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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The competition between universities for students is fierce... 
30th-Nov-2005 09:03 am
So why am I thinking that certain schools in the South will ultimately lose this battle? Not because the ones that have the international name power are all in the Northeast and West...? Oh, no...

DUDE, when are you going to realize that saying the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride is tantamount to saying that the swastika is "just" a Buddhist religious icon? The only people you're fooling are yourselves. The emperor has no clothes.

In Desire to Grow, Colleges in South Battle With Roots

The New York Times
November 30, 2005

SEWANEE, Tenn. - The flags from Southern states disappeared from the chapel. The ceremonial baton dedicated to a Confederate general who helped found the Ku Klux Klan vanished. The very name of the University of the South was tweaked, becoming Sewanee: The University of the South, with decided emphasis on Sewanee.

It all seemed eminently sensible to university administrators looking to appeal beyond the privileged white children of the South, who have long been the university's base, and become a more national, selective and racially diverse university.

But the changes have sparked a passionate debate among alumni, many of whom view them as a betrayal of their history.

Some traditionalists say they fear that the name of the university's guest house, Rebel's Rest, will be next to go and that a monument donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy commemorating Edmund Kirby-Smith, a Confederate general who taught at the university for nearly 20 years, will be removed.

"I think they ought to leave it the way it is," said Dr. David W. Aiken, an alumnus who is an orthopedic surgeon in Metairie, La. "I wouldn't be for changing anything. I think they're doing quite well. What is the purpose of making it a more national school? Do I want kids from California, New York coming there? Not really."

Across the country, colleges are trying to reposition themselves to attract more high-quality students and raise their national profiles. But perhaps nowhere is this more challenging than in the South, where university officials often find themselves struggling to temper Confederate imagery without alienating alumni and donors determined to uphold their heritage.

"The issue that all of us face is that alumni love to have the institution frozen in amber," said Gordon Gee, the chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "The truth of the matter is that for an institution to survive, it has to grow, to look at the world as it is rather than how they want it to be."

Variations of this debate are playing out on many Southern campuses. Vanderbilt removed the word "Confederate" from the name of Confederate Memorial Hall, a dormitory, but reinstated it after losing a lawsuit in May. At Louisiana State University, students marched several times last month to protest the displaying of Confederate battle flags in the university's purple and gold colors during tailgating before football games.

The University of North Carolina decided late last year to phase out an award for women after a graduate student discovered that Cornelia Phillips Spencer, for whom the award was named, had opposed efforts to admit black students during Reconstruction.

And at the University of Texas, officials had considered moving statues of Confederate leaders from a prominent site. While that plan is on hold, students raised money to create sculptures honoring Barbara Jordan and Cesar Chavez.

Sewanee, as the University of the South has been known for decades, is no exception. Some of its alumni argue that in their zeal to make the university less regional, administrators are dishonoring cherished symbols.

"They are trying to bury the founding fathers and the founding men who taught there and who had a definite part to play in the Civil War, having been generals and engineers," said Prescott N. Dunbar, an alumnus from New Orleans. "It's a silly sort of reverse thing to attract students, to keep this quiet now."

Sewanee administrators, board members and other alumni say they are not forsaking the past, but are merely trying to distinguish between symbols that are an organic part of the university's history and those that are not.

For example, they say, the silver and walnut ceremonial baton, known as a mace, was created in 1964 as a gift from a woman in Florida whose brother attended the university; it was dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who helped found the Ku Klux Klan and had no connection with the university.

By contrast, the administrators say, no one wants to do away with the name of the guest house or the Kirby-Smith memorial or the Confederate battle flags and seals in the stained-glass windows of All- Saints' Chapel.

They say that for the university to prosper in a highly competitive market, it needs to reach out to a broader range of students; only 4.5 percent of the 1,400 undergraduates are black, 2 percent are Hispanic, and 2 percent are Asian-American. To do that, they say, Sewanee needs to draw in students, not provoke them.

"The Sewanee I know and love has a lot more to do with Trollope than it does with the Lost Cause" of the Confederacy, said Jon Meacham, an alumnus who jokingly described the university as "a strange combination of 'Brideshead Revisited' and 'Deliverance.' "

"Do you do away with the history of the place in order to make it appealing to a new generation?" said Mr. Meacham, who is managing editor of Newsweek magazine and a member of Sewanee's governing board. "No. It would be impossible to do."

He added: "In particular cases, if something is found to be offensive, is found to be troubling or upsetting, not only to potential students but to people who are part of the heart and soul of the place, then I think one is obliged to take a stand."

A small liberal arts university with a striking campus of sandstone buildings on the Cumberland Plateau in southeastern Tennessee, Sewanee (pronounced suh-WAH-nee) was founded by Episcopal bishops just before the Civil War and began classes in 1868.

Still owned by 28 Episcopal dioceses in the Southeast, it is a genteel place with a tradition of academic excellence, particularly in disciplines like English and religion. It is home to the Sewanee Review, a prestigious literary quarterly. For decades, all men wore ties and coats to class, and some still do. Members of the honor society, called the Order of Gownsmen, used to wear their academic gowns routinely to class. Some still do, occasionally.

Some alumni chafed as these traditions were relaxed, and many became alarmed as objects they held dear were removed to the archives or disappeared altogether. First, university officials removed the state flags from the nave of All Saints' Chapel in the mid-1990's, saying that it would improve the acoustics. Some of the flags contained Confederate imagery.

Then, in 1997, the mace, which was carried by the president of the Order of Gownsmen at academic processions, vanished. Gerald L. Smith, a professor of religion, said he had broken it accidentally when he was viewing it for an alumnus researching a graduate school paper. University officials decided not to repair the mace.

Samuel R. Williamson, a history professor who was then Sewanee's chief executive, said he had already commissioned a new one in 1992 or 1993 to honor the bishops who founded the university. In a letter to alumni in July 1997, Dr. Williamson said that the old mace would be placed in the archives and that a professor had agreed to design a new one. It has not been completed.

Dr. Smith said a misunderstanding led to the mace's disappearance. He said he asked the university police chief to put it in a vault, by which he meant a bank's safe deposit box. The chief put it instead in the police station's gun vault, where it was finally discovered early this year.

About 30 alumni then offered to pay for repairing the mace, but the university declined their gift, Mr. Dunbar, the alumnus from New Orleans, said.

"Those symbols should never have been removed in the first place," said Erle J. Newton III, a former president of the honor society who graduated in May. "You cannot separate the University of the South from Southern history and from Confederate history. "

Other alumni said the mace was inappropriate, especially for ceremonies in All-Saints' Chapel. "I could not in good conscience sit with my African-American friends and say, 'This is part of the church service,' " said Bruce Dobie, a Nashville journalist involved in an online business venture.

Some alumni were also angered by a report commissioned by the university last year by a marketing firm from Chicago that said that the word "South" often had negative connotations for students around the country; the weaker the connection between the South and the university's name, the better, the consultants said.

That set off a fierce debate over the unofficial logo that the university has been using for at least a decade on stationery, business cards, campus maps and now its Web site: Sewanee: the University of the South. Often the word "Sewanee" is in large type, with the rest of the name in small type underneath.

Many students said they were attracted to Sewanee because of its traditions, but many also endorsed the idea of recruiting a broader range of students.

"I think a lot of people are scared that if we branch out too far we are going to lose what made the school so attractive," said Townsend Zeigler, the editor of the school newspaper. "I don't necessarily agree with that."

Joel Cunningham, the vice chancellor and president, said his goals include making admissions more selective and recruiting a more diverse student body. Sewanee now admits about two-thirds of applicants, and Dr. Cunningham said he would like to increase the applicant pool so that 40 percent to 50 percent were admitted. He said those ambitions need not conflict with respect for Sewanee's heritage.

"The fact is that we are in the South, and we benefit from the literary tradition, the warmth, the friendliness," Dr. Cunningham said. "Do we have to recognize that there are those who might have other connotations and that we have to draw them in to better understand the place? Yes."


"What is the purpose of making it a more national school? Do I want kids from California, New York coming there? Not really."

Err...what century do you think you live in, Dr. Aiken? 'Cause all you're doing is reinforcing the aura of racism and prejudice that your alma mater is trying so desperately to dispel. Do New York and California schools tell your that YOUR children aren't really welcome? I think not! If I were you, I'd never live down the shame of being so quoted in a national newspaper...
30th-Nov-2005 03:22 pm (UTC)
From a business perspective they're in kind of a sticky situation.. On one end, their alumni are presumably their donors (who the hell else would be), so you don't want to piss them off too much.. But, you also have to make the place more appealing to prospective students, or else that market will dry up.. Ultimately, the new student end has to win, or else you're just Red Neck University with a small student body of dedicated racists....

"The fact is that we are in the South, and we benefit from the literary tradition, the warmth, the friendliness," Dr. Cunningham said.

Err, Dr. C., the supposed warmth and friendliness of the South has traditionally been very, very narrowly tailored......
30th-Nov-2005 03:31 pm (UTC)
*groans* But, when you really think about it, do the schools even WANT their alums' money if it's going to have strings attached, like, "Toward the tuition of the most qualified WHITE students, only?" Note how they were also trying to disassociate themselves from the names of prominent racists.

Especially what with foreigners abandoning American universities, the competition for students is going to be even more fierce in the future. If they send ambiguous messages, they'll just lose out with everyone in the end.
30th-Nov-2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
Well, you'd like to think they'd be idealistic enough to forgo such donations, but top administrators rarely seem so idealistic.. More likely it will be the threat of a bigger loss that convinces them...

I wonder if their Bio courses teach intelligent design ^_~
30th-Nov-2005 03:53 pm (UTC)
It seems, though, like the administrators are more progressive than the alums...which really isn't surprising, given "liberal" academia.

I wonder if their Bio courses teach intelligent design ^_~

They aren't Catholic-affiliated down there, though. I wonder if Episcopalian church feels about intelligent design. (Robin Williams calls Episcopal "Catholic-lite"...and I agree with that assessment.)
30th-Nov-2005 06:56 pm (UTC)
It's not the Catholics pushing intelligent design ^^;; The Vatican actually came out with some force against teaching it! It's the evangelical types, and there are loads of them around here...
30th-Nov-2005 07:40 pm (UTC)
No...I thought the most recent Pope made statements that advocated scientific creationism. That God had a hand in evolution, and all.
30th-Nov-2005 09:24 pm (UTC)
Well, of course the Vatican thinks God had a hand, but they reject the notion of Creationism having any merit as a scientific theory.. It's kind of difficult to understand exactly what the official opinion is, but basically what I gather is that God did something to start evolution, but the actual process of evolution is exactly as theorized by science.. Last week I came across the Jesuit head of the Vatican Observatory talking at a conference on C-SPAN, and he wholly rejected intelligent design and said the random process of evolution is clearly supported by the evidence.. It's about as close you can get to pure science while keeping the requisite religious component...
30th-Nov-2005 10:48 pm (UTC)
*grimaces* But is that what the Pope says? I know they agree now that the Bible isn't always literal, but I could've sworn I heard something about the Pope saying that God intended outcomes or something like that.

Not to mention that Jesuits in general are so much more liberal than the rest of Catholicism, anyway.
30th-Nov-2005 11:11 pm (UTC)
The Jesuits tend to be the only ones that ever sound reasonable ^^;;

I'm not sure what the pope himself would say, I did just try a search of Vatican documents, but I really didn't see much.. At the very least they'd probably assume that God knew the outcome, with his god-like powers and all.. But they do reject the fundamentalist notion of God making a couple people and sticking them in the garden. At least, the Jesuit guy is a high ranking official and straight out opposed teaching intelligent design theories in science classes, and he been excommunicated, yet ^_^
30th-Nov-2005 04:25 pm (UTC)
As much as you try to bury it, it'll never fully die. it's who they are, whether some of them like it or not..
30th-Nov-2005 05:40 pm (UTC)
*sighs* I guess it's too much to ask that people grow up out of their prejudices, huh?
30th-Nov-2005 06:18 pm (UTC)
Sadly seems to be the case...
30th-Nov-2005 06:23 pm (UTC)
Still, I HAVE seen people change for the better in the past. *mantra* Must be optimistic about things like this...
30th-Nov-2005 06:25 pm (UTC)
Either that or try beating some sense into their heads that times have changed..
30th-Nov-2005 06:30 pm (UTC)
I don't think the hardcore physical approach works. People hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see, and they use evidence against their case misguidedly in order to reinforce their own beliefs.

Things seem to happen more in a casual thaw...
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