Chancellor drops name change proposal: Theatre Department, A&S faculty voice strong support for existing name

Meredith Shea

Chancellor Morton speaks directly to Theatre faculty and staff during a face to face meeting Oct. 29 concerning the Theatre petition against a name change.
                                                                                  Photos used with permission of Dr. Felicia Londre
“We will remain the University of Missouri-Kansas City for the foreseeable future,” Chancellor Leo E. Morton announced in a letter to the UMKC community Friday afternoon.

For several months, Morton held town hall meetings and spoke to faculty, staff, students, community members and UMKC stakeholders.

In mid-October, a survey was emailed to all current students, staff and faculty, and a mail-in survey was featured in “Perspectives,” the UMKC alumni magazine.

Prospective students and community members were also able to voice their opinions.  Alumni alone completed 8,800 surveys.

Morton said the outcome of the surveys and other research would be the deciding factor in whether to bring the proposal to the UM System Board of Curators in December.

Morton said he wanted to better understand how a name change might affect the university’s goals to increase undergraduate enrollment and philanthropy.

Coming from a business background, Morton believed a name change, or “rebranding,” would be the easiest and fastest way to achieve the University’s goals.

“We said that if a name change could help us achieve our mission, vision and strategy, then it was worth considering; if we were to learn that it wouldn’t help, then we wouldn’t go forward with it,” Morton wrote. “And our internal stakeholders – faculty, staff, students and alumni – made it clear that you are not ready to make this change at this time.”

According to Morton, undergraduates represent about 80 percent of total enrollment at universities like KU and Mizzou, but they represent less than 60 percent of total enrollment at UMKC.

State support has declined as a percentage of the school’s unrestricted revenue stream in recent years, which has urged tuition and fee increases.

“When state support is declining, when it used to be a large part of the income we get, you have to find other sources of revenue,” Morton said.  “Now, we can’t just increase tuition and fees.  What we have to do is increase the number of students paying tuition and fees.”

“He told us that if a lot of people were not behind the change it would not happen, and true to his word it is not happening, at least for now,” said Ron Schaeffer, professor of Theatre. “So good for him to listen to faculty and students. I respect him highly for that.”

In response to the petition in opposition of a name change from the Department of Theatre, Morton held a meeting on Oct. 29.

Approximately 70 Theatre faculty, staff and students attended.

“He did speak with the Theatre Department on Monday [Oct. 29] and College faculty on Tuesday [Oct. 30], and in general I think it would be accurate to say that the sentiment in both rooms was ‘why’ [change the name]?” said Tom Mardikes, Theatre chair and professor of sound design.

One student at the meeting suggested that recruitment was a bigger issue than a name change.  A graduate from the Shawnee Mission School District, she said she, “was never once approached from anybody from UMKC saying, ‘Would you like to go to our school?’”

On the other hand, she said KU, K-State and Emporia State recruiters visited students in the district three to five times a year.

“I’ve talked to guidance counselors and some of them say [that] we’re there all the time, and others say they’ve never seen us,” Morton said.  “We’re going to change that. I’m convinced that’s one of the things that we need to do.”

What was unknown to the Theatre Department during the meeting was that Morton already had the results from the surveys prior to the Monday meeting, but had not yet released them.

“I talked with Chancellor Morton last night [Nov. 2] at a gathering and thanked him for the discussion on Monday,” said Jennifer Martin, James C. Olson emeritus Professor of Theatre. “He said that the results of the survey were clear at that point, but he wanted to pursue the discussion with Theatre folks. Again, a vote for academic discourse. I think everyone can benefit with open, civil discourse.”

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