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California University of Pennsylvania will keep its name for now

Sunday, October 28, 2001

By Bill Schackner and Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

The book was closed yesterday on Eberly University.

California University of Pennsylvania announced yesterday that it was dropping a controversial plan to rename the school after the moneyed Eberly family of Fayette County.

The Eberlys themselves asked that the proposal be removed from consideration.

It had been pushed by California University President Angelo Armenti Jr., who said renaming the state-owned school for the Eberlys would enhance its reputation and make it easier to market in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Even though the Eberly plan was scrapped, Armenti said the idea of renaming the university was not dead.

"I haven't ruled out a name change," he said yesterday after a meeting with the school's alumni board. "In my heart, I believe that the proposal that is now off the table would have helped us as part of a major marketing campaign."

Armenti had announced plans last month to rename California University for the Eberlys. He said in a Sept. 20 mass mailing to alumni that he had been "authorized" by school trustees to petition the state Legislature for the change.

He had even lined up state Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, to carry the bill in Harrisburg.

The idea to rename the university, though, had never been publicly discussed by school trustees.

Many California alumni, faculty and students complained that they were blind-sided by Armenti's proposal.

"The plan was created in secrecy and then sprung on us as if it were almost a done deal," Ron Forsythe, an assistant professor of English, said yesterday. "This is a university, and there should have been open discussion. There was not, and most of us found the tactics offensive."

Jerry Spangler, a California University trustee, said earlier this month that the group had never formally discussed renaming the school. Spangler said he considered Armenti's announcement about a planned change only the beginning of a discussion about it.

Armenti's insistence that the school be renamed brought forth hundreds of critics.

Robert Eberly, a philanthropist whose family was to be honored by the renaming, said last week in a letter to Armenti that he had had enough. He asked that the renaming plan be dropped.

Eberly said he was moved to act because of "the number and often-angry tone of the objections" to Armenti's proposal.

Kirk Holman, a California borough resident whose son attends the university and who fought the name change, said Armenti had not done the necessary market studies.

"No person I can think of is more deserving of being honored than Bob Eberly," Holman said. "It was absolutely wrong, though, to drag his name into this controversy. The idea of renaming a school is something that should be done only after thorough research, which was not done in this case."

To support his plan, Armenti had pointed to various demographic trends in Western Pennsylvania. For instance, the death rate is higher than the birth rate in the five counties where California University traditionally has drawn most of its students.

Holman said those statistics have been well-known for years, but Armenti had no data to show how a name change would improve enrollment. California University has about 5,400 full-time students, slightly up from last year.

Armenti estimated the name change would have cost $1.5 million. Signs, stationery and university merchandise all would have to change.

Armenti said all of the money would have come from private donors, but opponents of the name change said he was pushing a costly gamble.

"If anyone lost in this, it's Armenti. He lost a lot of respect and support in the community," said Sally Stephenson, a retired professor of social studies, who fought the name change.

Armenti said his interest in renaming the university dates to 1994, when a marketing company redesigned the school's logo. The company said the university could never be marketed effectively outside the Mon Valley unless it changed its name.

He said the company suggested three possible new names for the school -- Keystone University, Laurel University or Southwestern University of Pennsylvania. Armenti never publicly discussed his idea of naming the school Eberly until this fall.

Robert Eberly and his family have been generous donors to dozens of colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He gave about $6 million to California University of Pennsylvania for a science building that carries his name.

Opponents of Armenti's plan said they considered the idea a grab for more money.

"I thought of it as trading in our heritage for a promissory note," Forsythe said.

Armenti, in a speech to students this fall, said there was no guarantee that renaming the school would bring more donations from the Eberlys. But he added that the family might be inclined to continue contributing to a school that carried its name.

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