Dave Reid

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or University of Milwaukee?

By - Mar 16th, 2009 12:11 pm
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A group of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Association Senators, Tyler Kristopeit, Matt Capristo, Anthony Dewees, Travis Romero-Boeck, and Jimmy Lemke will be proposing a bill at the March 29th Student Association Senate meeting to consider changing the university’s name from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the University of Milwaukee.

Really though, does the name matter?  Is this just some college students’ crazy idea?  No, I don’t think so, because brand matters even to a university.  This idea that brand and image matters came up a few years ago when a group pushed for a change to Wisconsin State University.  This seemed like a move in the right direction but much like hyphenated schools “State” schools sometimes have a bit of a second class status as well.  For example, to this day if I tell someone that I went to “Iowa State University” it turns into a ten minute discussion explaining “No, not the Hawkeyes,” with followup questions such as, “why didn’t you go to Iowa?”  Don’t get me wrong I’ll always be a Cyclone and I am aware of a few high profile “State” schools, but my experience leads me to think that Wisconsin State University wouldn’t of been much an improvement over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

This time a group of students have suggested the right name, the University of Milwaukee.  It clearly sheds the technical school sound by dropping the hyphen and avoids the “State” school stigma by avoiding a Wisconsin State University or worse Milwaukee State University name.  Further this name ties the school directly and tightly to what makes the school unique, the fact that is located in the middle of a dense urban environment, the City of Milwaukee.

Companies control their brand to increase sales and build loyalty.  The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee needs to consider the value of its brand for similar reasons, for recruitment and to strengthen its ties to the community.  I know students are supposed to look at where they go to to college rationally by looking at which school best meet their requirements but I think it is fair to say this just isn’t always true.  Further, it is possible that out of state students who aren’t all that familiar with the UW system overlook the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee because they think it is a technical school, or that it is a smaller branch of the University of Wisconsin.

I know to alumni this might sound like a challenge to their personal history and could in the short run weaken their connection to the university, but overtime this can be repaired.  While the bigger picture is that this could be one of the steps, as well as the expanded research initiatives, that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee should make to improve its image in an attempt to recruit more students and possibly more qualified students.  It might not be the game changer that significant expansion would be, but as part of a process of creating a new identity for the university, names matter.

That said, if they were to approve this name change I do wonder what they would do with UW-Tosa?


22 thoughts on “University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or University of Milwaukee?”

  1. larsma says:

    As a UWM alum, and as someone who spent my 4 college years involved in student government (including 2 years on the Student Association as well as the Branded Merchandise Committee), I think this is a terrible idea. If nothing else, the University will spend millions redoing their logo, and consequently t-shirts, campus signage, athletic uniforms, letterhead, business cards and the like. Why not put these precious dollars towards Chancellor Santiago’s vision of becoming a premiere research institution? We already have a great start with the Water Institute and the future Engineering School (wherever it ends up) and the School of Public Health – the brand can focus on the quality of its research, regardless of the name. Just think of the headlines: “Amazing new breakthrough at The Water Institute at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, the nation’s premiere freshwater research facility.” I like it. I think the “If you build it, they will come” theory plays much more here than the actual name of the school. Not many people I know would ever want to go to Iowa or Iowa State if it wasn’t for their leading research or Big-10/ Big-12 reputations – would you?

    During and since my tenure on the Branded Merchandise Committee, the University has worked to streamline and unify its logo and image. In the early- to mid- 2000’s, the logos and shades of ‘gold’ were as varied as the stars in the sky. A lot of thought, effort and design has gone in to the refreshed look that the University currently operates with. Changing the name (and therefore logos) would only throw the now-recognizable brand back into the disarray it experienced 10 years ago.

    And, let’s not forget the Marquette “Gold” incident. While UWM fans and alumni may not be as tenacious about the name of our team or school, I still think that a name change will alienate far too many alumni in this already challenging fund raising environment, and that is the last thing needed by a university with as lofty goals as UWM.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @larsma I definitely agree that the cost of the conversion would have to be evaluated as would the alumni impact. But for better or worse I think most students often first hear of a school because of sporting events, and when they see the “-” it early on gets written off (tech, small, second rate). I know that seems pretty silly but it definitely plays role in the marketing of a university as a brand which in turn I believe impacts recruiting and growth.

  3. David B. says:

    Count me as an alumnus of UWM that would definitely prefer the University of Milwaukee name. It just sounds better and gives a truer impression of the schools stature as a stand alone strong institution.

    I think that it is true that most out-of-staters see the hyphen and think that it is just a branch school of Madison. I moved to Milwaukee from Michigan about 12 years ago and I pretty much had no comprehension, until I’d lived in Milwaukee for awhile, that UWM was more then just a branch school of UW.

    The name change would be a smart move that would nicely parallel all of the positive changes at UWM with the numerous expansions, greater Alumni involvement, and expanded living space for students (making the commuter school tag harder to pin on the University). Despite the head-scratching insistence on the Tosa location for the engineering school expansion I think the school has been really raising its profile the past few years and I think that you’re right, Dave, that this name-change could help to symbolize/strengthen these changes.

    I think the change would be worth the effort and associated costs.

  4. Jeramey Jannene says:


    The thing I think you’re missing is that there probably isn’t a cost with switching the school name. I don’t mean in the sense that a donor would pay for it (Michael Cudahy attempted to get MSOE to change their name many years back and offered to pay for it), because that would be an opportunity cost as the dollars could go elsewhere.

    Professional sports teams actually change their logos fairly frequently because they make money doing it. Merchandising, just like in sports, is likewise a huge sales center for colleges.

    The “Gold” incident of Marquette is certainly something to be weary of, but I don’t see a need to change from the Panthers. I wouldn’t change the colors either. Obviously a new logo would be unveiled, but I think keeping the same color scheme and mascot would be expected.

    You build it right, and you name it correctly. They’re far from mutually exclusive.

  5. JCG says:

    When trying to recruit and promote towards those who don’t live here, which brand is really more valuable – the UW system, or the city of MKE? I love MKE, you guys love it, but lets’s face it – people who don’t live here either hate MKE (other WI residents), or think it’s the land of bad perms and bad old sitcoms. As a UWM ulum, I’d prefer to keep the “brand” assoc. w/ the well-respected-by-outsiders UW system to get them in the door.

  6. JCG says:

    Regardless – we’ve already got Milwaukee in the name. Why not just keep the best of both worlds as it is now?

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @JCG Because seriously I believe out of staters see the “-” and think less of it, or even confused by what that +-+ implies… Branch of the main campus? tech school? 2nd tier? That’s why I think it is worth considering. Further Milwaukee itself seems to have a better reputation out of state than within. But that’s just my take on it.

  8. MilwaukeeD says:

    Put me down for University of Milwaukee. Sounds much more prestigious, like universities in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, etc.

  9. Joel says:

    Yea i think something like this doesn’t sound like it would take too much money. Besides, I think it would help the city of Milwaukee somehow if “Milwaukee” is closer to the beginning of the title.

  10. marty says:

    Many states would kill to have a state university system like Wisconsin. Wisconsin is accredited with having one of the best state school systems in the country. The UW-Brand not only gets hype from Madison but from all the schools in the system. UW-Eua Claire and UW-Lacrosse are constantly ranked in the top 5 Division 3 schools in the midwest. UW-Whitewater has a well know buissness program. UW-Platevilles Engineering program is also highly regarded. So for Milwaukee to change is name would only hurt itself and the rest of the UW-system, especially with the expansion of the new freshwater sciences, engineering, and public health schools.

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @marty I hear what you are saying and yea the Wisconsin system is very good, but often perception is reality. I truly believe that UW-x reduces its image to young potential students from out of state. When one school is referred to as The University of Wisconsin and all the other are UW-x kids wonder what does that mean? Is this a small school? is this a remote campus etc etc…

  12. marty says:

    Very True, however, there are so many other variables I feel plague this issue. I agree that UWM should consider changing its named based on its role as the only other public research university in the state besides Madison. If Milwaukee is losing prospetive talent to Madison, then a name chage would be rational. However, Milwaukee and Madison overlap on just a handfull or research disciplines. Graduate students and faculty are attracted to Madison because it is a leader in its areas of research and study. Milwaukee has excellent programs that set it apart from Madison such as its Architecture and Urban Planning School and School of Freshwater Sciences. Once Milwaukee can build up its programs to national/international recognized levels, UW-Milwaukee will not be seen as a school that shadows UW-Madison. Both schools will be seen as complimentary univerisites. And with the advancements in interdiscpilinary research the schools will be resources to each other; a partnership that not many other parts of the country will be able to mirror.

    On a second note, UWM’s undergraduate school is not marketable to out of state students. Unless WIsconsin can make reciproctiy agreements with other states, besides Minnesota, UWM will have a very had time marketing to students from other states. UW-Madison attracts a percentage of out state students because of its great programs that these students could not get in their own state schools. UW-Milwaukee must build its programs to attract out of state students in the same fashion.

    In the end, same name or not, it doesnt do much unless UW-Milwaukee can offer what these students are here for, which is excellence in their areas of study.

    Think of it this way. You could chage UW-Madison to the University of Madison and UW-Milwaukee to the University of Wisconsin. But would it really matter? Whats really important?

  13. jhenrich says:

    As a native of Milwaukee (now living elsewhere) I’ll admit I did not fully appreciate UWM for what it is. When it came time to make my own decision on attending college I discounted UWM as small, second tier, etc. None of which was true then nor is it true now. The comparison to the Univ of Cinncinnati, Louisville, etc is a strong one. As stated earlier, living outside of Wisconsin, it would be far easier to explain, “I went to the Univ of Milwaukee” than explaining UWM. I’m all for the name change.

  14. Parker Dunlop says:

    I was involved in the United Council (the state-wide UW student lobbying organization) in the early 1990’s. I was a representative for the UW-Madison campus.

    I frequently detected a bit of insecurity among the UW-Milwaukee delegation. For example, one delegate complained loudly: “I called UW-Madison Information yesterday and do you know how the operator answered the phone?! She said: ‘University of Wisconsin, may I help you’!

    He was indignant that the operator didn’t say ‘University of Wisconsin-Madison’.

    He went further to say that such an attitude proves that Madison thinks it’s the only University of Wisconsin!

    I thought it was pure and simple insecurity.

    I never heard such nonsense from any of the other delegations.

    I remember visiting the UWM campus and I asked it I could take a tour of some of the libraries, since I was on the governing committee for the UW-Madison libraries.

    I was told that there was the Golda Meir library, and that was the library on campus. I was surprised and mentioned that there were 34 UW-Madison libraries that were a part of the Madison campus General Library System and thought that that must be a mistake.

    Well, the UWM people were, how shall I say: insecure.

    Then imagine my surprise when I went to the Student Union, only to run into some nationwide fast-food joint. I think I was Burger King. Something like that would never happen at Madison.

    So, yeah, go ahead, UWM. Every time I hear UWM, I do not think of Madison. I, like most Wisconsinites, think of Madison when hearing the term University of Wisconsin. Go ahead and cut off your nose to spite your face.

    Anyone who knows anything about Wisconsin knows that the Wisconsin Idea means that the boundaries of the University are the boundaries of the state. that means the 13 four-year campuses, the 13 two-year campuses, plus the UW-Extension in all 72 counties, including Milwaukee!

    Maybe that’s not taught at UWM!

    UWM, get over yourselves!

  15. Chonter says:

    This is a very good idea! Kudos to Dave for bringing it up. UWM, though a fine school, just sounds second-fiddle. Calling it “University of Milwaukee” elevates both the school and the city. Should have been done years ago!

  16. Fan says:

    Can someone explain to me how, if UWM is suffering from an image problem (somehow caused by its name being hyphenated), that new freshman enrollments since 1995 have risen more than 100%? Total enrollment has risen from 22,000 to over 29,200 this past fall? All of this at times when demographic trends of high school graduating classes have remained fairly constant or risen only 1-3% each year until recently, while UWM’s freshman classes were frequently rising 8-10% between 1995 and 2005? Remember too, this was all long before Bruce Pearl came along and took us dancing. Not a single school, not even Madison, can claim increases in enrollment as has UWM.

    Seems to me that the reputation of the university is far better than the handful of “name-changers” are leading folks to believe. Jimmy Lemke and friends are simply naive to believe that the name change is going to affect our “respect” inside or outside this state. The respect is already there. Just ask any one of the guidance counselors at Green Bay, Appleton, Madison area or other high school districts who will tell you that UWM is THE number one school their students are

    Marty, you state that “…if UWM is losing students to Madison, then a name change may be rational…” The opposite is actually the case however. In many of the best school districts around the state, more and more high achieving students are selecting UWM OVER Madison, in large part because of changing perceptions among guidance counselors, parents, and even current students who share fantastic experiences with their younger siblings and friends.

    You also state that UWM as an UG is not marketable to non-residents unless we have reciprocity (or other arrangements in place). Partially true; however it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that UWM can recruit in other states, but non-resident tuition is the problem, not the reputation of the campus. And for the record, UWM is now participating in something called the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP), and early indications are that this can be a viable advantage to recruit from the participating states. Resources are only now beginning to be allocated to recruit in those states. To effectively recruit in those states it takes access to resources ($$) and staffing to educate students, parents and counselors to the benefits of UWM. This takes time and consistency, much as it has in recruiting w/in the state over the last 15 years to see our numbers grow.

    UWM IS a thriving and growing campus….Changing the name will a) not have any impact on this and b) remains a moot point simply because defecting from the System is not viable nor is it what’s really at issue.

  17. UWM Student '12 says:

    Keep it UWM!!!!! Why is this such a big discussion? I have known for years who UWM is. I want to go to UWM and not U-Milwaukee.

  18. marty says:

    I feel like there is much animosity here towards UW-Madison. I dont understand why people argue against it. It is UW-Madison that brings in almost 1 Billion dollars in research to the state every year, along with some of the most intellectual minds from around the world. Many of UW-Madisons departments and schools are ranked high not just in this country, but gloabally. We should be extremely thankful to have a school like UW-Madison in our state.

    Despite this however, UWM is greatly positioned to take advantage of UW-Madison resources. UW-Madison certainly cannot cover all the areas of research in all the disciplines of study. UW-Madison can also not meet the needs of the Milwaukee region. Milwaukee needs a reseach hub to catter and serve the regions industries. This whole UW-Madison Vs. UW-Milwaukee is ridiculous. UWM is in a great position to become a leader in the area of Freshwater Sciences, and UW-Madison could be a great resource when looking at interdiciplinary partnerships. Again, Milwaukee and Madison could become an amazing research corridor in country.

    Also, to address what you said about undergraduate students choosing UWM over UW-Madison. There are 11 other 4 year undergraduate universities in the state. GOOD guidance councelors will tell you that you can get a great undergraduate degree at any of them. Again, the UW-system is one of the best in the country. UW-Madison is in a class of its own. UW-Madison offers more undergraduate programs, taught by proffesors who are leaders in their areas of study, in departments that are among the best in the world. This is why it is so competitive to get into the undergraduate program at UW-Madison. This is why out of state students pay outrageious tutition sums to go to UW-Madison. To attract out of state students, you need to give them something they could not get in their own state schools.

    Im glad to see all the investments that has been made In UWM in recent years. Like I said UWM is in a great position to become a great research university in a different direction than UW-Madison. When this happens it will be a great resource to the state and UW-system. This animosity and competition towards UW-Madison has to stop. By complimenting UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee can further stretch WIsconsins positition as a leading research region.

  19. Joe Klotsche says:

    For everyone who has forgotten, here’s what happened in 2006 when students voted on changing UWM’s name. “University of Milwaukee” was in fact one of the choices. It came in third with just 12% of the vote. You can look it up at: www3.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=419946

    If the students get the name-change idea on the Student Association ballot again, it is likely the same thing will happen as in 2006. About half who vote will want the current name, the other half who vote will want a different name, and 90% of the students won’t vote.

    Then what?

    After all, it’s up to the Wisconsin legislature to name the state-run universities. And the state legislature is up to its ears trying to solve the mother of all budget crises. Who is going to waste time on changing a university’s name?

  20. Leah says:

    I am a Milwaukee Alum and am currently a grad student at Madison. I have to say that I think this is an awful idea. I will be honest and say that I have never heard of the University of St. Louis, or Cincinnati, etc. that others have mentioned, other than University of Chicago. But I will also be honest and say that when I hear “University of Milwaukee” the first thing I think of is “University of Phoenix”. I would also like to add that I’ve never thought poorly or less of hyphenated names or “State” schools. You want stigma? Try MATC…
    I believe changing the name will set Milwaukee apart from Madison, but not in the desired way. I think it is less intuitive that it is a state school so people will assume it is a private school which many overlook because of the costs. University of Wisconsin is important to have in the name because it does offer recognition – “brand” recognition as some have referred to it. I also believe it will only drive the wedge deeper between the two schools in terms of their already strained relationship.
    I agree that Milwaukee needs to build it’s foundations first as a respectable and forward-moving university instead of worrying about the name so much. Sure, they are sometimes overshadowed, but that can be changed once they begin to make a better name for themselves. It is true that people who didn’t live in Milwaukee or have never been there claim they don’t like it or don’t want to go. I hear from people even in Madison saying they are afraid (irrationally) that they will be shot if they go there, or they think there is nothing to do in the city. This is not going to change by changing the name of the university.

  21. Nate Holton says:

    Changing the name is a gimmick, and I do think a lot of these attitudes come from Madison envy. Ditching the UW brand in order to get a few students who would actually let a hyphen prevent them from going to a school seems hardly worthwhile to me. Are these really the students that UWM wants? Or, do they want the students who do their research and find that UWM has a fantastic and highly regarded program (Freshwater?) that they happen to be interested in? Are quality students really going to pass over a quality program of interest because of a hyphen? Really? Spend this time and effort on building up the academic bonafides, the quality students will follow. Isn’t this what they’ve been doing already?

    As far as the Milwaukee brand goes, the rest of Wisconsin doesn’t tend to think very highly of the city. In my experience, around the country, Milwaukee tends to be any combination of a) beer drinking, fat, cheese eating; b) farm town; c) an up-and-coming Detroit; d) confused with Minneapolis. The summer festivals and sports teams are the primary positives that people actually know about Milwaukee. Most people are not Rust Belt urbanists with knowledge of a medium-sized city like Milwaukee. Hopefully the national perception will change over the years with help from UWM, quality city policy, and other inputs. For now though, replacing the UW brand with the Milwaukee brand would do more harm than good in my opinion.

  22. Nic Waldron says:

    This discussion never gets framed correctly.

    The reason for changing the name wouldn’t be because the Milwaukee campus expects an upgrade in prestige simply by dropping the “Wisconsin-” part of its name. It’s because telling people you went to “UWM” gets damn confusing. I’m constantly having to explain to people… including relatives who’ve lived in Wisconsin their entire lives… that I went to school in Milwaukee, not Madison. It’s even worse out of state where people hear the “University of Wisconsin” part and automatically think you’re a Badger. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of websites mistakenly attribute work done by UW-Milwaukee to UW-Madison, and honestly, who can blame them for not knowing the difference?

    The board of regents may think having all of the campuses carry the “UW-” tag helps them, and perhaps it did at one point, but now it just makes things unnecessarily confusing. Try asking anyone whose worked at a UW library and see how many books that were meant for Stout ended up in Superior (or in Platteville when they were meant for Parkside).

    As far as people thinking the Milwaukee campus should keep “Wisconsin” in its name to pacify the morons outstate who think Milwaukee is dangerous… I really don’t understand that argument. Milwaukee is already in the school’s name and nothing short of it not having a Milwaukee address is going to make people like that think any better if the school. Besides, if changing to University of Milwaukee really is that off-putting to racists, that’s a GOOD thing!

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