Although proud of their 51-year tradition as a “Christian college of the highest order,” the Houston Baptist University is, nonetheless, considering a name change. School administrators believe that having “Baptist” in the school’s name is a turn-off to potential students after a study commissioned by the board of directors found that the name drew more focus from applicants than the university itself.
The study showed that “others out there are unable or difficult to see who we are as a university due to the name,” Cox told the audience at the town hall, which was streamed live online. A name change “would break down those barriers, let down those barriers to see who we have been, who we are and who we will continue to be.”
As part of the process, the board also canvassed alumni, current students and the college faculty and employees. The school’s spokesman Kim Gaynor explained that the need for the change became more acute in recent years due to the increasing diversity of the student body. When the University, then called Houston Baptist College, first opened in 1973, the incoming freshman class of 193 was primarily Baptist. Now, the Baptists comprise only about one-third of HBU’s 2,500 student body.
The name change isn’t the only step the school took to accommodate their new reality. Last year, non-Baptist members were appointed to the Board of Trustees, which made HBU the first Baptist General Convention-affiliated school to allow seating of non-Baptist board members.
Some alumni expressed concerns that renaming the school would also mean a step back from the school’s religious identity, but board member Ray Cox Jr., was quick to make clear that this wasn’t going to happen.
“There has been some discussion about us running away from the Christian roots and that’s the farthest thing from the truth,” Cox said, adding that the “core of what the school stands for is not going to change.”
But he also reminded board members and the alumni that the school was a national Christian university and that its name might obscure this fact. For evidence, he pointed to the results of the survey which polled 1,129 currently enrolled students and those considering applying, that found those polled believed there was a mismatch between the school’s name and its mission. While wanting to be seen as a university with a Christian focus but national reach, the name made it seem parochial and exclusionary. For this reason, the board is also considering proposals to drop “Houston” from the name as well.
At the moment, the school hasn’t settled on a new name. One option being considered is Morris Christian University, which would honor Stewart Morris — the founder and major benefactor of the school.