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AlumNews: Talon Articles

Potential name change stirs controversy

Friday, September 19, 2008   (15 Comments)
Posted by: Katy Watson
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By Aaron Askew

However easily “Hail to Oklahoma Christian” may roll off the tongue, students of Oklahoma Christian University may be singing new lyrics for their alma mater in the not so distant future, as there appears to be another potential name change on the horizon.

The university has seen its share of names throughout its 58 year history. Originally Central Christian College in Bartlesville, the name changed to Oklahoma Christian College upon relocation to Oklahoma City. In 1990, the school reached university status and changed to its current name.

Mike O'Neal, president of the university, says the possibility of changing the university's name again has been in discussion for several years now.

“Since early in 2002, I have often heard from alumni and friends that our name is frequently confused with all the other ‘O's' and ‘C's' around Oklahoma City,” O'Neal said. “In addition, there have been suggestions that our current name does not adequately reflect our broadening geographic constituency and tends to regionalize and limit the university's influence.”

O'Neal says that although the question of changing the name was brought up before he arrived at Oklahoma Christian, as far as he can recall, he is the first to instigate public conversation on the matter.

Ron Frost, director for university communications, agrees with O'Neal that confusion of Oklahoma Christian for other schools and vice versa has become a problem.

“Almost every week I get a call from somebody who has confused us with one of the other universities. Either OCU or UCO or in some cases even OBU,” Frost said.

The university has hired the national marketing and communications firm Lipman Hearne from Chicago to help evaluate the university's current name and image.

There are a variety of names being considered, none including “Oklahoma” and few including “Christian.”

Some of the proposed names include Benson University or Benson Christian University, (Benson was an Oklahoman, the first chancellor of Oklahoma Christian and the most influential person in Christian higher education in the 20th century in the fellowship of the churches of Christ), Eagle University, Global Christian University, Libertas University, Noble University and some including the names of substantial benefactors.

O'Neal says he does not believe eliminating “Christian” from the title will imply that we are no longer a Christian school.

“I tend to favor simpler, shorter names and names that are fairly neutral among all people. Anyone who has worked closely with me these past six years, and 28 prior years in Christian higher education, knows that I am very deeply committed to our Christian mission,” O'Neal said. “However, I do not believe that necessarily requires us to have the word in our name.”

O'Neal encourages those concerned about how taking “Christian” out of the school's title could affect the school's spiritual aspects to trust that the university's goals and ideals will not change.

“If our trustees should adopt a name that does not include the word ‘Christian,' I can assure everyone that it would not in any way reflect a change in the mission or purposes of the University,” O'Neal said. “I hope our OC community agrees that we would rather be known for what we are, than for what we call ourselves.”

Wil Norton, vice president of the student body, says it's important for the students to stand up and let the decision makers know their thoughts.

“I think that the name change issue is extremely important, and I feel that it is crucial that we as students need to voice our opinions soon before we don't have any say in the issue,” said Norton.

Senior Amanda Peery says that the thought of a name change just doesn't make any sense to her.

“I don't like that idea at all. I think OC has identity in the name it already has. It's in Oklahoma and it's Christian,” Peery said. “It would be like Coca-Cola changing its name to something random.”

She also says that if “Christian” is removed from the title, it is more than just a removal of a word but could be the removal of what the school is supposed to stand for.

“Look at the long term results of removing ‘Christian' from a name. It's like trying to take off ‘in God we trust' [from the dollar bill]. Just because you say your core values remain the same doesn't mean they wouldn't change,” Peery said. “People come to OC because they want to. I don't think we are trying to appeal to every 18 to22 year old. It's like a Christian influence trying to have secular influence. It doesn't seem to be OC's personality.”

Vice President for Community Engagement and Chief of Staff, Nathan Mellor, says the board would never consider taking out the word “Christian” unless it thought it would be of help to the school's evangelical missions.

“There are some that suggest that a university with the word ‘Christian' in the name can cause unfair bias against faith based universities, and as a result, people give you less access or do not give you the opportunity to talk about who you are because they look at the name ‘Christian' and dismiss you too quickly,” Mellor said.

Despite some negative feedback, Mellor insists the change would not be frivolous.

“One of the thoughts has been if you have a university that doesn't have ‘Christian' in the name, people would be able to see who you are before they just labeled you as something that you might not be,” Mellor said. “The only reason not to have the word ‘Christian' in the name that would possibly make sense, is if it helped us fulfill our Christian mission with greater effectiveness.”

O'Neal says he wants all those opposed to a name change to consider the image the current name might give to people outside of the school's community.

“Although it is difficult for any of us to see things from perspectives outside our own experience, I encourage the OC community to try to look at this issue from the perspectives of others throughout the world for which the name does not resonate but we still might wish to influence or with or have constructive dialogue,” O'Neal said.

John deSteiguer, Vice President for Advancement, says the decision will be thought out with great caution and respect and will ultimately only be passed if it is agreed upon that it is for the benefit of the university and those involved with the university.

“The leadership team at the university, as well as a lot of people involved at this institution, understand that institutions need to remain nimble and forward thinking and rethink issues that are on the table to make sure they prosper and survive and do well in the future,” deSteiguer said. “Is a name change the right thing right now for this university? It might or might not be, but we always need to be considering moves that are important for the future of this institution.”

Alumni may be concerned about how a change in the university's name would affect them considering the school on their diploma would no longer exist under that name.

O'Neal says this is something that could take time to get completely straightened out but would ultimately not be damaging for alumni.

“For many years there would be a need to be flexible in providing both explanation and new diplomas,” O'Neal said. “I would hazard a guess that over half of all private institutions of higher education fifty years or older have changed their name at least once in their history, and they have all managed to work through those logistical issues without any harm to their alumni. The ultimate purpose is to add to, not diminish the value of degrees awarded to our alumni.”

The cost of a name change is another factor to consider. A change would require modifying signage, literature, logos, websites, letterhead, business cards and all other printed media used by the university, which would all require financial investments.

Norton says the cost issue is one of his biggest concerns.

“A name change is going to cost a lot of money. A whole lot. The kind of advertising needed to let every person that knew about Oklahoma Christian now know that our school is no longer called that will be extensive,” said Norton. “I really wish we could focus on the changes we could make on campus with that kind of money.”

O'Neal is not ignoring that there are those out there who may not support a decision to change the name but asks everyone to keep an open mind.

“My hope and prayer is that the OC community will approach this openly, candidly, respectfully of the views of others, with a view to the long-term vision for OC and with a greater measure of trust in the wisdom and faithfulness of the trustees,” O'Neal said. “Even if we all are successful in doing so, good and honest men and women can and will disagree on matters of judgment, and that is when our mutual respect for one another and our willingness to listen to and learn from one another must prevail.”

Norton has done his own investigating with alumni of how the change would sit with them and his findings are not positive.

“I have talked with alumni from ten to twenty years back and they feel that changing the name is very similar to when a church decides that ‘In order for us to grow, we should turn the auditorium around the other way.',” Norton said. “I think we will keep our reputation regardless, and I also think that OC has come a long way in the last few years. I don't know why we would change our name to dodge a reputation that has been improving over the years. I also fear that we will estrange our alumni, which is no big deal I guess. Wait, aren't they the ones who give money to our school?”

Peery is aggravated by the fact that discussions about a possible name change are even taking place when other important things seem to have lost our interest.

“Is this really the most important thing to discuss right now? There are more pressing issues than a name change,” Peery said. “Are we trying to impress people or are we trying to impress God?”

Peery says she can't see any positive aspects to changing the name.

“There is not a strong enough reason to do it. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and I think it would be upsetting to the alumni. There is not a compelling reason to change the name.”

Student comments are welcomed by deSteiguer and all involved in the process of investigating a name change.

“All concerns are very valid. The most important thing I would tell people who have real concerns about a name change would be to share those concerns with the university's leadership. We want to hear those,” deSteiguer said.

Originally, discussion amongst the board concerning changing the university's name was to begin at their next meeting. However, since O'Neal is currently on a sabbatical, and since the board believes more research and thought should be put into changing the image before more discussion occurs, it has been postponed. There is no timeline concerning when a change in the university's name might take place.

“I think it's more important that the right decision be made than for the decision to be made quickly,” Frost said.

SGA will host an open forum for student discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m. in Scott Chapel.

Students may also submit opinions to whatdoyouthink@oc.edu. The opinions will be read and considered by those involved in making the decision.

Photo by: Jonathan Cannon and Hillary Richt

Comments...

Michael L. Surber says...
Posted Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Ted Norton - YOU ROCK! Epic comment, my friend!
Carol J. Copeland (Rister) says...
Posted Monday, September 29, 2008
The NAC (National Alumni Council) welcomes the comments posted in this forum for our viewing and reading. Please encourage those who have an opinion to use this medium for posting their thoughts. Thank you. Carol Copeland , President National Alumni Council for OC
Nathan B. Mellor says...
Posted Wednesday, September 24, 2008
OC Family, Over the past few days, in response to the Talon article, there has been growing concern about whether or not we will change our name from Oklahoma Christian University to something else. While it is important to not stifle important discussion about the future of OC, it is also important to make sure we all understand the story was about the decision NOT to pursue the name change study at this time. While the issue remains “on the table” the name change study has been postponed and a vote on the matter is not pending. I mention this because there is a growing sense of urgency as if a decision is to be made in the coming weeks. This is not the case. If the issue is picked up again in the future it would not be a discussion held in secrecy nor one made in haste. God is doing great things through OC, the campus has never been more beautiful and lives are being impacted for good every day. Sincerely, Nathan Mellor VP University Outreach
Chris M. Adair says...
Posted Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Has anyone heard the saying, 'If it ain't broke, DON'T fix it?' I hate to be blunt but what in the world could be wrong with the name Oklahoma Christian? I wholeheartedly agree with those who say, if we or anyone else has done something to damage the reputation of Christians to the point of removing it from the name of our institution whose mission states it exists to be “.. a higher learning community which transforms lives for Christian faith, leadership, and service,” then we need to be about doing everything we can to change that impression. What this sounds like to me is an attempt to cut bait by changing our name and attempting to fool someone into thinking we are something other than what we've always been. If we are to be what we've always been, why would a change in name make any difference? Maybe we need to examine the way we've always been and work on being better, not simply giving it a new name and hoping everyone won't know the new package contains the same old thing.
Ted Norton says...
Posted Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I am so glad that the name Benson University is being considered. I believe George to be one of the great guitarists of our time and I feel fortunate to say that I saw him play live one time back in about 1978 while in High School. It is news to me that he has some connection with OC but I guess he must be an alum or a donor? What is most surprising is that as I begin to understand all of this, I am realizing that the song "On Broadway" must have actually been about "our" Broadway here in Edmond and Oklahoma City. George, like me, must have fond memories of cruising Broadway in our youth. Sing with me, "They say the neon lights are bright, on Broadway..."
Paul D. Kelsey says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
I know I'm in the minority, but I think the name change is a good idea. I remember my freshman year when the school was supposedly called "OCUSA." Then it went to OC. However, I've read some good points before my post why it should stay the same too.
Leo V. Panchuck says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
The only thing that I would like to add to already voiced opinions regarding the name change and its adverse effect on the history, present, and the future of Oklahoma Christian is that to change the name of a well established entity like OC would be silly. As part of the OC alumni community I do not agree with the reasons for the change as it would only waste valuable resources and create mass confusion and havoc amongst alumni, students, and the employers who would like to hire OC graduates. Let's step back and reassess this name change endeavor.
Richard Shough says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
OC has taken so many steps forward in the past few years. Their admissions and marketing departments are award winning. Enrollment is up! The Campus is beautiful! "OC" has such light with so many of us alumni and parents. They've done a great job selling the name. Live with a little confusion over the name... it promotes conversations. I'd say it's taking a couple steps back to change the name to anything besides "OC" . Dr. O'neal is a good leader and needs to keep focusing on OC's mission... this is definitely a distraction. There is a lot of pride in being an alumini of OC (Not Eagle University or Stafford North University or whatever). Don't mess with a good thing! Plus... the signs paid for, the letterhead is printed and the money should go to pay professors and staff more. :) You could give Dean Arter a raise or lower tuition with all that money spent on making the change. OC Proud!
Teresa L. Fields (Thompson) says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
I agree with the others here. There was a need to change the name when we went from college to university but now there is not. I do not believe that the Oklahoma in the name limits the scope of our influence. That is where the main campus is located. To drop Christian from the name seems to me to be a capitulation to the pressures of the current society to be ashamed to follow Christ. I am proud to be a graduate of OCC / now OC. Please don't take that heritage from the alumni!
James R. Theisen says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
Please please PLEASE don't change the name. I've already "lost" one alma mater, when Michigan Christian College bacame Rochester College. I've experienced first-hand how a name change can alienate alumni. We have OC diplomas, wear OC rings and drink from OC mugs. Change the name and you communicate all the wrong things. OKC is a college town and you're going to have alphabet soup there no matter what you do. UCO and OCU aren't scrambiling to change to avoid confusion with OC, why should OC change? I say keep the name, keep the alumni and distinguish the school by its products, not it's shingle.
Mickie J. Foris (Powell) says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
As an alumni, please leave it alone. Yes, people can confuse OC with UCO, or OCU, but is it really that much of an issue? Oklahoma Christian has built a name for itself as an elite christian educator, earning honors as a top school. Leave it alone. Let us keep, not only the traditions that OC has become recognized for, but also the name that many of us love, respect, and have wonderful memories of. I know that in the past few years, I can say I went to Ok. Christian and there is no question of where and who that university is. That is a testament to the work being done there and the growing reputation of the name. Change it, and you lose a lot of that.
Tim M. Schwamb says...
Posted Monday, September 22, 2008
I have to agree with those that have commented before me. I am totally on board with evangelizing to as many as possible and giving them the opportunity to experience a great education in a great environment like I did. I understand the name confusion, too -- experienced it while I was there. I see good motives in wanting to change; I see no malice aforethought or blatant irriesponsibility. But after trying to see both sides, I do not agree with changing the name -- *especially* taking out the word "Christian". I fear that we would not be able to stay true to our Christian values over the years as we would hope, just as Kristin pointed out in her post. If we can, I am all for it! But history seems to bear out otherwise...We MUST give that weighty consideration.
Michael L. Surber says...
Posted Saturday, September 20, 2008
While I understand many of the "reasons" given advocating a name change, I do not agree with very many of them. It certainly made sense that their name changed when University status was reached but at this point, it seems both foolish and quite expensive to change simply for the sake of change itself. There will always be a chance of mistaken identity no matter what the school is named. Those who care to know will always know who we are. OC has a rich heritage and it deserves to be left named as it is. If it is truly too confusing to use the word "Oklahoma" in the name then perhaps they should just change back to Central Christian. At least then the name change would remain within the school's heritage. One last comment about changing to a name without the word "Christian" in it - these arguments have no legs. There are many outstanding schools within our brotherhood that do not use the identifying label of Christian in their name, Harding or Freed-Hardeman for example.
Donald H. Parker says...
Posted Friday, September 19, 2008
"Benson Christian University" may be the least worst option of those mentioned, though few people outside the University--or inside it, I suspect--have a solid idea of who he was. While we do appreciate our benefactors, the idea of selling the naming rights to the highest bidder seems distasteful. I'm not sure the other names are any better. Sharing acronyms with other universities is awkward, true, but surely not unmanageable. Postponing the consideration of a name change is a good idea. The longer the postponement, the better.
Kristin E. Barr says...
Posted Friday, September 19, 2008
Please don't change the name, or if you do, please keep "Christian" in the name. Sure, the number of OCU's and similar combinations abound in the OKC area. However, the name gives it its identity through geography (Oklahoma) and type of university (Christian). Too many schools are either dropping their denominational affiliation or not using it. Texas Christian University now goes by TCU. I'm a graduate of both OCC and TCU and can safely say that OCC (now OCU) has kept its Christian identity and TCU has lost a lot of it. They changed so they could conform to other big universities that go by their acronymns. SMU (Southern Methodist) has done the same to its detriment. "No one" outside OC knows Benson, so I'd leave it Oklahoma Christian. The thought of changing the name beyond going from college to university (like it did when I was there) saddens me. I hope that the decision is to keep it the way it is (OC) and preserve its identity. It's a proud heritage!

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