New SLU logos distract from university’s true mission

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New SLU logos distract from university’s true mission

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I recently learned of some of the habits of a former SLU president, Fr. Paul Reinert, SJ. Reinert, I was told, would occasionally eat meals with students in the residence halls. He would leave Jesuit Hall and mingle with his constituents, unnoticed – just another man in a collar. (Because there was no Internet in those days, Reinert’s face was not plastered on Facebook posts and Parent Updates and school-wide emails; he was not the victim, as so many university presidents across the country seem to be, of powerful commercialists, people obsessed with a school’s external image.) And he would, on these jaunts, listen to what students had to say. They opened up to him, often unaware that he was the president, unaware that their criticism was meeting the ear of the very man who executed the actions they disliked. Reinert loved this. He kept a low profile. He listened. It was all about hearing the students.

This story has become especially pertinent in light of the recent unveiling of SLU’s new logos. Like an NBA team with 20 straight losing seasons trying to refresh its image and fan base, the university displayed its new look to the world on Friday, Nov. 13. Marketing their own marketing, SLU made public the fruits of more than a year of planning and consultation at an over-hyped, ill-attended event at Chaifetz Arena. (When SLU athletes are forced to be present, one can tell that turnout is expected to be low.) Gone, sadly, are the days of a humble SLU — a Fr. Reinert-like institution that knows that prestige comes from within, not from branding or font type.

Though not the primary emphasis of this article, I must devote a paragraph to lambast the new logos: They are not impressive. The Billiken is still a tad creepy; extensive planning, preparation and money were not needed to make this creepiness “fiercer,” as some have described it. And the crest redesign is a mystery; far from being complicated, the old logo, with its “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” was a testament to SLU’s academic prowess. We have some very meaningful Latin phrases, the fruits of the great Jesuit educational tradition, and we’re not afraid to use them, it said. But now, with the new clip art-like image, SLU has professed its desire to have its logo be more easily transferred across marketing media. It is less a statement of SLU’s educational purposes than a sign (sadly) of its commitment to commercializing and competing, in a marketing universe.

But, don’t take me too seriously. After all, I gladly profess that I don’t really care for or much about the new logo; I wasn’t at Chaifetz on Friday. But I do care about the reasons behind the change — what they say about SLU, what values they profess and espouse. Didn’t Jesus say that the first shall be last and the last shall be first? Educational institutions attempting to meet the demands of the Internet age — constant exposure, relentless image making — can easily run contrary to this mantra.

Many worthy things have happened at SLU in the past couple of years and months — the university bought back its hospital, for instance. And faculty members have recently been extended an increase in holiday time off, by the administration. But when it was revealed that the new logos were the result of months of planning and consultation with a professional PR firm that has many big, notable clients, it occurred to me that SLU may be overly concerned with its commercial image and not sufficiently appreciative of its less-showy call to serve others and teach. We’re not selling Hot Pockets or chewing gum; we’re learning to be men and women for others. This is a university. Our “brand” is the Society of Jesus – a quiet, low-key, Reinert-esque type of academic rigor that speaks for itself, is honest and doesn’t need to be protected by advertising firms, like the one hired by SLU, that also promote big-time corporations.

This is not the time to lose hope, though. Some of the Facebook comments about the new logos have been particularly alarming — and amusing. One person promised that the trust fund that she had set up for her grandchildren to attend SLU would now be used to pay tuition at Marquette. And a man threatened to withhold donations until SLU reverts back to the old logo. These people are going too far, perhaps, by mistaking the medium for the message. And the Fr. Reinert-dining-with-the-students-type-of-SLU is still out there, behind the grinning imagery. But SLU’s newest façade of marketing fodder seems an unfortunate distraction from this ideal.