What's In a Name?

What’s in a Name? 
In 1990, I graduated from Philadelphia College of Bible.  Over the years, PCB changed and with it, its name altered as well.  After achieving university status under President Babb, a new name was chosen, Philadelphia Biblical University, one that does not easily roll off the tongue.  Eventually, students, alumni, the community, etc., got used to it like will eventually happen with the new name change.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t reasons to wrestle with the proposal.  

The rationale for the name change
Dr. Williams, current president of PBU, argues that there is a perception of PBU being a Bible college with “university” in its name, leading people to believe that it has “limited offerings and a narrow vocational focus.” 

My thought:  The word narrow sounds familiar to me.  Matthew 7:13-14

Furthermore, market research conducted via focus groups and a survey yielded data that was considered in favor of a name change in general and toward the name “Cairn University” in particular.

My thought:  Of course you know polling is a good way to determine God's will.  Check out these references:  

The name change and why this one
In an email to alumni the same day that the name was unveiled to the student body, President Todd Williams revealed the new proposal and explained the reasoning for this particular name change: 

“On every continent, throughout all of human history, men and women have piled stones to serve as memorials and markers.  The stones marked the place of battles won and lost; they marked births and deaths; they marked boundaries and important events – ones worth remembering for generations to come. The stones stood as a silent memorial and an ongoing testimony.  Stones are piled at trail crossings as well.  Here they mark a road to be taken, a danger to be avoided, or a spring or well at which pilgrims can be refreshed.  Man-made piles of stones, memorials of the past and markers for the path ahead, are called by many names in many languages.  The English term is cairn.  

The name I will be proposing to the Board of Trustees is 

Some concerns about the name change
Cairn may become known as the university with an identity crisis.  This will be the third name for the institution in less than 20 years.  Certainly, such a decision should be more carefully thought out and vetted so as to achieve a name that the university could keep for the long haul. 

Financial  - While being assured that, “Any costs associated with a name change will not be funded by the operating budget but will be funded outside the budget by gifts and restricted funds with Board approval” one has to wonder a few things: 

1) where is the funding coming from?

2) Is the funding in hand or hoped for?

3) how does the institution justify such expenditures to change websites, letterhead, business cards, identification cards, signs on campus and in the community while eliminating so many positions and people in recent years?

4) how much money has already been spent on research that we know isn't cheap and where could that money have been better spent to further the school's purpose, especially during tough economic times?

An obvious problem with the name is an attempt to do what is done with practically every institution of higher learning and that is to refer to the school in abbreviated form.  CU (“see you . . .”) is a joke anyone should see coming.  Do the PBU president and trustee board so easily dismiss our beloved institution being made a punch line at every game or in society as a whole?

While it is the right of the president and board to make the change without alumni and student input, that doesn’t make it smart.  “This is a Board decision. It will be made by the Trustees” could be regarded as a slap in the face to every alum, faculty member, staff member and student who did not get a say.  Is that a message that is wished to be conveyed here? 

There are better alternatives

The Biola Example:  The Bible Institute of Los Angeles changed its name to Biola and thus moved the institution from being seen as a mere Bible college to one encompassing many more majors and programs.  Philadelphia Biblical University could do the same by changing its name to Philabi.  It would be short for its present name, retaining its history while not leading people to believe it is merely a Bible college with university in its name.  If the school decided to do this as a DBA (doing business as name), it would have the added benefit of reducing costs, I believe.  Whether as a DBA or full name change, it would allow PBU to gradually, and more cost-effectively, eliminate “Philadelphia Biblical University” in paper form, on signs, in websites, etc. 

Agora University:  In recent years, PBU has hosted a world-view conference called “Agora.”  The name has been used in the sense of the marketplace of ideas.  Calling the school this would be consistent with where the university has been headed in recent years and would address the concerns the present name has generated.  Certainly, Christians need to have a coherent, respected voice in the marketplace of ideas. 

My conclusion:  While many alumni have known the school as Philadelphia College of Bible and have an emotional attachment to that now forsaken name, it wasn’t the school’s first name.  That being so,  times change and so do institutions and people.  Change isn’t necessarily bad even when it leaves distaste in our mouths, esp. at first.  Resistance may be seen as futile and that may drive part of the intensity that will be seen in the ongoing debate.  People who have invested in an institution feel that they should also have some kind of a say in what happens there. “This is a board decision” may be seen as disrespectful to those who love Philadelphia Biblical University and have shown that through attending, graduating, keeping in touch, praying and even supporting the university since then with financial gifts or in other ways both tangible and intangible. 

However this dialogue goes, I would repeat Dr. Williams’ call to civility and prayer but I would also add that I believe that Dr. Williams and the Board could be a lot more sensitive and interested in the opinions and feelings of so many who have proudly called Philadelphia Biblical University their school.  On whatever side you find yourself, let’s not throw cairns (stones) or bury the sentiments of so many under a cairn (pile of stones).

Another viewpoint can be found here:  http://www.daveenjoys.com/2012/04/19/opinion-is-philadelphia-biblical-university-dancing-with-satan/

A blog post from Dr. Williams, President of Philadelphia Biblical University:  http://blogs.pbu.edu/president/2012/04/19/what-will-and-will-not-change/

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