Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seal Block Special Edition: Little brother from another mother

The name "University of Cristal" was also briefly considered.

If ESPN and TSN (aka ESPN Canada) were to somehow convince Canadian universities to care about varsity sports even a tenth as much as American universities do, the next round of Big Ten expansion would have two obvious candidates for admission: The University of Toronto, the centre of Canada's largest TV market, and my undergraduate alma mater, The University of Western Ontario, the home of Canada's proudest university football tradition. Both schools would have to make enormous facilities upgrades for this to happen, and Toronto would have to stop being terrible at football, but academically both would be excellent fits for the CIC. Having two Canadian schools in the Big Ten hockey conference would help replace the Canadian Hockey League with a slightly less corrupt player development model, which would also be nice.

UWO has recently announced a major new marketing push asking for people to call it "Western." To Canadians, this is hilarious as no other province has a western directional school. We all call it Western already. The American equivalent to this would be the University of California at Los Angeles spending tons of money on marketing to convince people to call it UCLA.

This marketing push includes a quote from the university president which may go down as one of the stupidest most WTF things ever said by a university president ever:

Harvard isn’t just Harvard. It’s Harvard University. But you don’t have to say university. How long will it take Western to get there, I don’t know. Our goal is to become such a recognized brand that just Western means us.

I've been trying to make a snarky comment in response to that and I can't. I'm so confused that the best I could think to do was put in a snarky post tag.

Old logo: We have a tower!
New logo: Stag and lion slap-fight! Winner gets maple syrup!
I didn't enjoy my undergraduate years. People bragged a lot about how great they were, but backed up their boasts with alcohol consumption instead of academic performance. I really don't like getting the alumni magazine because it's a lot of fluff about how great the school is and far too little about the interesting stuff people are actually doing. It's like the school has an inferiority complex. Recently it hit me: UWO is Michigan State. It's Toronto's little brother.

The most awe-inspiring "big brother" move one school has ever pulled on another was the one Toronto pulled on Western in 1921. Western had a part-time professor named Frederick Banting who had a hypothesis on how to extract insulin and use it to treat diabetes, but he didn't have lab space. So he went to Toronto, borrowed some space from J.J.R. Macleod, and the rest is Nobel Prize money for everyone. The Michigan equivalent would be if Richard Lenski was performing his E. coli evolution experiment in the basement of the Kraus Building. (If you don't know who Lenski is, read this epic smackdown he delivered. He should give MSU's post-game press conferences.) As big brother moves go, Mike Hart - awesome though he may be - has nothing even close.

There actually is a method to this rebranding madness. People in Canada know Western's a decent school, but people around the world think Western Ontario on a lower tier with similarly named schools like Western Michigan, Western Kentucky, Western Illinois, etc. (Not that any of those are bad schools, but in each case you get a more renowned school if you strike the word "Western.") The idea is to make it clear internationally that "Western" is the Canadian version of "Northwestern," and thereby attract more international students. No one cares that Northwestern's not in Seattle or Portland, and no one would care that Western's not in Vancouver.

The problem is that the school founded as "Western University" changed its name when it was no longer in the western part of Canada; it should have stuck it out the way Northwestern did. University officials changed the name to "The University of Western Ontario" in 1923, which in retrospect was a bad move. Maybe they were still stinging from the epic pwnage that Toronto had just pulled on them.

This move isn't going to encourage me to break open my checkbook chequebook, though. This is still a school that gives out 11" x 17" diplomas for some reason. This is still the school that sent me an e-mail invite to attend a Washington Nationals home game while I was living in Seattle. This is still the school that obsessively called me during my first year at Michigan asking for donations until I finally snapped and yelled, "No! I am not giving you any money! You gave me a crappy education that left me underprepared for grad school!"

At least Michigan State gets to make fun of their little brother, Central Michigan, 2009 football loss notwithstanding. UWO's little brother, Waterloo, is the precocious sibling that excels at math and engineering that you'll be working for someday. There is a point to this off-topic tale about branding and a university that needs to worry so much about branding: one of the reasons it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine because people all around the world know, even if they don't want to admit it, that it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

No comments: