A school never wanders too far from its roots, Don Mills, former vice chancellor for student affairs, said.
Since 1889, when the university changed its name from AddRan Male and Female College to AddRan Christian University, administrators have maintained a vibrant internal discussion about the relationship the university has with the “Christian” in its name.
Simply put, the “C” in TCU points to a thriving relationship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the past, present and future, the Rev. Angela Kaufman, minister to the university, said.
The university’s founders, Addison and Randolph Clark, were members of the Christian Church, a denomination known today as the Disciples of Christ.
When the university suffered financially, the Clark brothers turned to the church for financial help. But the relationship has
extended far beyond a simple financial endorsement.
“There will always be individuals who would like it to be more or less alive,” Kaufman said.
For better or for worse, there have been changes in the administration’s relationship with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Eugene Brice, an alumnus and board member of both TCU and Brite Divinity School, said that over the years, Disciples of Christ’s presence has waned in the faculty and board of trustees.
When Brice attended the university in 1948, there were provisions on the board of trustees requiring its members to be Disciples of Christ. As the provision stands now, the board requires five percent of its members to come from the church.
In 1998, the board hired Michael R. Ferrari as the first “non-member” chancellor of TCU. Victor Boschini, a practicing Catholic, followed Ferrari as chancellor in 2003.
Looking back, Brice said, the shift was not surprising.
“I think we had to choose between being a rather small, nice church-related college or progressing and expanding to the university we are today,” Brice said with a hint of nostalgia.
Newell Williams, president of Brite, said the discussion of the “C” in TCU would not be complete without mentioning Brite Divinity School.
In 1914, with a gift from L.C. Brite, TCU founded Brite College of the Bible. And although the college changed its name in 1963 to Brite Divinity School, Brite’s mission always has been to educate ministers.
Brite has contributed to the changing image of TCU’s Christianity through the leaders and values the school has created, Williams said.
Former Chancellor William Tucker, Associate Dean of Student Development Services Kay Higgins and Mills are a few examples of influential leaders that have been trained at Brite, Williams said.
In addition, Brite has a long history in raising awareness of social justice issues. Beginning in 1952, Brite allowed African-Americans to attend the college, and the university followed suit nearly a decade later. More recently, Brite has led the way for the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities on campus and within the religious community.
“I think it’s appropriate that a university that calls itself ‘Texas Christian University’ would be willing to address issues that are vital to our society at large,” Williams said.
The number of Disciples of Christ students and faculty have declined at Brite — just as they have at TCU.
But just because the sheer number of denominationally affiliated individuals has decreased, the ideological connection has not been tarnished.
In more recent years, the most vocal Christians have been conservatives, Mills said, and that is particularly true in the South.
This makes marketing the university as an institution committed to intellectual curiosity and inclusion a more difficult task when speaking with a prospective student who sees a “Christian” university nestled in the Bible Belt.
“So, frankly, from a marketing point of view you don’t even use the word ‘Christian,’” Mills said. “It’s there — and people know it’s there — but if you use the word, then you have automatically triggered a certain kind of thinking.”
The 2010 TCU Visual Identity Style Guide guide released by the Office of Marketing and Communication states that on all official university publications and external advertisements, the university’s name should appear as TCU.
As early as 1980, Bill Koehler, who was then vice chancellor for academic affairs, and others began using “TCU” to refer to the university on recruiting trips.
“The objective was not to dismiss or belittle the word ‘Christian,’ the objective was to clarify the university’s relationship to the religion,” Koehler said.
Mills said that in short, administrators attempted to condense a complex university experience into a concise statement.
Bill Johnson, an instructor of marketing and branding, said branding creates a connection between the consumer and the product.
“It’s about saying, ‘That’s a brand I could sit down and have a beer with,’” Johnson said.
Larry Lauer, who, beginning in 1979, directed TCU’s marketing for 30 years, said each of the university’s attributes, taken alone, could be found in other institutions.
“But if you could get at the top four or five and sell them collectively, then you begin to differentiate the place,” Lauer said.
As Lauer and his department began to talk with students, faculty and alumni about their experiences at TCU, they found that the most prevalent characteristics had to do with the university’s culture. Based on their findings, Lauer made efforts to increase the precision and cohesiveness of the university’s image.
For many, Lauer said, TCU’s Christian affiliation defined the university experience.
Mills said TCU was not the only university in Texas with a Christian affiliation, but it is one of the few universities that constantly revisits and reconciles its religious heritage with the present moment.
Faculty do not impose faith on students, Mills said. The Clark brothers adhered to the Disciples of Christ, a denomination devoted to fellowship with other churches and to pursuing biblical scholarship.
Mills said members of the Disciples of Christ became known as Christians. In Christianity, many denominations, such as Baptists, Protestants and Methodists have embraced a name defining a key belief or distinction. For the Disciples, their name signifies a commitment to including all denominations and sects within Christianity.
And if there is one thing that TCU has done consistently, Kaufman said it has tried to include everyone within its community.
“So whether you love TCU and want to be a part of the community or you don’t like it, our goal is that you know what you are saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to,” Kaufman said.