The University of Mary -- Wait, Let's Try That Again
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2004; Page B02
Students arriving for classes this fall at the manicured campus in Fredericksburg will be attending the Mary Washington College of the University of Mary Washington.
"It sounds a little unwieldy," acknowledged Margaret Mock, a spokeswoman for the school, about the latest twist in the ongoing debate over what to call the state-supported institution of higher learning.
The same officials who this month proudly unveiled a new logo, officially changing the name of Mary Washington College to the University of Mary Washington, took another action Saturday to "reaffirm" the old name for use in certain circumstances.
At a weekend retreat, the school's Board of Visitors voted to call the liberal arts campus by its old name, Mary Washington College. The rest of the school -- a separate campus in Stafford County for graduate and professional studies -- will be known as the University of Mary Washington, Mock said.
"There's been some concern that the Fredericksburg campus not lose the name 'Mary Washington College,' " said Mock, referring to recent protests by students, faculty and alumni who didn't want the 96-year-old school's name changed. "I don't know if I would categorize this as a compromise or a concession. I just think the board is listening."
Mona D. Albertine, the new rector of the Board of Visitors, compared the situation to Harvard College, the undergraduate program under the umbrella of Harvard University.
Mary Washington College was named to honor the mother of George Washington, who lived most of her life in Fredericksburg. It was an all-women's college until 1972.
On July 1, the college was officially classified as a university, reflecting its growth from a small liberal arts school to an institution with an expanding program of professional and graduate offerings at the satellite campus in Stafford. The Virginia General Assembly approved the change, and the school was renamed the University of Mary Washington.
At that time, school officials said that evolving from a college to university would add a certain cachet.
Not everyone agreed.
"Mary Washington College is a top-tier public liberal arts college," said Steve Watkins, an associate professor of English who led a "Save the Name" steering committee that collected 500 signatures on a petition. "To turn it into a university is to turn a first-rate public liberal arts college into a third-rate university overnight. It's not a top university -- we've got a bunch of continuing ed and a few graduate courses at a campus across the river, and that's about it."
One alumna revoked a financial contribution she had planned to give the college, and several others pledged not to donate or to take the school out of their wills, Watkins said. The confusion over what to call the school "makes them look stupid and bush-league," he added.
Administrators might decide to restore the Mary Washington College bronze plaques removed from the Fredericksburg campus this summer and could change -- again -- the letterhead, phone messages and other materials that were cleaned of any mention of Mary Washington College in favor of the University of Mary Washington.
Albertine acknowledged that things might seem a little befogged. "I don't think in the long run it's going to be a problem," she said. "Applications are way up, year after year; it gets better and better. The kids applying today are applying to the University of Mary Washington, and they're going to be quite happy."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company