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The new St. Kate’s: Evolution of a name

College of St. Catherine campus
College of St. Catherine campus

What’s in a name change?

For the College (soon to be University) of St. Catherine, not much, at least not to the casual observer who caught wind of the school’s college-to-university announcement last week.

What got lost, though, was the story of how a school gets to change its name and what exactly the change means.

The name change was first suggested in a 2005 comprehensive plan, and last August the school set up a task force to study it. Two St. Kate’s employees, Julie Belle White-Newman and Marjorie Mathison Hance, co-chaired the task force, and were the perfect, if incidental, foils.

Different instincts
Mathison Hance was the alum nostalgic for the name — “I really felt the burden of making that emotional change for the college,” she said — while White-Newman was more interested in not getting blank looks from people when she told them about the school’s graduate programs.

The idea was to find a name that balanced St. Kate’s core mission as the largest women’s undergraduate college in the country with the recognition that it’s the only private school in the state that provides everything from associate to Ph.D. degrees, with quite a few of those degrees going to men.

The task force first tossed around all sorts of names, including changing St. Catherine to Carondelet (for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who founded the college), but learned quickly that alums were pretty attached to the St. Catherine name.

So it came down to “college” versus “university.”

One graduate program required
Turned out that answering the question of what differentiates the two is simple: Depends on the school. In Minnesota, a school only has to have at least one graduate program to be eligible for the “university” moniker. It isn’t really about prestige — look at Macalester and Carleton, for instance, both colleges — but about a name accurately reflecting what’s going on.

“Your name implies a promise to your constituents,” White-Newman said. “We’re making a promise that we’re going to be faithful to that core (of educating women) and at the same time we’re evolving, we’re changing, we’re comprehensive, we’re complex, we’re open to men and women.”

White-Newman and Mathison Hance, along with 15 others on the task force, spent the next nine months reviewing literature and talking to schools that had recently grappled with the decision (though grappled may not be the right word for one school, whose board of trustees suggested and passed a change during a single meeting). They also produced answers to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of questions from students to trustees.

They talked to student groups, faculty groups, committees, organizations, alums and anyone else they could find who might have an opinion. They handed out three cards to every person — green for “great,” yellow for “let’s study some more,” and red for “no way,” approximately.

From red to green

They hardly saw those red cards at first, and eventually not ever. The sisters, whom the task force worried most about pleasing, loved the new name, mostly because it was practical. “They said if this is what St. Catherine’s is now, then that’s what it should be named,” White-Newman recalled.

Even Mathison Hance filed away her yellow card in the first months, after she heard that some international students, a demographic the school hopes to cater to more, initially thought St. Kate’s was a high school.

Last week, the board of trustees unanimously approved the change. College out, university in.

Now the real work starts. First of all, somebody — the school hasn’t yet decided who — has to sit down and pick the actual name, though odds are the only debate is over the necessity of the word “of.”

All in the details

Then comes notifying everyone from legislators to lawyers, figuring out abbreviations (USC, for instance, might be a problem because it’s jointly trademarked by the University of Southern California and the University of Southern Carolina), changing who-knows-how-many signs, and a thousand other tasks.

The name officially changes June 1 of next year, but that’ll just be a formality; the school plans to announce the final name sometime this fall.

So that, in short, is what’s in a name change.

Though,to be honest, this fall’s first-years, after a few weeks on campus, will likely just start referring to the school as “St. Kate’s.” 

For more information on the task force, the college’s history, frequently asked questions, and all other things related to the College of St. Catherine’s name change, visit the college’s “Charting Our Future” web page.

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