing the name for years upon years. There have been several reasons for the inertia. Many alumni feel a connection to the old name and the school's identity as an institution primarily for women (men only gained admittance through a Supreme Court ruling). Changing the name costs money and, perhaps, the school's identity. Plus, there's always been the pesky problem of figuring out what the new name should be.

Despite the opposition, lately momentum has been on the side of a name change. The school's president has come out in favor of naming the school Reneau University, in honor of the woman who suggested the concept of the college. Still, the change doesn't look like a done deal yet. Barbour's consolidation proposal adds another complicating factor.

Are there any public colleges in the country that are similar to MUW? Actually, yes. Texas Woman's University has admitted men since 1972. I'd never heard of it before I started researching this very piece. Now I'm fascinated to learn more about it. But I'll save that, in case we ever start writing story behind the story, behind the story.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman | Former Staff Writer | mailbox@governing.com