When it comes to Southwest Missouri State University’s name-change proposal, there is only one thing set in stone: the name.
Carved in the marble wall on the second floor of the Missouri State Capitol is a list of what were considered “Missouri’s Greatest Resources” when the building was constructed in 1916. Among those resources: Missouri State University.
“These inscriptions reflect what Missouri’s resources were in the 1920s,” said Tom Sater, an engineering and construction manager for the state capitol. “This capitol has always surprised me when it comes to how well of a snapshot in Missouri’s history we have here.”
The marble wall carvings date to 1920 when the Capitol Commission Board looked for ways to fill the building with artwork and memorabilia commemorating Missouri and its history. As part of that mandate, the commission dedicated the second floor House wing to the history of Missouri and inscribed the top 20 Missouri resources into the top of the wall, with Missouri State University being one of those resources.
“At the time, the University of Missouri was the only state university,” capitol historian Bob Priddy said. “The rest were regional teacher-training institutions that have grown into universities such as Truman State University.”
The Fourth District Normal Public School, now known as Southwest Missouri State University, was one of those regional teacher schools.
The SMSU name change is again in the public eye after John Keiser, the school’s president, presented UM system President Elson Floyd with a five-point initiative in December. The proposal could lay the ground work for SMSU to finally change its name after more than 15 years of unsuccessful efforts.
If Floyd and UM curators agreed to Keiser’s proposal, the UM system would publicly support the SMSU name change and enter into a number of cooperative master’s and professional degree programs.
Floyd and other UM system officials have maintained that they will not take a position in the matter but instead leave a decision up to the Legislature.
Even though few people know about the art in the House wing of the Capitol, Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said its existence is one reason SMSU should not be allowed to change to Missouri State University. Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, argued the same point in the Senate last year, one of several political maneuvers that prevented the bill from passing.
Graham said he will continue to fight the name change.
“The University of Missouri was founded as Missouri State University,” Graham said. “Just because they have arranged the words to a more modern form does not mean it is their name.”
Allowing SMSU to change its name, Graham said, is only the first step in a number of long-term goals that he has identified, such as the creation of a second flagship university in the state, which he fears could be detrimental to the state and other regional colleges.
Still, there are those, including Priddy, who believe the moniker Missouri State University is not taken by any school and is merely a historical reference to higher education in Missouri. Priddy said that for MU to make claims to the name Missouri State University because of a wall carving is arrogant.
“I have never seen nor will I probably ever see something that perpetuates the fact that Missouri State University was only for Columbia,” said Priddy, an MU graduate. “If it were, they would not have put in under the Carthage city seal.”
The 1920 version of Carthage’s city seal set in the ceiling is just above the MSU carving.
Priddy said he believes the use of the Missouri State University wording was more general, much in the way the artists listed religion as one of the state resources.
There is no copyright or trademark on the name Missouri State University and no Web sites of the same name have been registered with either the UM system or SMSU.
Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, said the names of schools have changed with their growth and success. Denying SMSU the chance to change its name based on the stone carving is not practical, she said.
“If we were to believe that a stone carving could dictate what a school’s name would be, then we would still have a private Kansas City University or a Rolla School of Mines,” Champion said.
Although the debate over which school will be considered Missouri State University has yet to play out in the legislature, set to begin this week, Champion said she is sure this year will be different from previous attempts.
“The argument is an unfounded fear of competition for funding and students,” Champion said.
“This year people recognize that we need to broaden our base for funding and students so both of us not only survive but also thrive.”