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Oklahoma Christian not the first to consider name change


Picking a name is simple.
Changing that name is complicated.
Just ask Oklahoma Christian University leaders, who recently considered a name change. After hearing from 200 concerned-but-considerate alumni and friends, Oklahoma Christian decided to embrace the traditional name.
“The majority opposed changing the name at all,” Oklahoma Christian spokesman Ron Frost said.
Yet keeping its longtime name leaves the university with a challenge. For years, Oklahoma Christian has struggled for name recognition, largely because so many colleges and universities feature “Oklahoma.” Prospective students with an appointment at Oklahoma Christian occasionally even end up at Oklahoma City University across town. Phone calls get misdirected.
That’s one reason leaders considered changing to Libertas University or George Benson University, in honor of the distinguished missionary to China and former president of Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
But those changes would have meant removing “Christian” from the name.
“Well, the downside is that a lot of supporters would think we’re getting away from our Christian mission, and of course that’s not the case,” Frost said. “There was never any consideration of that.”
A decade ago, leaders of Michigan Christian College took the risky path, changing the name to Rochester College.
Michael Westerfield, now a tenured English professor, served as president of Rochester College from 2003 to 2008.
In the 1990s, Westerfield said, Michigan Christian faced an obstacle to its plans for expansion: Its name.
In Michigan, Westerfield said, if a college features the name “Christian,” many prospective students and parents wonder if the school is accredited. In Michigan, “Christian” usually indicates a mission and minister preparation school.
In 1997, President Ken Johnson met with Michigan ministers and said, “We are in a time and place where we have two choices: become a liberal arts college larger in size or die a slow death. … A name change would improve the opportunity of the former.”
As expected, concern was expressed by alumni and church members, but a college representative spoke by phone with everyone who voiced complaints.
The strategy was simple, Westerfield said. Everyone was told that even though the name had changed, the mission remained the same.
“There really wasn’t a lot of backlash,” Westerfield said.
A few years earlier, Faulkner University, once known as Alabama Christian College, faced the same challenge.
In 1985, the college’s board voted to change the name to honor Dr. James Faulkner, a longtime supporter and president of the board. The institution retained Alabama Christian College for the school of arts and sciences, and Christian remained in its elongated name, which is “Faulkner University, A Christian University.”
“But that wasn’t enough for a lot of people and quite frankly it took us quite awhile to overcome that,” said Billy Hilyer, Faulkner’s president.
There were other complications.
Alumni “felt almost betrayed” by the name change, Hilyer said, and for a time, selling the new brand was a challenge.
In the Church of Christ community, women and men knew the name Alabama Christian. Much of the community didn’t know — for a few years — the name Faulkner. “It was quite a problem,” Hilyer said.
“People lost us.”
Back at Oklahoma Christian, leaders will work with the longtime name.
Nathan Mellor, Oklahoma Christian’s vice president for university outreach, even found a silver lining in the outcry against a change: He said the level and intensity of the response demonstrated just how much alumni and friends care about the university.
“This is a question of identity. It was a question of who we are,” Mellor said. “I would hope that you would get an emotional response. We weren’t surprised by the passion of the people who wrote to us and called us. It was an encouragement that people do feel strongly about the name that we have.”

  • Feedback
    Apparently “For years, Oklahoma Christian has struggled for name recognition, largely because so many colleges and universities feature �Oklahoma.� Prospective students with an appointment at Oklahoma Christian occasionally even end up at Oklahoma City University across town. Phone calls get misdirected.” was not the problem it was once thought t be. Always good to have thins in perspective..
    ,
    February, 4 2009

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