During the past few weeks, we have had several open meetings to discuss the proposed name change and recommended names. The discussions have been lively and vigorous.
Several students and alumni support the name change and like the proposed names. Others have commented that they are upset or disappointed that UHD is changing its name. The issue of whether or not we will change the name was addressed and voted on by the University of Houston System’s Board of Regents more than a year ago. The Regents voted to change the name in December 2008. For more information, please see the UHD Web site FAQs here.
There are two names under consideration: City University and Houston City University. Either way, the University will remain a part of the University of Houston System, and official publications and letterhead will carry a tag-line that says something like, 'A Member of the University of Houston System' or 'A UH System University.'
Students, faculty, staff and alumni have raised several questions in the open meetings. Here are a few:
1. Are any other UH System Universities in the process of changing their names? There are some preliminary discussions underway with students and faculty at the University of Houston-Victoria. Both at UHD and UH-Victoria, the original desire to change the name emerged from within the University itself. At UHD, discussions have taken place at various times over the past decade. A formal request to change UHD’s name was initiated by former president Max Castillo, about two years ago after considerable discussion on campus.
2. Why is the University only considering these two names? Several of you have proposed other names, some of which focus on location. When the consultants were first hired, they met with Chancellor Khator and with chairman of the Board of Regents, Welcome Wilson. As you may know, last year more than 90 names were proposed and several were formally presented to the Regents, but rejected. Many of those referenced specific locations (such as South Texas or Houston Bayou University). In this round of discussions, the consultants reviewed the many names previously proposed and eventually ruled out names with locations other than Houston. In addition, they held focus groups and open-ended discussions. Repeatedly, they heard references to Houston and to the city. They felt that Houston is an international city, has considerable name recognition, and made a strong case that if any location was to be referenced in the proposed university name, it should be Houston.
3. I don't like the names; they sound like a community college and don't sound prestigious to me; why did they select these two names? Recently, while at a national conference in Washington, D.C., I shared the proposed names at a small round table discussion with other University presidents. They were surprised to learn that UHD is the 2nd largest university in Houston and is the13th largest public university in Texas and felt either name would help the university build a unique and distinctive identity. One told me, “Wow! Those are great names. They remind me of City University of New York and City University of London, which are known all over the world.” Another commented, "Houston is a huge city. It needs a university like that.” The consensus of those presidents with whom I spoke is that either name would bring prestige to the University.
4. Why don't we name the university after a prominent individual, such as a former legislator, mayor or past president? The system has guidelines for naming universities after individuals. Universities, auditoriums, conference rooms, buildings, schools and departments are often named after an individual or a family. Naming rights require a gift of considerable size, usually many millions of dollars, which goes into the university endowment. Interest drawn from the gift supports specific activities, which are often defined by the donor (such as scholarships, professorships, research or specialized equipment). So, to name the university after a specific individual or family would require a multi-million dollar gift.
5. How much is the name change costing the university? The contract with STAMATS and on-going work is in the range of approximately $60,000. Naturally, more will be spent over the coming year. If the University does change its name, there will be costs associated with marketing, new letterhead, new signs, etc. Other than signage, most of the cost would have been incurred anyway. As business cards and letterhead run out, we will order new ones, but with the new name and logo, once they are adopted. Moreover, even if the University does not change its name, UHD must better market and brand itself. To meet these needs we have already planned to set aside allocations for branding, including billboards, newspaper, radio and television ads and internet advertising.
6. Will the name change hurt my chances of getting a job or admitted into graduate school? Once a name is selected by the Regents, a transition period will begin. The new name will be associated with the University of Houston System on official letterhead and on diplomas. We have spoken with other University presidents about their experiences with name changes. All of them explained that once they began marketing the university with its new name, visibility increased, as did applications and funds raised. Several campuses experience improved campus cohesion and pride among students and alumni. Most grew in enrollment and fund raising. Several commented that they also experienced a growth in international student enrollment, and they attracted more students from other cities and states. We expect the same thing to occur at our University.
7. As an alumnus, I'm worried that the university is turning its back on our history. How will the history be retained? We are proud of UHD's history and will promote it and continue to build on that history. We have many great alumni who began their careers at UHD or passed through our campus at some point in their academic experience. We want their stories, and will proudly promote the history and accomplishments of our students, staff, faculty and alumni. UHD is still a relatively young University. I was surprised to learn when I arrived, that we don't have year books (which, of course, are now becoming obsolete anyway.) Even so, they are an important source of history. Unlike Texas Tech or Texas A & M, UHD has very few traditions. Over time, our students will develop traditions and they will become an important part of campus life.
8. Even though I graduated many years ago, can I get a diploma with the new name, and can I order a new class ring? Yes. We will work that out with the Regents and with ring vendors. Naturally, there will be charges for a new ring and probably minimal charges for a new diploma.
9. What are the next steps? We are holding public discussions, focus groups, and will soon launch a straw poll for current students. We will poll other stakeholders including alumni who have given us their email addresses, faculty and staff in the months ahead. We want to hear your comments. We will summarize those comments as part of our presentation to the Regents. The Regents will vote on the suggested names sometime in early Fall 2010. If a name is adopted by the Regents, it will then be submitted to the legislature for approval. That process will specify an effective date for the new name. Thereafter, we will transition to a new name for the University.
Keep in touch. Check out the UHD Web site under Name Selection. I look forward to hearing from you.
Note: Since this blog appeared, students, faculty, staff, and alumni will now be able to vote in a straw poll at a secure website. Cast your vote here.