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.