Politics & Other Mistakes: A university by any other name

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The University of Southern Maine is seeking a new name, because a recent study revealed the school is actually located in Wyoming.

As a proud graduate of USM (although, when I went there it was called the University of Everybody’s Second or Third Choice), I’m qualified to offer my opinion on this matter because I once took a class called Offering Your Opinion on Matters 101.

(I enrolled not because I imagined I’d grow up to be a political columnist, but because I adhered to a strict regimen of signing up for nothing before 10 a.m., nothing after 2 p.m. and nothing above the second floor in buildings with no elevator. This may account for why I ended up with a degree in Something or Other.)

The problem with USM’s current name is that it isn’t very marketable. Potential out-of-state students won’t apply due to the misconception the college is in Biddeford or Kittery or even Alfred, all of which are much more southern Maine than Portland or Gorham or Lewiston, where USM actually has campuses. Out-of-staters pay much higher tuition than students from Maine high schools, so their failure to realize USM is in Portland, the heart of the state’s coolness, really hurts the bottom line.

Sadly, the people seeking a new name for the university have all the imagination of Democratic presidential candidates trying to distinguish themselves from one another (“Medicare for all!” “REAL Medicare for all!” “Um … Medicare for everybody?”).

Rather than attempt something innovative, the namers decided the best choice was one of the many names USM had before it turned into USM. These include Gorham Normal School, Portland Abnormal School, the University Within Easy Walking Distance of Forest Gardens Bar & Grill, the University of Maine Portland-Gorham-Wytopitlock and the State School for Undernourished Children. (Strangely, only that last one had a football team, and, predictably, it wasn’t very good.)

From this discard pile, the official choice was the stunningly unsensational University of Maine at Portland. According to the official research, this will convey to potential attendees that this is a college located near world-class restaurants (that students can’t afford), a nationally recognized craft-beer scene (students believe in quantity over quality, so they opt for Natty Lights) and an alluring arts and entertainment community (aimed at rich, old people).

In actual test marketing that I am totally making up, high school seniors in several states had the following reactions to the UMP name:

“I mean, like, Harvard is still my safety school, but that University of Maine at Portland name rocks. Even if I don’t go there, I’m, like, definitely buying a hoodie (sarcasm emoji).”

“I visited Portland and found it to be exactly the kind of place that would have a university called the University of Maine at Portland.”

“Isn’t Portland in Oregon?”

Obviously, something hipper is needed. Unfortunately, the University of Maine at Farmington is already taken. But a quick perusal of hot product names for drugs and apps indicates most of them have labels that evoke super-villains in comic-book movies. Lots of Zs and Xs and Qs. Some phony Latin or Aztec roots. Side effects that include identity theft, rotting organs and crushing debt. In other words:

The University of Zoxxquoxx.

Admit it, you’d buy that hoodie.

And if the new name doesn’t work out, your doctor could still recommend it to treat erectile dysfunction.

Does that name needs another z or q? Email me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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