Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Professor petitions to change Southeast’s name to “Vandiver University,” and go beyond the “Will to Do”

Friday, November 16, 2018

Controversy has swamped a recent online petition aimed at changing the name of Southeast to “Vandiver University.”

Conservatory chair of theater and dance Kenneth Stilson said he was sure there would be passionate opponents when he first wrote up the petition to change Southeast’s name.

The discussion of changing the name goes back years, he said, and involved talking to alumni, faculty and staff.

“There are going to be a lot of people who confuse the purpose behind the petition,” Stilson said.

The idea behind the petition was not negative, he said.

He said the thing that most qualified him to draft the petition was not his status as a professor or chair, but his being a proud alumnus of the university.

That history with the university made him want to see the university succeed and “bring it to another level," Stilson said.

Stilson said Southeast’s name has changed over time as the institution’s role altered, and just as the university is no longer solely for teachers, the name should be changed to better represent itself.

He said the name of “Southeast Missouri State University” denotes a regional affiliation, but a school with students from 47 states and 62 countries needs a name describing itself to the world.

Stilson said he believes no one thinks of Vanderbilt University as solely a Nashville university and many may not know what state the university is located because of its wider prominence.

The choice to name it after Willard Vandiver came from Vandiver’s prominence, serving as the fifth Southeast president and later being elected a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

He said Vandiver saved the university from extinction during a time of downward enrollment, which was relatable to the current situation at Southeast.

Stilson’s “Southeast Name Change” petition at has 209 signatures, with a goal of collecting 1,000.

An opposing petition started by Southeast student CJ Folsom has emerged on the website, aimed to “Keep SEMO’s Name SEMO.” It had 1,336 signatures as of Nov. 14.

Despite the concerns over budgeting, Stilson said the name change is important to improve marketing.

“Now is exactly the time to be talking about it,” Stilson said. “‘Can we afford not to do this?’ is the question. You have to spend money to make money.”

There is no formal organization behind the petition but Stilson said he received commendation for taking action on the topic.

Stilson said Truman State University and Missouri State University represent recent successful name changes.

“‘What’s in a name?’” he said. “A rose by any other name is still a rose. If we changed our name to Vandiver University, we are still the same institution. We would still be a rose.”