“Where do you go to school?”
“Oh. Where is that?”
Students at Southwestern probably encounter that little conversation a great deal, especially from curious adults who really could care less about from where we are getting our higher education. When this happens, a variety of emotions can occur from complete indifference to bitter annoyance. Although some people are not particularly overjoyed at attending Southwestern University (but then again, does any college have a perfect percentage of delighted students?), others are enthusiastic about their alma mater and are disappointed that Southwestern University is not a better known academic institution.
The most recent controversy surrounding this issue is the possibility of the name change of Southwestern University. This has caused an uproar in the student body whether students have considered it a good solution or a haphazard move on the university’s part. One name that has been travelling through the grapevine is “Sarofim University,” which follows suit from our newest addition of the Fine Arts Building. According to the Southwestern University website, in 1999, the building was named after the very generous Sarofim family who contributes a great deal in endowments to the school. Naming a building is one thing, but a whole college is another and bigger commitment.
An overwhelming consensus has disagreed on the name. One freshman boldly stated, “Sarofim is a stupid name,” whereas another student more diplomatically commented, “Southwestern is already an established school despite its lack of fame. [Changing the name] would just complicate things; it [would] actually do the opposite of what [the school] is trying to achieve.” A sophomore stated, “It is a bit selfish for the Sarofim family to expect a school to be named after them even though they have contributed generously to the school.”
Although the whole name change idea has not gained much popularity, it does have some reasoning behind it. The administration has claimed that the name change would help improve the number of submitted applications. In this case, Southwestern University is trying to take a leaf out of Rhode College’s book. Rhodes was known as Southwestern at Memphis until it changed its name to Rhodes College in 1984 and as a result, the admissions rates apparently shot up drastically.
Southwestern University is also trying to differ itself from other schools with a similar obsession with directions such as Northwestern, Southeastern and Northeastern. Understandably, Southwestern University is trying to gain notoriety, in order to increase the population of the student body, in order to acquire more funding, in order to achieve its goal of being a great academic institution. Indeed, this is a vicious cycle – kind of like heroin.
However, there are also some problems to this possible solution. This plan requires money to create money. We would have to utilize our school’s already struggling financial budget in order to change everything accredited with the school. We would have to change our sweatshirts, our paraphernalia, our brochures, our school seal, etc. The recent graduates would lose some credibility when asked about a non-existent school’s name etched across their diplomas.
Southwestern, although not very recognizable, is still an established institution—we are known as the oldest academic institution in Texas. We would essentially lose all of that authority and have to start over which is counterproductive to the idea of expansion.
Another important point involves the alumni who would most likely be adverse to this transformation because of their loyalty to Southwestern University. If this choice does not sit well with all of our benefactors and not just one, we would be in danger of losing all of the other patrons.
This leads to another important and avoided question of whether or not Southwestern University is really a liberal arts college that caters to its students. Our school concentrates a great deal of effort in proclaiming its dedication to its students and making sure that the school creates an atmosphere that helps prosper the students’ own academic pursuits and interests. However, small private institutions tend to struggle financially and sometimes have to resort to a business orientation of thinking and, as a result, may stray from its idealistic purpose.
As a first-year at Southwestern University, I have only experienced about a semester and a half of the school which really is not a long time. However, in my time here, I have had experiences that highlight both the strengths and faults of the institution. Southwestern University does seem to try to foster a desire for learning in the students. It keeps the student body small in order to keep the environment as close-knit and personal as possible. From my experience, both the student body and faculty are very friendly. Indeed, there is a great amount of strength and merit to the liberal arts education that Southwestern tries to offer.
However, there is also a depravity in the system. There seems to be a hierarchy that students must go through in order to get to where they need or want to be. For instance, I took a photography class last semester and when an independent study was proposed for the entire class, it was turned down immediately due to insurance problems. If students are paying such a high tuition in order to attend school with such a commitment to its students, would there not be some other way of dealing with this issue?
One anonymous student commented that Southwestern reminded her too much of high school in both academia and extracurricular activities, stating that there “is a lack of [commitment]” in many of the students. Another undergraduate said that his biggest concern was the relationship between the teachers and students because although the school prides itself in having such approachable teachers and reasonable student to teacher ratios, it is not really so.
When someone hears the term “liberal arts school,” they might think of hippies, high tuition and low-paying majors. However, the phrase should also call to mind academic pursuits, dedication to undergraduate students, boundless opportunities and a fulfilling learning experience. Although Southwestern University has achieved a great deal with good intentions towards its ultimate goal, it has still got a long ways to go.
If Southwestern University wants to be known as a great school worthy of students vying for acceptance, a name change is not necessarily the best solution but rather a persistent strive to become a better institution for the sake of its students. Our school was named as one of the “Colleges That Change Lives” and hopefully we can continue to prove why this is so.