Thursday, March 03, 2005

Dumb and Dummer - My Alma Mater's Identity Crisis

I am a proud alumnus of Governor Dummer Academy, the oldest boarding school in the nation - founded in 1763 through a bequest from Lt. Governor William Dummer of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Quincy Adams once served as Secretary of the Board of Trustees.

Talk about tradition! Yet the current Board of Trustees, headed by Dan Morgan, my friend and former wrestling teammate, has embarked on what seems to me to be a fool's errand: exploring the changing of the school's name to something less "off-putting." Last evening's Chronicle show featured a brief segment on the controversial initiative. The Boston Globe has covered the developments in several articles this winter.

In a nutshell, the Board fears that the school's ability to recruit out-of-state boarding students is hampered by the first impressions created by the hearing of the name "Dummer." Since word leaked out to the public about the proposed name change, the school's name has been on everyone's lips. Everywhere I have gone, people who know that I went to GDA ask me: "Isn't that the school that is trying to change it's name?"

GDA is a great school and storied institution. It was at this school I first learned of the concept of The Renaissance Man. It was in the wrestling room that I learned from Coach Heb Evans about leadership. It was at this school that I learned to think as a "citizen of the world." My son, Tim, graduated from GDA in 1999, and received an extraordinary education there.

I hardly think of myself as an entrenched traditionalist. Most of my life, I have thought of myself as more of an iconoclast. So, I am having a hard time sorting out my feelings about this issue. I hate the idea of changing the name. It seems like a "dumb" idea. Can't the Board and the administration find some more creative and effective ways to market the school's history and reputation other than distancing the institution from the "Dummer" name?

But I am hardly an impartial or objective observer in all of this. I would love to know the thoughts of those of you who have no GDA background and no ax to grind about this issue. What do you think? Would you send your kid to a school named "Governor Dummer Academy"? Would you shy away from considering it because of the name?


Al Chase
GDA Class of '65


Mark S. said...

I first heard of GDA when I began attending the University of New Hampshire. To get from my home in the South Shore of Massachusetts to UNH I took I95, and somewhere along the way is a sign for "Governor Dummer Academy."

I admit that I would snicker every time I saw it.

I don't think a name change would be all that bad. Of course I come from a heritage of people who had our names changed when entering this country!

This also reminds me of a Saturday Night Live skit with Nicholas Cage, but I digress. ;)

Devo said...

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," quoth the bard. Or some such nonsense. I, for one, imagine that many compelling arguments exist on both sides of the debate. However, allowing a silly name to deter one from attending an academy of such prestige seems pretty juvenile. However, the importance imbued in a name has been explored throughout literary history. Have you ever seen The Neverending Story?

I suppose I would argue that in this case, the school's history should trump any desire to lure future attendees. Unless the school actually witnesses a significant drop in class size, and can attribute it to the name... In which case, as you said perhaps they can come up with some other, more innovative methods for alleviating the problem.

Diane said...

I am not particulary objective on this as I am Al's sister. The history and tradition of this institution should be used to promote the school.

Perhaps their recruiters need a fresh look at the school if they are unable to find a "hook" to bring students to GDA. There is a lot to be proud of so it should not be that hard.

I assume the Board of Trustees are highly educated folks, surely they can retain the history of GDA and not have to start a "new" school.

Ah! Maybe they should look at what they are offering a potential student...curriculum issues, extracurricular opportunies, maybe a research intensive track working directly with a faculty member, the access to Boston, the history of the area...

Let's be creative!!!!