Update on name-change considerations

By Grant Morgan, News Editor

A name can tell a lot about a university. Or can it?

What is now known as The University of Akron began as Buchtel College in 1870.

Buchtel College and its assets were transferred to the City of Akron in 1913, when its name changed to the Municipal University of Akron.

Then, in 1967, the Municipal University of Akron was made a state university; its name changed to what we now know: The University of Akron.

Recent news shows President Scarborough and the Board of Trustees are considering a name-change for UA, “to reflect its unique strengths in polytechnical and professional fields, along with career-focused applied learning.”

“The context for the name-change topic is more important than the topic itself for the moment,” Scarborough said in an emailed statement. “[A name-change] is among scores of ideas that have been communicated to the board of trustees for their consideration.”

Schools might change their name for myriad reasons: to sound more prestigious or academic, to reflect what they value, to give the impression of a private or public school, or to honor their biggest donors, among others.

Understandably, some of these changes can be deceptive, such as a college that wants to sound like a long-established public university, but really is not.

Regardless of deceit, much concern enshrouds the UA name-change topic. Jeff Howard, a freshman honors student, sums up one of the concerns.

“I mean, if we’re still a college for other majors, then I feel like we should represent all of them instead of just the one [polytechnical or professional] area that administrators want to focus on. It wouldn’t be good,” Howard said.

Scarborough says “polytechnic” might not mean what some people think.

“…‘polytechnic’ applies to both the sciences and the arts—the word actually means ‘many technologies,’” Scarborough wrote. “There is no academic discipline that technology has not or is not transforming—whether it is polymer science and engineering, political science, or dance.”

Scarborough added that “polytechnic” reflects education’s connection to business and industry: “…the most critical parts of learning that apply to all disciplines.”

In a previous Buchtelite Campus Voice, some students were concerned that changing UA’s name to reflect its “polytechnical and professional…applied learning” would actually militate against its renown in these areas, since UA’s current name already carries such reputation.

“The most important question the board and others must answer is how best to position our university in the future to maximize its continued development as a great public university,” Scarborough wrote. “The answer is typically found at the intersection of a university’[s] strengths and the needs and demands of a developing society.”

No new names are officially proposed, but on buchtelite.com, students have been guessing at what it could be: “Meatloaf University,” “Ohio State North Campus,” “Scarborough College,” “Ohio Tech,” and “The Glorious University of Akron Technical Institute” among others.

Some student suggestions are comical; however, a real concern lies within their satire: How will alumni feel about having gone to “Akron Tech”?

“I think it is important to remember that the university has already changed its name twice since 1870,” Scarborough wrote. “Those who graduated from Buchtel College would be proud of their university today no matter the name—the same would apply to graduates of The University of Akron.”

Such a change might seem monumental, but it might only be part of a trend.

Kim Clark of U.S. News and World Report wrote an article in 2009 called “Colleges Play the Name Game,” where she talks about the trend of colleges changing their names as a form of marketing. Though the article is six years old, its content still applies.

More than 530 of around 3,000 colleges have modified their names since 1996, according to the article. The number is inevitably greater now, six years after.

Clark says the effects of a name change are unpredictable, but might increase enrollment or reputation if marketed correctly.

“…those that pick winning names, make substantive changes to live up to their new identities, and market aggressively have reaped bonanzas,” Clark wrote, paraphrasing James Owston of Mountain State University.

The University name has changed twice in its 145-year history, both times accompanying an institutional change—from private to municipal university and from municipal to state university.

A third name-change might come alone.