That's Western University to you -

That’s Western University to you



Let’s begin with an annoying autobiographical pause: I studied at the University of Western Ontario. Well, “studied.” Anyway, onward:

There ‘s much fuss among alumni over the news that Western is changing its name, for most day-to-day purposes, to Western. Or Western University. Or Western University Canada.

What it won’t call itself, in colloquial use, is the University of Western Ontario. That remains the place’s legal name, but it won’t be the name Western travels with.

This is all causing a certain amount of consternation among people with a link to Western and, I think it’s fair to say, to people who follow branding exercises with a certain healthy amount of skepticism. Objections I heard this morning include:

1. This is dumb. Everyone calls it Western already.

2. This is dumb. It’s in Eastern Canada.

3. This is dumb. It’s in Southern Ontario.

To me, it’s not as dumb, but its cleverness takes a bit of explaining.

It all comes down to this guy, Amit Chakma, born in Bangladesh, president of UWO Western University Canada for these past few years. I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s very serious about transforming Western (can we call it Western? Let’s call it Western) from a very good regional university to one with international ambitions and a reputation to match. He showed up in Ottawa shortly after his appointment with a brochette of university VPs to meet with alumni, and some of the things they pointed out are that international-student enrolment is low; that international study travel by Western students is also low; and that there’s therefore little awareness of Western outside Canada.

This branding exercise (which cost $200,000, another source of controversy) is meant to begin responding to some of those concerns. (In other ways the response has already been more concrete. Western was already increasing its enrolment of international students, and that trend has accelerated.) The target audience for the new logo isn’t so much students on campus, it’s prospective students, researchers, research partners and tech-transfer collaborators around the world.

Calling the place “the University of Western Ontario” would confuse people who don’t know what an Ontario is. Calling it “Western” is handier, because (a) everybody there already calls it Western; and (b) because it’s short. But then you have to add “University,” because that tells you what a Western does. And then you add “Canada” because that’s where this Western University is.

It matters less, in this context, that Western isn’t west of much in Canada. It’s west of Frankfurt, and if you’re in Singapore it’s in what you think of as the West, and that’ll do.

The branding exercise, in itself, is indeed silly. Branding exercises usually are. The ambition isn’t silly, if it’s backed by concrete action.  Is it unrealistic for a university in southern Ontario to have those kinds of ambitions? Chakma knows it isn’t, because the last place he worked was the University of Waterloo.

Filed under:

That’s Western University to you

  1. When I was at the University of Windsor, we just called UWO “Country Club U.”

    • When I was at Western, we didn’t call the University of Windsor anything.

    •  cry more

    • At Western, we don’t even care to call University of Windsor anything. That’s how small we think of it :)

  2. In phase II they take a page from Canada’s largest university and start repeating over and over “Our only competition is Harvard”.

  3. Guess this means they don’t want or need Ontario money, eh?

    • That sweet sweet foreign student tuition (yeah, that’s the ticket) will fill in any holes. They’ll be the Harvard of Western Ontario before you know it!

      • Funny, nobody calls Harvard “the Western of New England”

        • They will be soon!

        • LOL

          When I was at McGill they printed shirts every September with Harvard’s coat of arms on them and the tagline “Harvard:  America’s McGill”.

          • They still do.  McGill friend of mine gave me one when I was at the other place.

          • I always wanted one of those but never got one. Glad to hear they’re still making them. I’ll have to get my friends in Montreal to keep an eye out for them!

  4. “Calling the place “the University of Western Ontario” would confuse people who don’t know what an Ontario is.”

    The University of Waterloo has an excellent international reputation, and I don’t think people not knowing what a “Waterloo” is has held the university back.  Waterloo has earned its reputation from concrete action, not branding exercises (Waterloo logo controversy notwithstanding – even then UW knew when to pull back).

    Worst part is, Amit Chakma ought to know that full well.  He was VP at Waterloo before he became president at UWO.

    • That’s why I italicized “begin” in one of the sentences above. Chakma hasn’t the faintest intention of confining himself to cosmetic changes. Tripling international-student enrolment is part of his game. Poaching one of Britain’s great neuroscientists to head a new Institute of Brain and Mind is too…

      Now, I’ve also written a lot about Waterloo, so I know that its success depends on unique attributes — co-op education, huge math and engineering faculties, and hands-off treatment of intellectual property. Western needs to be comparably bold, and should be judged based on whether it is.

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to come off as slighting Chakma’s other efforts, agree that steps like the new institute are much more important.

        I think what I am getting at is that two years ago Waterloo, on top of their existing efforts, attempted to rebrand, and failed miserably in the face of blowback from students/alumni.  And that at first glance, UWO’s rebranding attempt appears to be as controversial as Waterloo’s.

        Having been VP at UW before president at UWO, and knowing what Waterloo went through, why does he feel the UWO rebranding is necessary?  After what happened at UW, how can he think there’s more to gain than lose by going this route?

  5. Calling it Western could easily confuse someone unfamiliar with Canada that the university is in western Canada.

    • Northwestern doesn’t seem to have suffered because of it’s name. 

      • Northwestern was in the northwestern part of the US when it was founded in 1851.  

        • And hasn’t changed it’s name…

    • Well it’s in Canada West. How’s that?

  6. “Calling the place “the University of Western Ontario” would confuse people who don’t know what an Ontario is”…… Correct me if I’m wrong but if a person can’t figure out what an “Ontario” is in our modern world then perhaps they aren’t too likely to be destined for university anyway….

  7. Western needs to up its game and focus on excellence – I attended a cow college but it’s a world renowned one because of quality in agriculture/veterinarian sciences. I did a lot of traveling after university and I met people around world who heard of Guelph, which is even more obscure than Western, all because of agri business. 

    “I would rather step in shit at Guelph, than sleep with it at Western.”

    • You do Guelph proud, Tony.

      • NO snark! He got an A in cutting and pasting!

        • Whoever encouraged him to use quotes should be shot at dawn. 

          • LOL

            I presume that it is a quote though, not an original line from Tony.  I don’t know if it’s from a song or a T-shirt (or both) but I’m sure that Tony is actually quoting someone else’s line.

          • I believe the postmodernists call it simulacra. What’s real Tony? What’s fake Tony? We can’t know anymore.

          • If that isn’t a country song, it should be….

          • It’s from the University of Guelph. OF COURSE it’s a country song. That’s what the cows prefer.


          • Come on Jan, at least you could read this entire quote without drifting off to sleep.

    • Funny how you say Guelph is internationally recognized! I’m an international student and I’m so glad I did not go to Guelph because NOBODY knows what Guelph is. And where is Guelph in the Canadian rankings? Please compare Guelph to Western when Guelph ever grows to be as big as Western.

    • Funny how you say Guelph is internationally recognized! I’m an international student and I’m so glad I did not go to Guelph because NOBODY knows what Guelph is. And where is Guelph in the Canadian rankings? Please compare Guelph to Western when Guelph ever grows to be as big as Western.

  8. Good branding becomes great when backed up by real substance – it announces change, it doesn’t create change. Wells suggests this is the intent and understanding at Western; so, a good start.

    But still, Western?… Isn’t that an omelette?

  9. Ridiculous. We go to Western, not Western University, and this is just
    going to add to the confusion that happens every time you say ‘Western’
    to someone not in Ontario. Perhaps UBC should be rebranded as “British
    University” (I’d suggest Columbia, but it’s taken).

    As a sidebar, anyone familiar with the traditional phrase used by
    Queen’s to refer to UWO will realize the problems associated with having
    “WUC” as an acronym. FU, WU.

  10. I thought their new logo would have included an UGG Boot, a picture of a parent’s credit card, and a girl still drunk from last night in morning lecture. That’s what comes to mind when I think of UWO.   

    • Don’t be silly.

      Western students don’t go to class the next morning after a night of drinking.

      Hell, do ANY university students go to class the next morning after a night of drinking?


      • Of course they do. If people skip class the day after drinks, there wouldn’t be anyone at class at all.

        • :-)

          Of course, not EVERYONE drinks. There’d be two or three students there, I’m sure.

  11. Dumb, dumb, dumb.  What a bone-headed move.

  12. Thanks. Now explain to me why students were not informed the change would occur, and students have still not been notified of the change by the university (news sources and facebook feeds linking to the university’s press release and youtube video don’t count.  We pay thousands of dollars a year to be here, we deserve to hear about something like this from the institution itself. Could one mass email really hurt?). 

    Also: Why did they change the purple??? 

    • Dude you already paid up. They want to make sure the people whoHAVEN’T given them $ yet see the new stuff.


  13. i would like to know if the dumasses who made the decision to change the name , are paying for the new banners and advertising. Or will all the costs just be passed on to those who pay tuition. I could think of more appropriate ways to spend that money,like wipin my ass with it . what a bone head decision.

  14. “When you think Western, what is the first thing you think of?”


    The second and third things I think of are old T-shirts of mine from my undergrad days.  “Friends don’t let friends go to Western” and “‘Tis better to have failed at Queen’s than to have graduated from Western”.

    • Well seems like you’ve had a lot of ‘good’ friends that did not let you attend a university as great as Western. And of course Queen’s produces failures.

      • You’re doing it wrong.

        You’re supposed to either take the good-natured ribbing in stride to show how cool you are, or come back with an equally humourous retort.

        Here, let me help.

        How many Queen’s students does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
        One.  He just holds the lightbulb and the world revolves around him.

        Why is it so windy in Kingston?
        Because Queen’s blows.


        I understand your defensiveness though.  I attended Queen’s, Laurier, and McGill, and the one thing they all had in common is that they ALL had Western jokes they frequently used (a little less so at McGill, as by the time I got there they weren’t in the same football conference anymore, which probably dulls the rivalry).  You should take that as a compliment.  It’d be much worse to be deemed unworthy of ridicule.

  15. Geeky (but sincere) question here:  Do we know if the Canadian Heraldic Authority was consulted at all on this change?

    Western’s Coat of Arms dates back to 1931.  This new coat of arms is different, so will they be registering it with the Heraldic Authority, or will the “official” coat of arms still be the “official” coat of arms (the way that the name is still legally the University of Western Ontario) and this new coat of arms just a “logo”?  ‘Cause it seems strange to me that they’d create a new logo that’s somewhat similar to their coat of arms, yet clearly not their coat of arms.  What will be going on degrees from this point forward (I understand that they’ll still say “University of Western Ontario” but will they have the traditional coat of arms, or this new coat of arms?)  Also, while I’m highly doubtful that this would happen, if they DIDN’T consult with the Heraldic Authority, but they want to replace the 1931 coat of arms with this new coat of arms, what do they do if the Heraldic Authority simply says “Sorry.  You can’t just do that”?  To my mind, if they’re not going to replace the traditional coat of arms with this new one, then they really shouldn’t have made a new logo that looks kinda like their coat of arms, but isn’t.

    I guess I understand the desire to get a maple leaf in there for an international audience, but it seems to me that Western had a perfectly cool coat of arms, and it seems a shame for them to leave it to history.  That said, it makes no sense to me whatsoever to keep the traditional coat of arms and this new one in parallel.  That would just be confusing, imho.

    ETA: The FAQ seems to suggest there’s a plan in the future to have the coat of arms redrawn to reflect the new shield. I still think that I’d have stuck with tradition, but if you’re gonna use a logo like this it’s best to update the coat of arms to be consistent, so that’s good I guess.

  16. The reasoning that University of Western Ontario’s name is to regionalized is ridiculous.
    If you’re not getting international students, you’re doing a poor job
    farming for international students.  People don’t decide NOT to go to
    New York University, or UCLA-Berkley because it sounds to local. They
    decide to go there because they are top ranked institutions.   Where’s Western sitting in the rankings again?… How about they spend more money on academics, rather than cans of paint.

    • *UC-Berkeley rather

    • I’m not sure that New York University is the best illustration of your point.

      If “provincialism” does matter in the sense of how “local” a university’s name may sound to an international student, the “local” neighborhood for NYU is NEW YORK CITY, not the western part of the southern part of a Canadian province.

      Berkeley might even be a worse example.  I don’t think most people outside of North America even necessarily know that Berkeley is a place name and not a personal name like Harvard.  Heck, plenty of people don’t even realize it’s in California, as they’re much less frequently  referred to colloquially as “UC Berkeley”, but rather just “Berkeley” (quite like UWO with “Western”, ironically).  Their url for example is not  It’s one of the best known university’s in the world by it’s informal name.  It often makes the top ten in international rankings, and is almost never outside of the top 25.  They’ve produced around 70 Nobel prize winners, to Western’s 1 (Banting in 1923, but please someone correct me if I’m wrong).  Hell, they’re even ten years older than Western.

      You have a good point that UWO might be better served focusing on academic quality as opposed to branding, but your two American examples don’t fit that point at all, imho.  Berkeley and NYU don’t have anywhere near the “local” stigma as the “University of Western Ontario” did (does?).  So, no, no one was factoring their names into any decision making processes (except in a positive way), but that has nothing to do with Western’s dilemma.  NYU’s “local flavour” is that of perhaps the most famous and appealing city in the WORLD (certainly top 5) and Berkeley is one of the most well-known schools in the United States of America.

  17. If you oppose the change, do something fun: submit a name change form to the Registrar’s office! Of course, you’re not “officially” changing it, you’re just trying to market yourself better to some hot international girls (imagine being named Newt or Mitt)
    You’ll be in handing in all of your assignments and writing your exams with your new name, but somewhere deep in some database is your “official” name, which you are satisfied with just appearing on your degree so long as you score some international suckers.

  18. it so happens that Waterloo destroyed its coat of arms for… black background and lasers.  Following this man is to follow the demise of all historical reputation replaced with the almighty dollar

  19. Increase international enrolment? In my department (in the social sciences) we have been told that we can accept only 1 international student at the Masters level this year. My department has almost 50 faculty members, and we routinely receive many applications from excellent international students. We have taken their application fee, but we cannot offer them admission. Pity the new push for internationalization focuses primarily on undergrads that pay more tuition.