|EDINBURG, May 16 - The talk of the town is what the merged UTPA, UTB, and the Regional health Center will be called.
Even State Senator Juan Hinojosa wrote to the UT System Chairman supporting one of the five proposed names. On Friday November 22, at the Border Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Symposium hosted by organized by UTPA’s College of Business Administration and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, President Robert Nelsen told the audience to not worry about the name of the new University.
While it is mostly true that the name will have little to no impact on the future of the university, it is worth taking a critical (but not cynical) look at the process, essence, and value of naming the University.
1. The community has been told repeatedly that “we need to change the name because it is the law.” As most of my students know, the law can be changed, and so can the Texas constitution. While UT-Pan American has the appeal and presumptiveness the educational leaders are looking for, the name change has been used as a way to avoid bickering between both existing institutions.
2. The Universities’ communities had been told that the regents would propose a list of eight to ten names. On October 24, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told audience that “seven to nine potential names had already been drafted.” On November 11, the University of Texas system released five names through the Project South Texas website (for an interesting discussion on the names see Dr. Gary Mounce’s post here). What happened to the other 2-5 that had “already been drafted?” Why was the list cut short? This sort of reneging on a simple promise does not bode very well on the hopes of receiving all that has been promised to our students and region.
3. The list of NAMES was released, but not without an arbitrary “conceptual” logo attached to each of them. This was also a perplexing move on behalf of the system. If the debate is about a name, why attach logos to each of them? Anybody knows that by introducing the logo, there is an impact on the way people perceive the name. The logo is what is considered “peripheral” information, information that is unrelated to the main task at hand, and yet is capable of persuading viewers or affecting the way they think about the “central” information of the main task. The system would have best served the community by creating different gifs for each name with a rotating logo, this would provide the most honest presentation of the names to the public.
Logos matter, and more in the case of our unique part of Texas. For example, one can look at the minimalist logo for UTI (not the most appealing acronym by the way) and it appears as if the University did not take the name too seriously. Another example of the effect of images can be seen if we explore the logo for UT South. One point on the five-point star is colored differently; it is also detached from the rest of the star. While the name in and of itself does not imply anything beyond a simple geographic fact, the star with a detached and differently colored side might send the message that this University is once again removed from the rest of the UT system. Remember that UTB and UTPA were the only two UT schools unable to receive PUF funding.
4. The names AND logos changed after they were released to the public. I noticed the change and took a screen capture of the previous logo to document it. You can see that the name and even the logo was changed from “of the Americas” to “Las Americas.” Interestingly this name, as Dr. Mounce highlights, is problematic for many reasons. My complaint is that it is misspelled if it was meant to be in Spanish. If not, it is yet another gratuitous use of Spanish in academia. Why change the colors even after it had gone live? Why these subtle changes? Once again it is bewildering.
5. Last, and by far, not least, is the issue of the name UT-Rio Grande Valley, supported by Senator Hinojosa, Dr. Samuel Freeman, and many others. While this name has been used to promote our geographical region and is a source of local identity, it is a misnomer; there is no valley in our delta. While this is a minor quibble, it is normally the job of universities to educate, to change incorrect perceptions in the public, and to stand up to truth. More importantly, the goal of the new University is to gain international prominence, the branding “RGV” does not really provide that. The use of that term is restricted to a very small region in both countries and the city name McAllen is much better known across both countries. It seems as if this name will be the default winner but it is my belief that we could have done better.
So back to my original thought, the name does not matter all that much for the future of our University and our region. Yet the way we go about the name process tells us something about how our University system might work in the future. Our name is our brand going forward and it should be ambitious, international, and representative of our ethos. My suggestion for those involved in this process is to think about what our university does and will do in the future. We are not educating the elites of Latin America, or even Mexico. Those elites go to top Universities in the United States or to any of Mexico’s prestigious universities, UNAM, UDLA, ITESM, Politécnico Nacional, ITAM, CIDE, and many more. What our university does do is to open the door to the United States to Mexicans who wish to live on this side of the Rio Grande. We do not export a lot of talent to Latin America, but we are in the position of being the top importer of talent in nursing, medicine, engineering, and many other disciplines which will be served by our new university.
We are not the University for or of the/las Americas, we are the University for America.
Angel Saavedra Cisneros is an assistant professor in the political science department at UT-Pan American.