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squirrel on campus, former 404 photo

Instead of the cheer “Let’s go Peay,” what do you think of “Let’s go NUTS”? That was an option, albeit not a serious one, in the mid-1960s when University officials considered changing the school’s name. For a brief moment, it seemed that Austin Peay State College would become North Tennessee State University or, as some students hoped, Northern University of Tennessee State (NUTS).

            “There was a lot of humor around the naming, but most of it isn’t appropriate for print,” Dr. Richard Gildrie, emeritus professor of history and co-author of “A History of Austin Peay State University: 1927-2002,” said.

            The proposed name change was part of a national movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s to identify state colleges as geographic universities. A debate arose locally on whether Austin Peay State College should become a university, and if it did, should the Austin Peay name stay.

            “At that point in history, state’s were taking their state colleges and renaming them to serve regions within the state,” Gildrie said. “At Austin Peay, the problem was, are we really in a region? There’s Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University, and we’re stuck up on the Kentucky border.”

            Gildrie noted that the state’s long border made it difficult to determine why the school should represent the entire northern portion of Tennessee. But an article in The All-State newspaper, quoted in Gildrie’s book, argues for a new name, stating, “Although everyone agrees that Austin Peay was a great man and did much for the development of education, it appears that a geographic name would be more appropriate for the institution.”

            By 1966, it appeared that Austin Peay would be renamed North Tennessee State University, but in the Nov. 16, 1966, issue of The All-State, freshman Donnie Wheeler opposed the idea, saying, “If there is a change, everybody will have to buy new sweatshirts.”

Then-student Melissa Pitt also argued against the change, saying, “If the name is changed to NTSU, then it will be common like MTSU. In 50 years, what would be the point of having the mascot as Governors or buildings named after them? Oh yeah, we’d miss that great cheer, ‘Go Peay.’”

According to Gildrie’s book, in late 1966, “the faculty, students and alumni voted in favor of changing the name to North Tennessee University,” but the community wouldn’t have it.

“The local patriotism, the Clarksville local patriotism said, ‘You’re out of your mind,’” Gildrie said. “They said, ‘It’s Austin Peay. It’s been Austin Peay. It’s going to be Austin Peay.’”

And they were right. In September 1967, the regional college named for a Tennessee Governor was renamed Austin Peay State University.