Another entry that is not on campus architecture but a bit of campus life. In an earlier post, I noted how I re-used an idea from another institution (#vcudesk) and turned it into a recruitment tool for my department (#ceprdesk). All of that is branding, of course, and branding is increasingly a big deal for colleges and universities. Schools have long had distinct, and copyrighted, logos and symbols, particularly with regard to athletics and athletic mascots. The academic side (i.e., the main purpose for higher education in the first place) had a much smaller (if any) part in all of that. I did my undergraduate and master’s work at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. During my time there, the football team was very good and the women’s basketball team was winning national title after national title. Not surprisingly, sports trademarks were on everything at the bookstore. You could get anything with the sports logos on them, but you could only get a few items (mostly notebooks) with the university seal on it. The seal and a stylized UT in the shape of the state of Tennessee were the only things you would see that were not athletics oriented and there were few things that had those items on it which did not mention athletics in some way. I remember a friend of mine who was at Vanderbilt at the time asking what it was like to attend an athletic team that had a school attached to it.
Today, just about every university has a style guide with specific fonts, colors, tag lines, and graphic elements that are to be used along with a list of what not to do. Still, at many places with intercollegiate sports, the athletic logos are still more common than other things. It’s a balancing act, and some schools are more balanced than others. I have to say that I think my present institution, the University of Memphis, does a pretty decent job with that balancing act. True, a lot of the clothing items in the bookstore have the athletics logos on them, but across campus and around the area, you see the academic side of the university presented pretty well. They also balance the use of the mascot – the Memphis Tigers – for both athletics and the university proper.
In our case, you see a couple of things reflected in branding. For the academic side, the UofM column logo is the most common. You will find it on our official documents (i.e., letterhead, catalogs, brochures, etc.), on some clothing items (you can see it on our departmental shirts in my March 5, 2021 entry), and on lapel pins (we tend to wear them as employees at official gatherings and for our official portraits). You also see them on lampposts around campus and the area surrounding campus.
Below are a few photos of the column element in various places. First is a floor mat in the journalism building on campus from 2018. Second is the column on a flag outside the Administration Building. The third photo is the column element on banner on a lamppost along with a banner with one of the university's catch phrases. The logo also appears on university vehicles, an electric cart used but the physical plant in the case of photo four (with a play on the university tag line as well). In addition to brochures, our department places them on other items, in this case a sign our newly accepted students get and use in photos of themselves upon admission (photo 5). Photos two through five were taken this month. In the next photo, you can see the logo on our department swag and banner during a set-up for a graduate school fair at Mississippi State University in spring 2017. Finally, you have two photos of the columns used as backdrops in our commencement ceremonies held in the FedEx Forum. When this particular large banner was first used, as in this 2018 photo, it was the sole backdrop. In the latter, you can see two banners with the less often used university seal which have been standard at commencements since 2019 when this photo was taken.
One of the great “crossover” brand elements is the Tiger mascot. The tiger is used on both the athletic and the academic side. Sometimes, the tiger element is used in conjunction with the columns, as is the case on the banners on the Administration Building in the first photo. In 2011, the Alumni Affairs office started something in celebration of the university’s centennial they called “Tigers Around Town”. Tiger statues, alike in shape but uniquely painted, were installed on campus and around town. Groups could sponsor the tigers as part of the effort. There are 100 of these around town, and quite a few on the main campus, the Park Avenue Campus, the Millington Campus (in Millington, TN), and the Lambuth Campus (in Jackson, TN). The Memphis metro area extends into Mississippi and Arkansas, and there are two Tigers in the Mississippi suburbs as well (not a small feat to have a University of Memphis Tiger in Ole Miss and Mississippi State country). You can learn more about Tigers Around Town here. There is a nice archived story about it from the UofM student newspaper, the Daily Helmsman, here. Below are a few examples of the Tigers Around Town from the main campus. You can also see some in the other UofM posts on this blog. All of these photos except the last were taken in March 2021; the last tiger was taken in 2018.
The Tigers Around Town are not the only tigers on campus. Indeed, we have a permanent bronze tiger just outside the University Center. For years, the university had its own live tiger, Tom. The first Bengal Tiger came in 1972 and succession of two more followed. Tom would be brought out to games in a cage and the fans would go wild for him. The name Tom is actually an acronym. A naming contest held in 1972 had more than 2,500 entries. Tom, standing for Tigers of Memphis, came out on top. Tom III passed away in September, 2020, just shy of his 12th birthday. The city of Memphis would not allow a new tiger in the area, so he was the last and his passing ended a very well loved 48 year old tradition. You can learn more about Tom here.
Tiger elements can be found across campus and on various things like t-shirts and pendants. The university opened a pedestrian bridge recently (see my previous UofM post for details), and there are tiger prints embedded in the concrete walking surface as seen in the first photo below. Another tiger element, which currently appears on the UofM football helmet, includes a stylized tiger with a capital "M". We use the logo on our #ceprdesk and it is on the first tiger in the previous photo gallery. It is also some of the face masks the university provided to faculty and staff during the pandemic, like the one in the second photo. Like many universities, we also trade on our colors. The UofM’s official colors are “University” Blue (a shade of royal blue), and “University” gray. It’s a nice color combination. You see it all sorts of things. In the case of the photos below, a fire hydrant and a set of parking deck bollards.
Other branding elements for the UofM are used less frequently or are no longer used at all. A shield type logo came out in the either the late 90's or early 21st century. It showed up on stationary and other official documents and was an attempt to have an academic-identity logo. It was not well liked, nor very unique, and fell out of favor about as soon as it was introduced to be replaced by prominent use of the column logo. In the first photo below you see one of the few instances of its continued use, pressed into the concrete siding of the pedestrian bridge connecting the Curlin Parking garage with the University Center. The "M" can be found in a few places as well. In case of the second photo, in a flower bed between the UC and the Administration Building. Back before branding became the big deal it is today, we were not the University of Memphis, but Memphis State University. The name change occurred in 1993. Back in the day we had a number of simple signs at various entry points around campus. The signs were simple black lattice pieces adorned with "Memphis State University" in white letters. As a matter of fact, these were fairly common on college campuses back in the earlier part of the 20th century, particularly in the Southeast where quite a few remain. After the change from MSU to the UofM, several of these were taken down (I don't think they all were). Although pleased with the name change and the growth of the institution, many alumni missed the signs. Current President David Rudd put a few of them back up, including the one the west side of campus seen in the last photo.
Of course, we are not alone in branding. I will revisit the topic in detail with other institutions in a later post. Walking around campus this month, I saw the license plate below. It caught my eye and made me laugh and I had to include it in this post. Austin Peay State University is public school in Middle Tennessee. Austin Peay was a three-time governor of the state in the 1920's. He is generally rated one of the best governors in the state's history. He was a big proponent of education in general and higher education in particular. There is a building named Austin Peay on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which houses the Psychology department. The athletic teams at Austin Peay State are known as the "Governors". This plate has their stylized "AP" logo, along with a double entendre tagline.
University Grounds is a blog about college and university campuses, their buildings and grounds, and the people who live and work on them.
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