Sunday, February 08, 2009

Call it Houston City University

Kuff is among those following ongoing saga of the University of Houston - Downtown and its proposed name change. The Board of Regents of the University of Houston System has decided that the school on One Main Street will indeed be changing names; they just can't come to an agreement on what the new name should be.

The decision to do away with the name " University of Houston - Downtown" apparently has to do with perceptions that people were confusing UH-D with the University of Houston itself, even though the two are completely separate schools. This does makes some sense; I'm not aware of any other university system in the nation that has two freestanding schools so close to one another (UH and UH-D are less than five miles apart). However, there's a lot more to the debate, and if you're so inclined, there are a couple of eye-glossing multi-page threads regarding the subject over on HAIF.

What interests me about the whole debacle is that nobody can seem to decide on a new name for the campus. An early suggestion was "Houston Metropolitan University," a name which seemed to convey well UH-D's function as a centrally-located, open-enrollment university serving the Houston metropolitan region. However, this name was rejected by the Board of Regents, apparently because of concerns that the name sounded like a diploma mill or that it could be confused with the local transit authority, i.e.:
"What school do you go to?"

"I go to Houston Metro."

"Really? Are you learning how to drive a bus?"
Anyway, the rejection of that name meant that a second round of deliberations related to the school's nomenclature was in order, and last Friday the Board of Regents met to consider a new name: The University of South Texas. However, this name was also rejected, reportedly because it made no reference to the city of Houston or because of fears that it cause confusion with nearby Texas Southern University or downtown's South Texas College of Law. (Besides, when most people think of "south" Texas, they think of Corpus Christi or Laredo, not Houston.) Anyway, it's back to the drawing board.

Personally, I didn't think "Houston Metropolitan University" was a bad name. And if the word "Metropolitan" causes confusion, why not just use the word "City" instead? However, the name "Houston City University" is apparently off the table, as well. I feel that this is a mistake - the name describes the university's purpose well - and that the Board of Regents would do well to reconsider this name.

In the meantime, opponents of any name change - there are clearly a lot of them - can take heart in the fact that the longer this renaming process is drawn out, the more likely that the school will continue to be known as UH-D for at least the next couple of years. As Kuff points out, the likelihood that a new name will be chosen in time for a bill to be written, sponsored and passed by the State Legislature - as a state university, they're the ones that have final say in this matter - decreases by the day.

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