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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions will be read and considered by those involved in making the decision.
Photo by: Jonathan Cannon and Hillary Richt