By Brandon Martin
The Patrick Henry Community College Board has laid the groundwork to find a new name for the college following the State Board of Community College’s rejection of the local board’s decision to either keep the name the same or to rename it as Patrick-Henry Community College.
Last month, the State Board of Community Colleges rejected PHCC’s recommendation to retain its name. It also rejected the idea to add a hyphen into the college’s name.
However, the state board, which has the sole authority to change –or retain—a name of a college, provided PHCC an opportunity to propose a new name.
To that end, an anonymous survey will include two fields that will allow the community to suggest a name and provide a reason for why that new name should be chosen.
At a recent meeting of the local college board, Dr. Angeline Godwin, president of PHCC, said the proposed names should “capture the mission and vision” of the college, and comply with the new policy by the state board regarding the name.
Additionally, “there is no appetite from anyone for a new name to be a name of a person.”
Godwin also suggested that any new names coincide with popular branding associations already in place with the college. These would include the compass logo, the colloquial shorthand of “PH,” and the theme of “patriots,” Godwin said.
She noted that the state board has not proposed any funding for the name change, which would impact current merchandise, signs and advertisements.
“We’ve got no funding stream for this,” she said. “So, we need to go back and look at the financial analysis on a name change again.”
The renaming discussion began nearly a year ago when the state board called for all of Virginia’s community colleges to review their names for appropriateness. After a lengthy and thorough review process, PHCC recommended to the state board that it should retain its name.
As part of that financial analysis, Godwin asked that it be broken down into one section that includes the previously mentioned branding associations and another that does not consider those factors.
Godwin encouraged the board to continue bringing up the subject of funding to the state board.
“I think we need to continue to have those conversations,” she said. “I wouldn’t just stop talking about it. I’m not going to quit talking about you getting some money for this. I do think we should keep asking the state board to look for resources.”
The final list submitted to the state board will consist of 3-5 names, Godwin said.
Regardless of the names submitted, Godwin noted that the state board has the sole authority on the naming of community colleges in Virginia.
“Our only goal at this point is to influence the state board’s decision on what a new name might be,” she said.
The state board instated a policy during its May 2021 meeting that delineated how the appropriateness of a college names would be determined. The new policy stated that institutions’ names “should reflect the values of inclusive and accessible education articulated in the VCCS mission statement, with special emphasis on diversity, equity, and opportunity, and be relevant to the students it seeks to serve and to the geography of its service region.”
When summarizing the background, Godwin noted three circles — the circle of concern, the circle of influence and the circle of control.
She said the state board is in the circle of control and she left the decision to the local board as to if it wanted to be part of the circle of influence by suggesting names or to be part of the circle of concern where the board would let the state board make the decision without local input.
“The question before this board is do you want to participate in the renaming of this college, yes or no,” Godwin said.
“I still totally support our first decision. That is what we named it, and it’s in the minutes,” said Gary Collins, a member of the local board.
“I totally disagree with the state of Virginia,” he said, and added that he does not like the position the local board was put in by the state board.
After submitting a resolution passed by the Patrick County Board of Supervisors to not change the name of the college, board member Wren Williams said, “We know that this name has sort of been attributed to Patrick Henry at this point, who was an American hero and one of the founders of this great nation. I like the name Patrick Henry Community College and I’ve always enjoyed that name, especially with the ties to the communities Patrick and Henry counties.”
Williams said he is saddened that “we are seeing individuals try and create this division that is just not felt in the region.”
Overall, Williams said he objects to “participating in what I think is a very patronizing exercise, and I feel like we should stand against this cancel culture and make the decision that no, we are not going to participate in what you are asking us to do.”
“I agree with Mr. Williams on some points, but if we don’t change it, then we have no choice, and they are going to stick us with a name that we may not want at all,” Collins said. “I’m in favor of doing it (participating), not because I like it, but I think we need to because who knows what they are going to stick us with when we would at least have the right to a choice that we could recommend.”
A majority of the local board members approved a motion made by board member John McGraw to participate in the renaming process, with Williams and Robert Haley casting dissenting votes.
The survey will close on June 14. The local board then will make a final decision on a slate of recommended names and submit that list to the state board on June 21.
Acceptable names will be ranked by preference of the local board, and each individual name must receive a majority vote to be included.
The state board “may take” one of the recommendations suggested by the local college board “and they may not, but at least we could make a recommendation,” Collins said. “The community has got to know that we have no choice in this.”