We asked readers to weigh in on a possible name change being considered by Fort Lewis College, and of the 308 responses, participants were closely split between sticking with the status quo or changing the name to Fort Lewis University.
But many defenders of “college,” and even some advocates for “university,” agreed: The acronym FLU presents some all-too-obvious challenges.
Since Sunday, The Durango Herald has sought input from online readers about a name change for FLC, which is studying the possibility of adopting a new moniker.
The Herald received 308 responses as of Wednesday. If limited to a choice between Fort Lewis College or Fort Lewis University, 55 percent of respondents preferred Fort Lewis College and 45 percent opted for Fort Lewis University.
Of alumni, 70 percent of respondents said they preferred sticking with Fort Lewis College, but of non-alumni, 59 percent said the Campus in the Sky should be renamed Fort Lewis University.
One theme that emerged from the defenders of “college” is the intimacy and small size implied by the word.
Cynthia Stroup wrote: “When I hear university, I think of a huge school. Something that sounds like Texas A&M or UT. Ft. Lewis is much friendlier and student-focused than that. There may be several reasons why Ft. Lewis is experiencing a decline (in enrollment), but I doubt the name has anything to do with it. I believe there is an overall pattern of fewer students attending college.”
The idea of a name change has been bantered about at the Fort for at least five years, and recent declines in enrollment have been one factor leading school officials to initiate a study of a name change.
The college has appointed an 11-member committee to examine a name change.
Also, FLC posted an online survey targeted to alumni, students, faculty and staff to gauge feedback.
Mark Jastorff, vice president for advancement and chairman of the name-change committee, said FLC has about 28,500 alumni, and the survey reached about 14,000 alumni with active email addresses. The remaining alumni will get the survey by mail. For the next several months, focus groups made up of alumni, students, faculty and staff will examine data from the survey.
FLC spokesman Mitch Davis told the Herald last week that response to the surveys has been “very good.”
“There is a lot of good discussion, but it is so early in the process that we haven’t evaluated the data yet,” he said. “There are people who feel very strongly on all sides.”
One possibility is that the school takes no action at all, a position backed by some in the Herald’s survey as well.
One respondent to the survey who declined to leave a name said: “Don’t fix it, if it’s not broken. I do not believe that Ft Lewis College is a university. Look at the definition of a university and its traditional usage. There should be no shame in being one of the best small colleges in the U.S.”
The respondent has a point, especially for sticklers for strict definitions.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines university as: “an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees; specifically: one made up of an undergraduate division which confers bachelor’s degrees and a graduate division which comprises a graduate school and professional schools each of which may confer master’s degrees and doctorates.”
Currently, FLC offers only two graduate programs: two master’s programs in teacher education.
Since the 1980s, institutions of higher education have been using “college” and “university” interchangeably, said Jastorff, who noted his home state, South Dakota, dropped “college” from the names of its state institutions of higher learning and went with “university.”
Austin Wilemon cast his vote in favor of “university.”
He wrote: “It needs to be Durango University. Durango is a well-known tourist spot and a respected name. Fort Lewis is in a name competition with ‘Fort Collins.’ FLC needs to target high-populated areas in Southern California, NY metro and greater Austin, Texas, area. Why? Because Durango is the perfect ‘escape’ for kids who want a quality education, want to get out of the city and have money to pay for tuition.”
But again, the FLU acronym left even some supporters of “university” with misgivings.
One respondent who didn’t leave a name said: “I actually like university better, but I don’t think it should be Fort Lewis University because I don’t like FLU as the acronym for the school. Also, it is not a fort anymore, nor is it even on the land where the fort originally was anymore.” The respondent suggested the name Animas Colorado University.
Several other readers also suggested incorporating local names, including Durango, San Juans, La Plata and Four Corners.
A defender of “college” shined a spotlight on the problem with “Fort Lewis University.”
“I like college,” wrote Steve Maxwell. “When you abbreviate university to FLU, that opens it up for lots of jokes that might not help.”
A simple comment from someone who didn’t leave a name: “FLU may go viral.”
Perhaps one respondent, who dubbed himself “Bill Clinton,” had the most ambitious name-change suggestion: “Harvard on the Hill.”