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USF by any other name

Published July 27, 2003

Like a badly named baby, the University of South Florida has an identity crisis whose origins date back to its birth. Now that one of the country's youngest major research universities is all grown up, it may be time to consider changing the school's name as a way of solidifying its identity and setting the stage for even greater growth.

USF was born in the 1950s, at the height of parochial wars between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. While politicians, business leaders and newspapers on both sides of the bay fought over where the university's main campus should be located, the process of naming the new university received relatively little attention. Otherwise, a school located on Florida's west central coast wouldn't have been saddled with the name South Florida in the first place. After all, people don't go looking for the University of Southern California in Fresno.

Today, the old turf battles over USF have receded. The campus on the northern edge of Tampa is one of the most extensive in the country, and USF St. Petersburg is finally reaching its potential as a distinctive undergraduate institution that more fully serves Pinellas students. Other campuses and programs have spread USF's reach throughout the region.

But there's still the matter of the name. As the university's national profile keeps growing, confusion over just what and where USF is becomes a bigger problem. For that reason, USF officials have begun a campaign to identify the university more effectively.

"USF is in the midst of branding itself," associate athletic director Tom Veit told the Times. That sounds like a painful process for a university whose mascot is a bull. But university officials aren't suggesting that all students, faculty and alumni burn the school's logo into their rumps. Instead, the branding process will be more subtle, beginning with an effort to have the school's sports teams referred to as USF in all cases rather than South Florida.

We're not sure that change will help much. People will still wonder where USF is located, and the University of San Francisco won't be happy. Rather than tinkering around the edges of the university's geographically incorrect name, officials might as well take the bull by the horns and consider a brand-new name that better reflects the university's mission.

In the 1950s, the Times recommended that our new university be named DeSoto State University. We're sure that seemed like a good idea at the time, but we're not sure why. As for today's search for a new name that would better convey USF's standing and location, we have begun to give it some thought. If we come up with a truly inspired name, we won't hesitate to pass it along.

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