HANNIBAL – The proposed name change of Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG) to University of Hannibal (UH) dominated the Sept. 10 meeting of the school’s board of trustees. In the end, the board reaffirmed their original decision with a 15-5 vote by secret ballot.
In a May 8 closed-door session, the HLG board voted 10-2 to ask the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board to recommend the name change to the MBC annual meeting Oct. 25-27 in Springfield. The Executive Board approved the measure unanimously July 10.
“We believe the name change will reposition the college to reflect the kind of institution we have become,” HLG President Woodrow Burt said in July. “We have advanced in our programs, our personnel and our facilities to the point where we think ‘University’ fits who we are.”
At the Sept. 10 meeting, discussion went back and forth over both the name and the process behind the change. Terry Buster, chairman of the board of trustees and pastor of First Baptist Church, Palmyra, said there was some concern regarding the number of trustees at the first vote in May. There were 20 of the 29 trustees at this meeting (one has resigned from the full slate of 30).
“We met to make a stronger statement,” he said. “We had a good discussion and everyone had an opportunity to speak.”
Some trustees also questioned whether the board was being responsive to critics of the proposed name swap. Among those critics were five alumni guests opposed to the name change who sat in on the meeting. One – Melissa Hawker, class of 1990 – was permitted to address the board.
Hawker is the administrator of the Facebook group called “Hannibal-LaGrange College Name Change,” which describes itself as being in favor of “university” status but very much opposed to “University of Hannibal.” As of press time, the group had 287 members.
“I’m urging you to listen to what HLG alumni are saying,” Hawker said to the board. “We agree that ‘College’ should be replaced with ‘University,’ but please leave LaGrange in the name to maintain our heritage. Look at the group and see what people are saying.”
Here is one of the posts to that page:
“It is my hope that the college would be called ‘Hannibal-LaGrange University’ for several reasons. First, is that it has held that name for a very long time. Second, it has an excellent ring to the name. Third, it is our name, those of us that have graduated from those sacred halls. Fourth, it honors all who have not only attended and worked there but also those who have donated in the name ‘Hannibal-LaGrange.’”
The official reasoning behind the proposed change distances the school from LaGrange—a town known for its casino—and distinguishes it from LaGrange College in Georgia.
Trustee Jerry Sheridan downplayed online critics and those attached emotionally to the HLG name.
“A lot of the information in the letters I’ve been getting and on Facebook simply isn’t true,” he said. “I resent that. Yes, it’s our home and yes [Hannibal-LaGrange College] is engraved everywhere. Yes, we’ll have to change the logo. If we vote on emotion, we’re in trouble. We have to move forward.”
Vice President for Collegiate Affairs Tom Hufty reitereated the findings of the official HLG survey of between 100-150 faculty, staff, trustees and selected alumni donors that showed 90 percent were in favor of the change. A unofficial poll taken among 44 HLG faculty suggested 25 percent did not support the change to university status.
Trustee Sonia Vicars of St. Charles said the board should not discount the large membership of the Facebook group, even though it doesn’t include some of the larger donors to the school.
“A name is something to be passionate about,” she said. “We shouldn’t ignore 250 peoples’ opinion.”
Back in July, Burt conceded that some alumni polled were not in favor of the name change, but “no major donors said it would change their levels of support.”
Vicars added she felt the decision had been rushed, although other trustees said there had been no rush or quick decision.
“It’s hard to say that maybe we should have known more, but I didn’t have the information in May I have now,” Vicars said.
The board voted to reconsider the issue of the name change and unanimously voted to go to university status. After considerable debate and the presentation by Hawker, the board voted to reaffirm their original decision in favor of University of Hannibal 15-5.
“It’s up to the MBC,” Buster said. “I believe this signals our moving forward into a new era academically, in missions and numerically. Looking back, we have reacted well and advanced despite the economy, a fire and circumstances that would close the school. But here we’re acting proactively to move forward.”
According to a report distributed by HLG, school officials had been informally considering the idea of a name change for several years, and an ad hoc committee of trustees began studying the question in earnest last November. Other name options discussed but not voted on were Hannibal-LaGrange University and Hannibal Baptist University.
If the convention votes to approve the change to University of Hannibal, the name changes would legally take place immediately after the vote. For practical purposes, HLG officials said they would begin the switch Jan. 1, 2011.
The official HLG report on the name change estimates the cost of the change at $27,000-$30,000 including a new large highway sign, entrance column seals, interior graphics and banners, displays, bus/van lettering and other branding projects. Athletic uniforms, letterhead, business cards and the like will be updated incrementally “per normal budget allowances.” The cost of a marketing plan is estimated at a 20-30 percent increase in the college advertising budget for the first 12-18 months.
Brian Koonce / staff writer