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Branding UB

Branding UB

About the time I was starting out at the University of Buffalo, the university itself decided to undergo a rebranding. Understand that the name of the University of Buffalo is nicknamed among absolutely EVERYONE because its proper name is so long it’s obscene: The State University of New York at Buffalo. It’s the flagship campus of the State University of New York system – or SUNY – a large state-funded education blanket which is comprised of 64 different colleges. And The State University of New York at Buffalo was always shortened to match its original name, the University of Buffalo, to make it easier to fit into a headline banner. Well, the university wanted more publicity, so instead of highlighting the University of Buffalo part of the name, some new guy in charge of marketing – someone who wasn’t from Buffalo, wouldn’t you know it – decided it was time to highlight the NEW YORK in the name.

It didn’t go over well.

The idea was meant to try to draw attention to UB, so while it worked, it only worked in the most perverse of ways. While there were a handful of bloggers and online writers and UB alumni who backed it because the title screamed “NEW YORK,” the populace hated it. Hated, hated, hated, Hated, HATED it. And why not? It was an idea that counted on potential UB students being failures in geography and being recruited on the belief that they were going to be spending their nights in bars down in the OTHER New York. How dumb did they think people were? Didn’t they get the impression – any at all – that some student who took the bait would eventually make his way to downtown Buffalo and wonder where the Empire State Building was?

But here’s the thing: Buffalo looks at universities and colleges in a rather obtuse way. Less than half the population there holds any sort of college degree, and the city in general is a place where intellectualism gets snuffed out. Buffalo is a traditionalist stronghold, which keeps it trapped in a bubble of its own making. As I’ve grown accustomed to pointing out, the city graduated less than half its population from high school until recently, and even now the high school graduation rate is still pretty pathetic. Those who do graduate high school aren’t always in a hurry to run screaming off to college to earn their doctorates, either. They’ll learn just enough to know the different between tomato and tomahto, walk into the first call center with a Now Hiring sign in the window, and that’s it. The rest of life is marry the high school sweetheart, drink, raise kids, and hope the Bills bring home that elusive Lombardi Trophy. My joke that ambition in Buffalo means earning a high school degree isn’t too far off the mark.

So yeah, it felt like the city’s many institutions of higher education needed to cause a shakeup. UB went about it in the most extreme way it could think of, which was to latch on to the city that no self-respecting Buffalonian can stand.

Although the people in Buffalo are always keen to jump in support of their own civic institutions, UB can come off like a slap in the face. The people in the area who haven’t attended UB are in the habit of forgetting it’s there. Its location – the South Campus is right on the city’s northern border, while the North Campus is plopped in a distant no-man’s land in Amherst – certainly plays a role there. And the university’s athletic programs aren’t exactly the University of Michigan Wolverines. Hell, they’re not even the Huskies of the University of Washington or the Northwestern University Wildcats. Although they’ve been steadily improving and getting more attention as of late, the Bulls are still a mediocre team stuck in maybe the worst conference in college sports. And even with winning records, they don’t exactly have the world going for them. What be the problem? Let’s count the ways: Their campus might as well be stuck in the middle of the desert; the stadium has a football field surrounded by a running track, which doesn’t exactly lend itself well to intimacy; the bleacher section at Wrigley Field can hold more people; their primary rivals don’t realize they’re supposed to be our rivals; they don’t have any local media coverage – the fact that they’ve been aired on national TV several ties in the last few years is a miracle that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad all gave up trying to perform; and their nickname is one letter away from infringing on the copyright of Buffalo’s NFL team.

It’s funny how it took an advertising campaign like this to remind the people of Buffalo just how much they love the University of Buffalo after all. It didn’t seem like the people of Buffalo were giving a whole lot of mind to UB until this came along. When they did, it was sort of an offhanded bone. Maybe the kids went there, or maybe one of the football players made big news while playing in the NFL, but it all went the same way: With someone claiming they love and support this institution, but not really thinking about it until the NEW YORK was given lettering bigger than the BUFFALO. So this whole project leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I want to tell the University of Buffalo, “Well done!” On the other hand, I’m hoping the person who thought of it is shipped back to wherever he came from, where naming something after New York might work better.

To think, if the people of Buffalo had been paying attention to UB in the first place, this whole charade never would have been necessary. But I guess this is the sort of thing that happens when a city ignores its potential as a higher learning destination – even the stupidest and most degrading rebranding becomes a necessity, just so it isn’t left out of the peoples’ minds.

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Renaming the New York Bulls of Buffalo Whatever the University is Called

Renaming the New York Bulls of Buffalo Whatever the University is Called

It’s ludicrous to suggest that the University of Buffalo is undergoing an identity crisis now. UB was founded in 1846 and taken over by the SUNY system in the 1940’s, during which it was given an apparently endless series of names. That means UB is closing in on almost half its existence going through an identity crisis. When the university gods were naming schools, they must have been drunk when trying to attach a permanent moniker to UB. After a century of being known as the University of Buffalo, in the 1940’s the university gods proved to be a gaggle of cruel drunks and UB suddenly found itself with so many names that we’re all a little bit confused as to what to call it: Buffalo University; SUNY Buffalo; University AT Buffalo; State University of New York at Buffalo; or just Buffalo. Most people just stick to referring to it by its old, given name, the University of Buffalo.

Well, there is now a big ol’ monkey wrench being thrown into UB’s identity crisis, UB is setting out on a marketing program meant to re-spin the name of the place even more by emphasizing the part of the name that says “New York.” That means instead of being called whatever the hell it’s called now with “Buffalo” in the title, the university is going to be nationally known as the State University of New York. The University of Buffalo will become just a bit of a side name, even though it’s the flagship university in what’s really an overblown system consisting of 64 different schools of all tiers, from full blown university centers (University of Buffalo) to provincial university colleges (Empire State), technology colleges (Alfred State), and community colleges (Mohawk Valley). I can’t say I disagree with the naming, because if it works, people might begin to think of New York as something more than New York City, and UB will start to draw more students and better funding if said students are any good at football. Basically, it would give UB – by most accounts one of the best higher learning institutions in the country – more exposure and more national prominence. On the other hand, the city of Buffalo loses the claim to something which had, for the most part, been truly its own, and one of the big things it had to truly distinguish itself as someplace separate from New York City.

This semester is the official beginning of what people are commonly referring to the University at Buffalo New York Bulls Initiative marketing campaign. It’s starting through the athletic programs; the basketball court floor now has the title “State University of New York at Buffalo” embossed over an image of New York at center court, with the words “New York” the largest by a mile. The football team will be displaying the university name on its uniforms the very same way. Since that’s now set, there’s one important question I have: What the hell is up with that nickname? Bulls? Come on! That never made any sense as a name for a Buffalo team, and it damn sure doesn’t make sense for a team that wants to carry the name of the state – especially not with New York City’s Major League Soccer team wearing its corporatized nickname, the Red Bulls. So if the University of Buffalo wants to become the State University of New York, that nickname has to go. Here are some suggestions to replace it:

New York Buffaloes

What better way to appease everyone than by naming it after both the state and the city? The animal is already a very prominent symbol in the city, so the logo would design itself.

New York Orangemen

SUNY could win an enormous contingent of Syracuse fans with this one. Syracuse has been calling itself New York’s College Team forever, and after all the other college programs are out of the running for whatever prize they were in, most fans in the state rally around them. However, changing their nickname to the Orange didn’t go over very well. Many fans – myself included – still refuse to call them the Orange.

New York Canadians

There would be no mistaking this one. Living in certain parts of New York is being pretty much Canadian by default anyway.

New York Red Sox

While most New Yorkers who have nothing to do with New York City ARE Yankees fans, we detest being associated with New York City all the time by outsiders. The New York Bulls Initiative has the skunk of trying to ride New York City’s coattails, a fact that everyone knows. So hooking up with the title of the Yankees’ most hated rivals will make sure there’s distance between city and SUNY.

New York Fighting Irish

Same logic as above. If you’re trying to sponge off New York City, why not go for the deuce and hope your recruits will be sufficiently dumb enough to be tricked into thinking they’re playing for Notre Dame? Besides, Buffalo is a highly Irish and Catholic city.

New York Empires

It really is the perfect name for the flagship university of a state nicknamed the Empire State, which contains the World Capitol of Everything inside of its borders.

New York Staters

It’s the common lament of the expatriate upstate New York native that, upon telling people where they’re from, they always, unfailingly have to verbally place the addendum “the state, NOT the city!”

New York Nickels

Hey, if I can name the team after the city of Buffalo, I can create a nickname based on Buffalo’s own nickname, The Nickel City. (Again, I absolutely, positively refuse to recognize or acknowledge The Queen City as a nickname.)

Roadblocks

Roadblocks

SUNY has some highly regarded psychiatry programs, and it’s easy to see why: The SUNY application process has the ability to drive applicants out of their minds. I don’t remember my application process for ECC going like this, which is ironic because ECC is a SUNY school. SUNY seems to enjoy building up suspense like a Hitchcock movie: An unnecessarily long buildup, followed by absolutely no payoff. When you begin to get comfortable with the pattern of being played like a fiddle, the curve comes and throws me right off.

I didn’t realize SUNY would be privy to send me so many mail notices for non-issues which could have been covered in the final letter. Everything I’ve received from them so far has been little more than a variation on saying, “Yep, we have your application!” I have no idea if the people at SUNY are busy making paper airplanes out of my applications or whatever else they’re doing, but every notice I’ve received has been a knife to my gut. I get the letter, sweat profusely, open the letter, and do a facepalm because whatever it says doesn’t mean a whole lot to me other than the fact that there’s going to be another issue for my counselor and me to navigate through. My latest notice from UB says my application process might be different because of the fact that I’m applying for the fall semester instead of the spring semester. To the layman, it’s nothing but more shameless bureaucracy.

This isn’t troublesome just because of the unbearable tension. I’m an older student and a returning student, which will leave me with a ton of work to do before the semester if I get accepted. The things I expect to have to do to prepare for the semester go beyond purchasing a few expensive textbooks. They’re not the kinds of things I can reasonably expect to start and finish within a week of the fall semester kickoff after getting a last-minute acceptance notice.

So far, the University at Buffalo has asked me for my college transcripts – which I’ve already sent – and my high school transcripts, which their admissions office plump admitted won’t contribute to whether or not I get accepted. Buffalo State recently got on my case about gaps in my academic career. What’s doubly insulting is that the main office of SUNY is run out of Albany, which is six hours from Buffalo. That means there’s an office somewhere playing the middleman, which intercepts information and interrupts a large chunk of the communication with forms and notices. I’m not exactly thrilled about dealing with the state government office because my academic future might end up becoming a big game of phone if we keep exchanging papers for too long.

I can only imagine the kinds of things D’Youville has in store for me right now. I sent them my application, complete with the essay that was my post a few days ago, except without the disclaimer assuring everyone that I wrote both the online essay and the one I sent with the application. I’m perfectly willing to write another one if I have to, and for now I’m erasing my last post until I hear from D’Youville. In retrospect, posting it before sending it probably wasn’t my brightest hour. That essay, which was about the effect popular culture had on my life, will be posted again once the discriminating eyes of D’Youville admissions are through looking it over.