A School By Any Other Name

western 0419I may have stumped the internet. I didn’t think it was possible, and yet today I am coming up empty.

In my lengthy blogging career, the internet had never failed me. Was I spelling this word correctly? The internet could tell me, faster than any of my dictionaries. Was I spewing facts without basis? The internet knew. Did I need a photo illustration? I could always find something to borrow, from the internet. Musical accompaniment to the day’s entry? Easily found, on the internet.

But not today. Where have you gone, Al Gore?

So I am going to have to make things up as we go along, and you are just going to have to nod your heads and pretend along with me. Perhaps even do your bit by disseminating this information freely among all your friends, relatives and vague acquaintances. That’s what the internet does best, isn’t it?

Way back in 1901, education came to Gunnison. Not just any education, but Higher Education. The Colorado State Normal School was founded on a little rise just east of the town of Gunnison, dedicated to the proposition of teaching teachers to become. (It’s not just Michelle Obama who is Becoming, in every sense of the word.)

Why a Normal School? Well, I don’t know. The internet isn’t particularly helping me there, either. (I am now starting to question my decision to switch to Duck Duck Go, even though it says it won’t be following me as I go about my daily internet.) It’s apparently a French thing, and somehow the first normal school, which was established in France, was intended as a model. But I still don’t get how we get from “model” to “normal.”

No matter. As long as it was never an abnormal school, we should be fine.

So we had this normal school, and it was churning out teachers and managing to put together a building (Taylor Hall, and maybe that’s the same Taylor who had outdoor leanings and thus was the beneficiary of all kinds of naming: Taylor River, Taylor Park, Taylor Reservoir. Or maybe not.)

But we didn’t remain normal for long. Someone besides me apparently thought “normal” was a weird name, and while still in the early 1900s, decided Western State was a better name. Now, I kind of think that for a brief time it was Western State Teachers’ College, but history on the school is getting harder and harder to come by, as the school these days seems bent on digging up all its roots and tossing them by the wayside.

No matter there, either. Soon enough, the name ended up as Western State College, which was Just Fine for 100 years or more.

And someone wrote an alma mater for the school. It was a woman, and her last name was Redding (Microsoft’s Bing got me that far), but all the links back to western.edu are non-functional, part of that root upending I’m talking about.

The other day at work I was trying to remember this alma mater, and I couldn’t get any further than ” ‘Neath the snow-capped Rocky Mountains,” although I was able to successfully recall all of the Gunnison High School fight song. (“We’ll yell for Gunnison, and never stop.” Apparently that’s true.)

I was trying to recall the alma mater, because Western State College, good enough for one age, has not been a name of desire for the last two administrations (otherwise completely different entities). I wanted to see if one can still sing the alma mater through a host of name changes. And now I may never know, although Bing got me partway there:

’Mid the snow-capped Rocky Mountains / Tow’ring free and high /Stands our famous Western College/ ’Neath the radiant sky. / Colorado’s fairest daughter, / Anthems to thee ring, / To our worthy Alma Mater, / Tribute we bring.

[Sorry, I can’t get the formatting to work the way I want. It’s a conspiracy: the internet does not want me talking about this. Be sure to spread the word.]

So, the first thing we learn is that my memory is not infallible: it’s MID, like “amid,” only syllabically challenged; the ” ‘neath” (also challenged) comes later. And the second is, no, it’s not going to make the leap into the 21st century with this “college” crap right there in the middle. (‘Mid the other words, if you will.)

That was the part that stuck in the previous administration’s craw. Our humble school was a college, not something prestigious like a university. A university! Yeah! That’s what we need: we will take the same faculty, and the same staff, the same students, the same courses, and we will be a university.

Now, Western State College was hardly the only college having these thoughts at the time. In fact, we could call it a craze, and almost overnight, nearly every college in the state suddenly became a university. You could almost feel the prestige rising as it lifted the state another two feet in elevation.

Some of these new universities went about it pretty smartly (translation: on the cheap). Adams State, down the road in Alamosa, exchanged “College” at the end for “University.” As long as it was changing, it dropped “Indians” in favor of “Grizzlies,” and it held a logo contest locally, coming up with a simple yet efficient brand without spending the two million plus that Western is going on. (I was going to attempt to attach the logo, but my new search engine, even with its fun name, is not as helpful as it could be.)

Other new universities, however, got into a squabble about names, and the squabblers ended up with the clunkiest names one could possibly imagine. The heart of the fight was the highly-coveted name of Western Colorado University.

Mesa College in Grand Junction obtained its “university” status first, and it wanted to be Western Colorado University as the premier institution on Colorado’s Western Slope. Well, them’s fightin’ (but not fight song) words, and Western State Still College objected, partly on general principle and partly on the notion that university students might get confused among so many Westerns. And, maybe, perhaps, because Western State Still College was coveting that name for itself.

The state legislature has to bless all these changes, and in Solomon-like fashion, only with worse outcomes, no one got the name, and we ended up with these bright shiny students at Colorado Mesa University and Western State Colorado University. (Let’s see you write a catchy alma mater for those names.)

Then a new administration came along at Western Still State Not College, and this administration is all about the branding and marketing, so it came up with a clever ploy: we’ll leave our “real” name as Western State Colorado University, but our “stage” name will be Western Colorado University.

That way, the legislature didn’t have to offer its blessing (or denial), but the school could call itself whatever it wanted. (Why not just TED? That’s easy to remember, and at this point, relatively prestigious.)

And now, just like Cher, apparently enough time has passed that we don’t recall “Cherilyn Sarkisian” (the internet got me that far, at least), and the legislature has said “okay” to the desired name. It sits on our governor’s desk (Jared Polis; real name — and an election-year controversy — Jared Polis Schutz) awaiting one simple signature to make it real: Western Colorado University.

So we can still sing the rousing alma mater chorus: “Western, beloved Western,” but not the rest because I don’t remember it and the internet only gets me that far. But it will have to end with WCU rather than WSC, so while the cadence works (it didn’t for WSCU), I doubt the rhyme still does.

This is all perfectly normal, right?

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