SOCORRO, N.M., February 15, 2000 -- "What's in a name?" For people who are already familiar with it, the name "New Mexico Tech" invokes certain images and notions of what the state-supported research university is really like.
However, to individuals who are less familiar with New Mexico Tech -- many of whom may be potential students -- the name "New Mexico Tech" often suggests a whole range of inaccurate, and
often negative, preconceptions of the type of education the school provides -- or of what the institution actually is.
Recruiters from the New Mexico Tech Admission Office are frequently asked by those unacquainted with the science and engineering university, "Is that some sort of 'vo-tech' school?"
Oftentimes, those same potential students who ask such questions are surprised to learn that not only does New Mexico Tech offer several different baccalaureate and graduate degree programs, but many of them also lead up to a doctorate-granting level.
"Our Admissions representatives -- those who make a living trying to sell people on New Mexico Tech -- will tell you, that among the uninitiated, our name reflects a place where somebody might go to learn to become a mechanic," says Richard P. Ortega, director of Tech's Office for Advancement, one of university's leading proponents for changing the school's name.
"Would we attract more students who are looking for a quality science and engineering school with less effort if our name better reflected those qualities?" he asks.
"A New Mexico Tech alum might point out with pride that they completed a degree at Tech, but does the person who's in charge of hiring wonder if a graduate of New Mexico Tech might be able
to fix their Dodge?" Ortega continues. "Or, are recent Tech grads who send their résumés out-of-state being screened out after a casual glance at their educational credentials because of
mistaken assumptions that New Mexico Tech is a vo-tech school?
"I have sat at the New Mexico Tech table at college fairs and have had to respond to blank stares or expressions of 'What's a New Mexico Tech?'" Ortega relates. "On our college banner, we have had to put 'New Mexico Tech,' followed by 'Science and Engineering,' precisely because our name in itself does not tell the whole story and requires a tag line."
Ortega adds that the name "New Mexico Tech" is not well recognized in areas outside of New Mexico, even though some alumni from the university, as well as some current students and faculty, mistakenly assume that New Mexico Tech's name is as recognizable as a "Cal Tech," "Georgia Tech," or even "MIT."
"Two years ago, we hired a national marketing agency to conduct a limited marketing campaign for Tech, and one of the first suggestions they came up with was for us to change our name and include 'university' in the new name," Ortega points out.
And, the four-year university's legal name -- New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology -- in addition to being excessively lengthy and cumbersome -- isn't much help in conveying an accurate, attractive, and up-to-date portrait of the 111-year-old university.
Although "mining" was allowed to remain in the school's title the last time the university went through the channels of required state legislation to change its name in 1951, the emphasis on providing a mining curriculum at Tech has withered since then.
Likewise, the number of students who actually graduate with a mining engineering degree from New Mexico Tech has steadily declined.
And, the number of prospective students who are attracted to schools that specialize in mining engineering has dwindled, paralleling the domestic mining industry's general downswing into
economically dire straits.
"Most of the offices at Tech that have a primary responsibility to interact with outside constituents strongly support changing the name of the Institute to reflect the true nature of our endeavors," Ortega maintains. "The Tech Admission Office representatives, for instance, have adamantly stated that we need a name with 'university' in it to accurately portray ourselves as an institution of higher learning which awards bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees."
To add further confusion to the issue of the small university's identity imbroglio, in recent years a vocational school, specializing in training card dealers for the state's Indian casino gaming industry, set up shop in Albuquerque under the similar sounding name, "New Mexico Institute of Technology."
In an effort to circumvent some of the inherent problems associated with New Mexico Tech's current name, or names, a prescribed course of action has been initiated by the university's board of regents.
The Tech regents currently are gathering data and seeking input from "stakeholders," which will allow the university's governing body to thoroughly examine the repercussions and consequences of changing the school's name before a decision as to whether or not to proceed with a name change is made.
Should the process eventually progress to the point of changing New Mexico Tech's name, it wouldn't be the first time that has happened in the university's long history. In 1951, at the urging of school administrators, the New Mexico State Legislature voted to change the name of the New
Mexico School of Mines to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, a name which eventually got shortened in common parlance to the more manageable "New Mexico Tech."
Changing the name of any of the state's universities, however, requires an amendment to the state constitution; and, it wasn't until the 1960 general election that a majority of New Mexico voters officially okayed New Mexico Tech's new name, along with approving new names for New Mexico State University, Western New Mexico University, and New Mexico Highlands University. Whether a new proposal to change New Mexico Tech's name can garner as much statewide support as the last effort remains to be seen since none of the other state universities are consolidating efforts to lobby for respective name changes as they did for the 1960 general election.
New Mexico Tech Board of Regents and university administrators have already begun making initial contacts with some of the state's legislators to begin gauging the level of support or opposition a proposed name change for the institute is likely to encounter among the lawmakers.
"There have been no major objections [to changing the school's name] voiced at any of the meetings," says Tech Board of Regents Chairman Robert E. Taylor, "and we assured the legislators that we are not working toward changing the mission of the institution."
The task of gathering data related to the name change issue also has been assigned to New Mexico Tech's vice presidents; and market surveys of Tech alumni and New Mexico citizens have either already been done or are in the planning and development stages. A campus committee, which was convened in 1997 to address the name change issue, was specifically given the task of compiling related comments and suggestions from New Mexico Tech alumni, students, faculty, and staff, and it has submitted a summary of its findings -- both pro and con -- to the university's board of regents for the governing board's consideration of the matter.
In addition, the name change committee has suggested a few new monikers for the university to consider, including the committee's consensual favorite, New Mexico Tech University, as well as New Mexico Technological University, New Mexico Science and Engineering University, New Mexico University of Science and Technology, and New Mexico University of Science and Engineering. New Mexico Tech alumni who favor a name change also have proffered a few suggestions, among them "Science and Technology University of New Mexico," which, the contributor pointed out, could be shortened to the somewhat tongue-in-cheek acronym of "STUN M."
The university's Board of Regents and administration, meanwhile, have set up a rigorous game plan to further consider and evaluate changing New Mexico Tech's name.
According to the provisional schedule which was drawn up in previous regents meetings, during the recently held 2000 state legislative session, key legislators were approached to inform them about the name change issue and, once again, to gauge whether there is sufficient support or opposition to either proceed with or squelch additional lobbying efforts. In particular, state legislators from districts that have had historical connections or current economic ties to New Mexico's mining industry were solicited for their opinions on the matter.
After the end of this year's legislative session, a series of public hearings concerning New Mexico Tech's name change proposal are planned for the ensuing three months. The first of the hearings will take place in Socorro, on Monday, March 27, at 5 p.m. in the Tech Library, room 212. The second is scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, at 5 p.m. at the Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute's Smith-Brasher Hall; and the third is planned for Monday, May 15, at 5 p.m. at the Eastern New Mexico University branch in Roswell, in the school's Campus Union Building.
After the hearings, a "quiet campaign" during the summer months is scheduled to be mounted to garner support for a name change if prevailing support for such a cause warrants it. In September, a formal decision will be made by New Mexico Tech administrators whether or not to recommend to the Board that the university proceed with formally proposing a name change for Tech at New Mexico's 2001 legislative assembly.
If a decision is made to go forward with the change, then the proposal will be presented to the New Mexico Tech Board of Regents for formal approval of the matter. A vote on the name change is tentatively scheduled to take place during the September 2000 board of regents meeting. A formal announcement of the board's decision will be issued immediately after the meeting to properly notify all interested parties.
If the Board of Regents approves the proposal to change Tech's name, according to the regental schedule, the remaining months of 2000 will be dedicated to mounting an active campaign to garner further backing from Tech alumni, students, faculty, and staff, citizens of Socorro and New Mexico, and state lawmakers to bolster support for the proposed change.
Thereafter, once the state legislature convenes for its 2001 session, a vigorous lobbying effort would be mounted at the State Capitol to facilitate the passage of the proposal which would change New Mexico Tech's name.
If state legislators decide a name change for the university is warranted, a ballot initiative enacting a name change will then be forwarded for inclusion in the next general election.
After that, it's up to the voters of New Mexico to approve or reject a required constitutional amendment that would officially and legally change the name of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.