Since my last post supporting a possible name change for Houston Baptist University, a number of arguments have surfaced to which I have yet to see a thorough public response. To some extent they were addressed in last week’s “town hall” meeting, but I wanted to offer a few follow-up comments of my own.
1. We’ve already put 50 years into our name, why start from scratch?
The frank reality of HBU’s situation is that, even after 50 years, it has very little reputation among the general public. Moreover, what most people assume—that it is a school for Baptists in Houston—is inaccurate. Part of this is because HBU has done very little advertising and has been content with its small size and relative insignificance in academia or even its own community. That statement is bound to offend, but an honest evaluation is sometimes painful. It was, at one time, touted as “Houston’s best kept secret.” Thankfully, those days are over and HBU is looking toward national prominence. With an effective advertising campaign and a more welcoming brand name—not to mention improvements across the board—the University can do more for its reputation in five years than it has in 50. Certain programs, like nursing, that have enjoyed a good reputation should be able to retain this as the University grows and improves.
2. Shouldn’t we have a name that lets people know we are at least Christians?
There is no correlation between whether a university’s name sounds Christian and whether it has an actual reputation of being so. Compare Wheaton with Southern Methodist University, for example. People will know HBU by its fruit, and if those matriculating from it do not represent Christian values, having “Christian” in the name isn’t going to help. Besides, the idea is to eliminate unnecessary barriers, not lower them. If it is a University for all people, the name should not imply otherwise.
3. If we name it something like “Morris University” no one will know what that means!
According to the Board of Trustees, no person in HBU’s history is more deserving of such an honor than Dr. Stewart Morris, so the idea is being floated as a possibility. But, it’s true, most people have no idea who he is. But how much do people need to know about Mr. Pepperdine, Mr. Baylor, Mr. Wheaton or Mr. Brigham Young? A name is what you make of it, provided that you have some control over the “brand” of that name, which is impossible with words like “Houston” and “Baptist.”
4. If we want more worldly approval, what is to keep HBU from following the path of so many other universities and moving away from Christianity altogether?
First, approval is not the point. The ultimate goal is impacting more lives and making a bigger difference, but that necessarily requires a certain degree of credibility and amiability with those we are trying to reach. To be “in the world and not of it” is not to live in a bubble, it means we should hold strong to our values while making every possible effort to engage in meaningful dialogue with the world. So how do we remain strong in our values? Only two things will keep HBU on track: 1) the preamble of the school’s by-laws, which can only be changed with a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees, and 2) leaders who have strong convictions in line with the University’s values. In short, there are no promises, but the future leaders of the University are far more important than its name.
5. We should not be ashamed of our religious heritage!
See my last post. Those who say the University is running away from Christianity should spend more time listening and less time reacting. Perhaps fulfilling the University’s mission by taking “Baptist” out of the name sounds paradoxical to some, but shouldn’t the point be whatever works? I liked HBU senior Andrew Richardson’s comment from the last town hall: do you think Brigham Young would have been as successful if they had insisted on Provo Mormon University?
6. I came to HBU in spite of—or because of—the name, so what’s to stop others?
You’re not the one the University is concerned about. The question is whether HBU, in the long run, can better situate itself for maximum support.
“Houston Baptist University” does represent what HBU is in terms of its geography, values and institutional association. None of those will change. What it does not tell the world is what the school does and who it is for. HBU is for anyone seeking an education in which issues of moral or theological significance are part of the dialogue, and where one’s professors understand not just their academic field, but Christian faith as well. True, HBU is not for everyone—some prefer a purely secular environment—but too many potential students and supporters never take the steps to learn why HBU is right for them.
The fact that HBU’s name has constricted its growth and success is indisputable. While in some cases the name has attracted support, the opposite appears to be the most common. So the question is not whether HBU will be able to grow and build a positive reputation without the change; what we will be left wondering in 50 years is just how much potential we missed.