While waiting for more fallout from the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, we can focus once again on a topic that has been in the news off and on since 1984. It’s the perennial name change issue involving the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The name of the institution that many oldtimers still call USL (the University of Southwestern Louisiana) became a hot topic again Wednesday in The News-Star of Monroe. It said the University of Louisiana name for both Lafayette and Monroe was originally intended to benefit both schools.
“But now, it appears one of the schools seeks to establish itself as ‘the University of Louisiana’ by dropping any reference to Lafayette in apparent violation of the state law that established the University of Louisiana system,” the newspaper said.
Not so, says Aaron Martin, ULLafayette director of communications and marketing.
“We’re not trying to change the name of the university in any shape,” Martin told NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. He said a plan to drop “Lafayette” isn’t in the works, and was surprised at reports that said it was happening.
The confusion appears to center on what ESPN and other news outlets are calling UL-Lafayette. Nick Bruno, president of UL-Monroe, told the newspaper some ULM alumni are especially sensitive when news or sports media refer to UL-Lafayette as “Louisiana” or “the University of Louisiana.” The university athletic teams are also called the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns or just Ragin’ Cajuns.
UL-Lafayette opened in 1901 as the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute. In 1921, it became the Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Liberal and Technical Learning. The third name change came in 1960 when it was called the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
The former Board of Trustees for State Colleges and Universities changed USL to the University of Louisiana in 1984. As you would expect, other universities cried foul.
Former state Sen. Cliff Newman of Lake Charles sponsored legislation to reverse the action of the Board of Trustees. Lawmakers supported Newman’s legislation, reversing the name change and making it retroactive to Jan. 1, 1984.
During legislative maneuvers, a state district court judge ruled in a case brought by the Board of Regents that only the Legislature had the authority to change the names of colleges and universities. The Board of Trustees appealed that decision to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, but it said the name change issue belonged in the state Supreme Court.
The 2 1/2-year-old legal battle wasn’t settled until October of 1986 when the high court refused to hear arguments in the case. In doing so, it agreed that only the Legislature could change the name of higher education institutions.
In 1995, the name issue surfaced again. The late state Sen. Cecil Picard of Maurice sponsored a bill to create the University of Louisiana System to replace the Board of Trustees for State Colleges and Universities.
Eight schools under the UL System were given the right to change their names to the University of Louisiana at whichever city they were located. Those eight were McNeese, USL, Northeast, Northwestern, Nicholls, Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Southeastern.
USL and Northeast were the only two that decided to change their names, and the law required that two schools had to agree to do it to make it happen. The changes became effective in 1999. USL became the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but everyone knew from the beginning that it wanted to drop the Lafayette designation.
The law stipulated that “the use of the University of Louisiana abbreviation must always include the abbreviation for the municipal location of the institution.” However, the state has no control over what outside sources call the universities. The Advertiser of Lafayette, for example, early on decided it wasn’t going to use the city designation when it referred to the university.
Kevin Foote in a Friday Advertiser column said, “Let’s cut to the chase. UL wants to be the University of Louisiana one day, and there are people all over the state who don’t want them to do it.”
Foote also managed to inject McNeese into the picture, although it hasn’t shown any interest in taking sides in the current squabble. He also resurrected perennial complaints that LSU is a key opponent of the name change.
“I have no problem with ULM fans or McNeese State fans being petty about UL’s business,” he said. “I understand the rivalry there. But would someone please explain to me why LSU cares what UL does?”
Michael Bonnette, LSU sports information director, told The Times-Picayune that whatever the Cajuns call themselves, it won’t affect LSU as the state’s flagship university.
“I know this is a push to try to become whatever it is they’re trying to become. But it has no effect on us,” Bonnette said. “We’re pretty secure in who we are.”
The same thing can be said about McNeese. Things are going well at MSU with little concern for the current tiff between the two UL schools. However, McNeese supporters are always interested in reading about the identity crisis of that university 75 miles down the road.