What is the point of “re-branding” if the new brand is not unique?



New University of Akron President Scott Scarborough announced in May that the school was being rebranded as “Ohio’s polytechnic university.” He justified the change by asserting that the university “needs a new, distinct identity to attract students and survive in the future.”

But, according to an article by Rick Armon published in the Akron Beacon-Journal, “the University of Akron isn’t the only college going polytechnic”:

“Purdue University last month approved changing the name of its College of Technology to the Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

“And Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland, Wash., wants to add the word polytechnic as a descriptor for its campus.

“Both institutions say the branding works well with the changing economy.

“’It incorporates innovative learning environments, integrates humanities with technical studies in a learn-by-doing atmosphere, and offers new options for majors and for earning a degree,’ Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, said in a prepared statement.”

This is all well and good, but the word “polytechnic” has actually been part of some university names for a very long time. In fact, quite ironically, the name of the third largest university in Virginia was changed to Virginia Polytechnic University in 1944, but for a long while, just about everyone has preferred to call the university Virginia Tech. Somehow I don’t think that Akron Tech or even Ohio Tech has the same ring to it.

So this story illustrates several truisms about administrative brainstorms:

1. What is presented as new or innovative, is almost never either but, instead, something that is either recycled or imitative, or both.

2. What is presented as a “difference maker” almost never makes any substantive difference and, in fact, very often produces almost the opposite of the intended result.