Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Rose, a Rose, my Kingdom for a Rose

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Shakespeare’s words spoken by Romeo to his beloved Juliet was in reference to their family names since his Montague family was in a feud with Juliet’s Capulet family. Sort of the “Hatfields” and “McCoys” of old Italy.

I used to use this line when I taught programming and was making a point about meaningful variable names. I would say, “A rose by any other name smells as sweet, but you had better know what to order from the florist.”

As was made clear in the logic of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," names are meaningless handles for objects in real life. The names, themselves, mean nothing. Oddly, in the case of family names, there is a significance. This is due to heredity and inherited traits. But names are also important in modern day commerce. This is the whole area that marketing majors call “branding.”

Several times during my career, I was involved in branding. IBM went through a strange phase under CEO John Akers where the different divisions were rebranded with individual names. I don’t know why. Maybe John was preparing for the government to split up IBM like it had done to AT&T. At that time I worked for IBM Education and Training, and we were renamed “Skill Dynamics.” Printing Systems Division became “Pennant.” The Disk Drive division was “Adstar.”

I don’t know what he was trying to do. After all, “IBM” was probably the most recognized name in the world, maybe after “Coke” and “McDonalds.” When Lou Gerstner took over, he made a quick end to that silliness and we went back to being IBM!

Later, in my role as an IBM senior technical executive, I attended a special class at the University of Colorado Business School to learn about branding. After Ricoh bought out the Printing Systems Division, we became InfoPrint Solutions. "Infoprint" was already a model name IBM used, but it became "bi-capitalized" to become a "brand." At least that is how our CEO explained it. This last year, Ricoh dropped the "InfoPrint Solutions" and now my old company is just "Ricoh Production Printing Systems."

I’ve attended a large number of colleges and universities. I even graduated from a few. (Insert smiley face here.) For some reason, some colleges tend to change their names periodically. It is an odd combination of branding and politics. My initial experience with this renaming process was also the first school I attended.

Prior to 1965, the college located in Butte, Montana, which focused on mining topics, was called “Montana School of Mines.” A very appropriate name that it had held since founding in 1889. Montana colleges went through a spasm of renaming in the sixties. It seems that Montana State College, located in Bozeman, wanted to have the word “University” in its name like its sister institution in Missoula called Montana State University. After all, the Bozeman school offered plenty of graduate degrees and fit the description of “university” as well as its sister up the road. The state legislature agreed to name the Bozeman school a university. In an odd turn of events, they named it “Montana State University.” Now there were two. Don’t worry, the politicians had a new name for the Missoula school too, “University of Montana.”

Seems to me that, for years, Bozeman had a competitor in sports and other events called “Montana State University,” and now they found that to be their own name. That must have been strange to experience. But wait, there’s more. Lowly School of Mines wanted to be renamed “Montana Tech.”

When the school first opened in the 19th century, it offered two degrees. One was in mining and the second was in electrical engineering. But, by the sixties, all the School of Mines offered were bachelor’s in various mining and petroleum engineering topics. I suspect they desired that rebranding in order to change their focus. It was a “future facing statement.” Yeah, branding as a “statement.”

Based on the degrees offered at that time, the state legislature thought that name was a little too distant from the Butte school’s current mission, so they compromised and named it “Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology.” And it was OK to abbreviate it “Montana Tech.”

The new name didn’t last. In 1994, Montana consolidated the university system and the school joined the University of Montana and became known as “Montana Tech of the University of Montana.” Is that MTotUoM?

This was my first college experience when I arrive at the newly rebranded Montana Tech in the fall of 1965. I majored in guitar music and partying. Unfortunately those were not recognized focus areas in the college curriculum, so I only spent one year at the former “Mines” before moving on to bigger and better things. I spent the next couple of years wandering and working, recovering from a broken arm, and dodging the draft.

Finally, I surrendered to Uncle Sam and started my military career. I was much more successful in the Navy’s schools and spent almost two years being trained as an electronics technician by both the Navy and the Air Force. Upon graduation, I spent another four years in military service before returning to the ivy covered walls.

My next college adventure was at a special school in Denver, Colorado, called “Metropolitan State College.” At that time the school had no formal campus. It was located in dozens of office buildings in downtown Denver. It had no dorms or sports teams or fraternities. It was more of an adult college and focused on four-year degrees in practical topics. I graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. After Metro I attended the University of Colorado at the Denver campus and received a Master’s degree in Mathematics with a minor in Physics.

Soon after that, I found myself back at “Metro” teaching. That was not surprising considering all the time I attended Metro I was working as an instructor at the Electronics Technical Institute. It was at ETI that I met Mel Capehart. He was the technical director at ETI and later became the head of the Electronics Engineering department at Metro. He hired me as an adjunct instructor.

Years later, I was back at Metro serving as a member of the “Industry Advisory Counsel,” representing IBM and helping to shape the curriculum and programs at Metro. I spent about 12 years in that function and was reunited with another former ETI Technical Director, Joe Clark, who became the Department head at Metro. Now my son, Mark, is a student at Metro working on a degree in Nutrition. So I have maintained a strong connection with that school for nearly 40 years.

A lot of things were changing at that time. Colorado was building a new campus in downtown Denver called the “Auraria Campus.” It was to be home to three different post secondary schools. The “Community College of Denver,” “Metropolitan State College,” and the “University of Colorado at Denver.” Still no dorms or fraternities, although Metro started a successful sports program. The community college gave two-year Associate degrees, Metro gave four-year Bachelor degrees, and UCD granted bachelor degrees and delivered graduate classes. However, the Master’s degrees from UCD were actually from the university in Boulder and you often had to travel to Boulder to take a course not offered in Denver. This unique combination of three colleges on one campus was very successful and continues to grow to this day.

However, there was a problem with Metro’s name. There was another Metropolitan State College. I think it is in Minnesota somewhere. So, in 1990, Metro added “of Denver” to their name. They are currently called “Metropolitan State College of Denver” or MSCD.

Quite a long name, and therein is the rub. This second largest college in Colorado with 54 major and 90 minor areas of study and over 24,000 students is known affectionately as “Metro.” Also, as Metro continued to grow, it added some Master’s degrees.

It continues to be a very unique institution. It has complete “open enrollment.” That means that any citizen of Colorado is free to enroll and does not have to be “accepted.” This is not the case with other Colorado schools including the “University of Colorado” in Ft. Collins or “Colorado State University” in Boulder.

Those schools practice limited enrollment and have a selection process that students must pass. Metro is a “second chance” or even “third chance” school and it is popular with working students whose goal is to improve themselves and prepare for advancement at work. Not a research institution, Metro is known for small class sizes and dedicated teachers. The name “Metro” represents that concept to students, faculty, and employers alike.

Recently, with the addition of graduate degrees and a continuing focus on brand, Metro began to consider another renaming. To quote from the Metro administration:

A name is so much more than just the words that it comprises. For an institution of higher education, a name conveys stature, tradition, geography, inherent mission. You name it. What it might not convey, though, is how that institution may have evolved over the years.
So, in 2010 the Metro Board of Trustees began to study a name change. This effort is called the Strategic Name Initiative. Students, alumni, faculty and staff, as well as employers were all surveyed. I participated personally is several surveys.

There are numerous goals for the new name:
  • Demonstrate the quality of the College's degree
  • Clarify the College's location (Denver)
  • Eliminate confusion that Metro State is a community college (They are a four-year institution, but the open enrollment and location on Auraria Campus can be misunderstood to mean they are just a community college.)
  • Make the name more concise
Through this engagement the board heard a strong desire to select a name that keeps one foot in our heritage and the other in our future—which means retaining the word “metropolitan.” Because “metropolitan” reflects the college’s valuable legacy. So the board has tested several names.

My personal favorite is simply Denver State University — very similar to Portland State University, a college I think Metro resembles. PSU is also a downtown school. It is also terse and laconic, accomplishing the goal of making the name more concise. However, I agree that the term “Metropolitan” is the part of the name that best captures the special intent and practice at Metro. Darn, DSU would be a good choice. MSU??

(One result of all the surveys was to rank the specific terms. “Metropolitan” was deemed the most important word in the name and “Denver” scored second most important word. There was strong agreement that “Metro” captured the special nature of the college and it is important to know it is a downtown Denver school.)

There were also complaints from other schools such as the University of Colorado at Denver and especially another personal alma mater, University of Denver (DU), a private school. The more prominent the word “Denver” is in the new name, the greater the degree of confusion. That was another reason Denver State University was not considered. It had no “Metropolitan” and it would be very confusing with DU also located in Denver, although not downtown.

I also think the University of Colorado at Denver (UCD) didn’t appreciate having a second “university” on the Auraria campus. They already suffer an identity crisis with students taking graduate courses in Boulder to complete their upper degrees. If I was the king of Colorado, I think I’d solve that problem by merging MSCD and UCD — but keep the “Metropolitan.” How about “Metropolitan State University of/at Denver”? Good old MSUo/aD. I could write a fight song with those initials!

There were also comments that simply offering a few Master’s degrees does not a university make. Metro still has no doctoral degree offerings. In that sense, UCD is correct!

So it appears the names have been narrowed down to these three that just represent different orders of words

Reminds me of a beer brewed in Great Falls, Montana when I was a kid. It was (is??) called “Great Falls Select.” Their motto was “Always Brewed Carefully.”

In their advertising they explained it made sense no matter what order you stated it. All permutations worked: Always brewed carefully, Always carefully brewed, Brewed always carefully, Brewed carefully always, Carefully always brewed, or Carefully brewed always — so what do you want, good grammar or good taste — no, wait, that was a cigarette.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the current proposed names:
  • Denver Metropolitan State University
  • Denver State Metropolitan University
  • Metropolitan Denver State University
Sadly Metro wasn’t able to shorten the name very much. I agree that “Metropolitan” is probably the most important part of the name; the identifying “Denver” is essential too. This month the Board of Trustees decided, after viewing the results of the most recent survey held in November, to defer the decision for at least another 30 days. I don’t think they’ve found the perfect name yet. So we will wait a little longer to see if MSCD or DMSU or DSMU or MDSU. Or, maybe they’ll start all over.

I don't like the third choice, even though it would probably be least confusing with the other Denver school names. My problem is it contains the phrase "Metropolitan Denver" which means to me the entire area — like the Regional Transportation District. Metro Denver includes Boulder and even Longmont. So I don't like that last name. Wouldn't Denver State University be so simple?

My choice: DMSU — but then that sounds like some chemical in a food additive!! No, wait, I like DSMU. Or …

What’s in a name indeed.

The above was written on December 27, 2011. Things have happened since that date … so here is the rest of the story.

On April 18, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB12-148 into law authorizing Metro State to change its name to Metropolitan State University of Denver. At 3p.m., students, staff and faculty gathered in the main lobby of the Student Success Building to witness this celebration that signals a new chapter in Metro State's history. The name will officially take effect on July 1.

So, after all the  "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Seems like it was "much ado about nothing." 

In the end, after all the surveys and discussions and brand analysis, Metropolitan State College of Denver becomes Metropolitan State University of Denver. Still a long and awkward name, but containing the key terms "Metropolitan," "State," and "Denver." The shorter names were vigorously objected to by the University of Denver, rightly so, as a confusion for consumers and students.

So MSCD becomes MSUD. Now for further complications.

When the college renamed its web site, they realized that MSUD was already taken by the rare disease, "Maple Syrup Urine Disease." With all the analysis and research, no one realized that the initials were already taken!

Does the entire adventure end up as simply a Comedy of Errors. It seems so. “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” Still my heart is for good old Metro ... by any other name: “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

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