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UNIVERSITY of Maryland Baltimore County President Michael Hooker, who should know something about names one has to live with, wants to change UMBC's. It's too parochial with that word "county" in there, says Hooker.

Or, as Hooker is quoted in the current faculty/staff newsletter, "Not only is UMBC the only four-year institution in the country with 'county' in its name, but that name is increasingly dysfunctional as we emerge fully into a Ph.D.-granting

Hooker has appointed a task force to consider a new name, and the school is taking a poll among employees and students. The Retriever, the campus newspaper, last week stuck its tongue in its cheek and came up with 10 suggestions. Some of them can't be reprinted here. Among those that can be: "University of Maryland Behind Catonsville," "University of Maryland Agnew Campus," "University of Maryland Without Football," "Hooker's University of Research and Technology (HURT)" and "Sharper Image Tech."

UMBC has another name problem: People pronounce the acronym: "UMMbock." It has all the grace of a slab of raw meat hitting the floor. You don't hear College Park students saying, "I go to UMMcop." Or University of Baltimore students saying, "I attend Ubb." Or Towson State University alumni declaring, "Sports at Tissue are running in the red."

So one challenge at UMBC is to come up with a name that makes the public think of high-level research and academic prestige. ("University of Maryland Institute of Technology" is said to be favored by some in the Hooker administration. Others reportedly like "University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus of Arts and Sciences.")

Another challenge is to find a name that sounds good, especially if people are going to pronounce its acronym. "UMMbock" just won't do.

Name changes are nothing new in Maryland higher education. First, all the colleges wanted to be called universities, especially those that were saddled with the lowly task of training teachers. (These used to be called "normal schools.") Back in the 1970s, Towson State College President James Fisher asked the legislature to change his school to a university. It wasn't doing anything that would warrant the designation, Fisher conceded, but the prestige would help in fund raising and student recruitment. Fisher promised that if only his school could be called a university, it wouldn't actually act like one.

The General Assembly went along, and Towson State University promptly started acting like a university -- living up to its name, so to speak.

Then a few years ago the state colleges got the university bug. Never mind that most of them weren't doing what universities do -- conducting graduate research and granting the doctorate and other advanced degrees. All but Coppin State College in Baltimore, which never got the bug, eventually attained university status. Amid the discussion, Baltimore state Sen. Julian Lapides suggested facetiously that the community colleges be called universities, too. Maybe that's why you can buy a T-shirt in the Catonsville Community College bookstore with "UCLA" emblazoned on it: "University of Catonsville Left of Arbutus."

Out in Westminster, meanwhile, Western Maryland College has two name problems that have less to do with prestige than with location. Western Maryland is neither in Western Maryland -- it is in a Baltimore suburb -- nor public, which is what its name implies. But a name change, which has often been suggested over the years, runs into stiff alumni resistance. Alas, Western Maryland College may forever bear the name of a defunct railroad.

UMBC officials ought to be aware that the more complicated the name, the worse it will be for image. "University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus of Arts and Sciences" is, therefore, absurd. A case in point is what happened in Indiana when Purdue University and Indiana University, the two giant public institutions in Hoosierland, established a joint campus in Indianapolis. Neither wanted to be shut out of the name, so the pooh-bahs named the new school "Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis." The public, taking great liberties with the acronym "IUPUI," immediately dubbed the new campus "Ooey pooey." And when IU and Purdue later established another joint campus in Fort Wayne, the public called it "Ooey pooey phooey." That's worse than "UMMbock" by far.

What Hooker and friends ought to do is come up with something short and simple, something that imparts power and strength. Something like "Yale," already taken, or "Dartmouth," also reserved. The University of Pennsylvania found that its SAT scores and applications shot up when it started calling itself, simply, "Penn."

Short and simple, that's the ticket. "Hooker University" wouldn't be bad, except that college names have a way of outliving their presidents.

Mike Bowler edits this page.

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