A ‘Western’ battle

The name fight at the higher-ed corral is heating up again because Western State College in Gunnison seems intent on choosing a new name over the objections of Colorado Mesa University.

Western State President Jay Helman largely dismissed the concerns of CMU, which changed its name from Mesa State College last year, by saying, “We need to do what’s best for our college, just as they did what’s best for theirs.”

But there is a major fallacy in that statement: Officials with what was then Mesa State selected Colorado Mesa University as the new moniker for their school only after they deferred to the concerns raised by Western State.

Given their druthers, and those of most of their student body and faculty, members of the Mesa State Board of Trustees would likely have chosen “The University of Western Colorado” or “Western Colorado University” or something similar as the new name.

But, because Western State officials objected to the inclusion of the word “Western” in any new name for Mesa State — and made it clear they would fight any such name change at the state Legislature — the Mesa State trustees settled on Colorado Mesa University as an alternative.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished. So now, Western State is considering a handful of names, all of which are some variation of “The University of Western Colorado.”

Helman argues that because the college in Gunnison has had the word “Western” in its name for 89 years, it should be able to keep it in any new name, and we don’t dispute that.

The problem comes when it seeks a name that implies the small college in the state’s central mountains is the primary institution of higher education for all of western Colorado, as “The University of Western Colorado” or most of its variants would do.

With its much larger enrollment and campus, its broader array of academic offerings and its more accessible location, Colorado Mesa University can make a more legitimate claim to being the leading higher-education institution on this side of the Continental Divide. But, due to Western State’s objections last year, the school in Grand Junction declined to choose a name to that effect.

Western State should go back to the drawing board on possible new names or face the possibility this “Western ” battle will continue in Denver.


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