Just say No (to merger)

First a bit of history…. a little over 15 years ago in June, when I was a relatively young grad student who had just defended his dissertation and was out on a job interview, I awoke to the public radio station reporting news of a planned merger for the school where I was about to interview. This was a little unsettling, to say the least. The school was MUW, where I’ve been teaching ever since.

At my interview with the division head (we had 8 divisions then, instead of 4 colleges), I timidly asked about the news. “Oh, that will never happen,” Ginger Hitt reassured me. And she was right. Then, as now, the alums of Mississippi University for Women went to bat for their alma mater. Then, as now, they wrote letters, made phone calls, made personal visits, and made it clear that the first state supported university for women should not be closed or merged.

Today we face the same threat, this time ostensibly due to the current budget crisis, though there is little evidence that merging MUW (and merging Alcorn, Valley, and Jackson State) will have much of an effect on the budget. When there are financial or other difficulties, someone always seems to call for closing the traditionally African American universities and the women’s university. It just so happens that we are also the smallest universities in the state. Never mind that many students are better served in a small, teaching university than in a large research university. Some will always believe that bigger is better, but for many students who need a more personal education, it is not. Our successes can be witnessed by the passion and political savvy of our many alums, who have already begun to mobilize in our support.

Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed I would still be here and would be facing the same threats again. But I have grown to love the W and to respect what it stands for. I have worked hard over those years to be a part of what makes this university great, and I have seen the tireless efforts of many others. I would hate to see that legacy lost if MUW were merged with Mississippi State, as Governor Barbour proposed in his budget today. We would lose our identity and many of our core faculty, if that happens. Our students would lose the opportunity to learn in the environment that best fits them (if it didn’t, they would have chosen one of the larger schools). I have heard from many of my students and from many alums who have told why MUW was the right place for them at that point in their lives.

That is why they support us — because we offer an educational opportunity that can not be matched or duplicated, and it has made a difference in their lives. They have already organized two meetings, on in Jackson yesterday and one in Columbus next Sunday. My hat is off to the long blue line!

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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