13 Nov 2009. Schools like La Salle make me glad I switched the focus of this blog from campus description to fakelore. This religious university - I'm thinking Jesuit? - on the outskirts of Philly was tough to find and tougher to find interesting. Yes, there were unique touches like the 12-foot medieval wooden doors leading to the bookstore, and the serene grotto pictured below.
And love that man-and-spyglass logo.
We find a newly appointed college president assigned to renaming his institution. Rewriting the school's mission to serve intellectual exploration and personal discovery, he cannot tear himself away from the 'explorer' theme. He discusses this with his assistant, Brookings.
"Brookings, you have the finalists?"
Brookings holds up a manila folder and nods.
"Good. This whole renaming business has just been torturous. Let's get it done today. Go."
"Christopher Columbus - "
"Our front runner. Columbus University just rings right. Oh, sorry, go on."
"Christopher Columbus. An Italian who sailed under the Spanish flag on ships named after beans. Made a poor first impression on the natives by committing genocide. Today is honored continentwide for his expensive accident."
"Okay, Brookings, I see your point. But overly cynical wording won't fly if you are seeking a future in higher education."
"Yes, sir. I apologize."
"Now Columbus, sailing under another country's banner. Did he prefer tapas over pasta? And naming his ships Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria - was his crew excessively flatulent? Also you say his discovery of the American continent was an accident. Perhaps Columbus himself was an accident. Should we honor his irresponsible parents with a day off as well? Too many skeletons in the closet. Cross him off the list. Next."
"Juan Ponce de Leon. Knew the fountain of youth was a legend yet searched for it in Florida anyway."
"Ponce de Leon University. PDLU. I like the fountain of youth angle. Could be used to promote continuing education for adults. And I admire the man's determination. Did he find it?"
"...The fountain of youth does not exist. So, no."
"Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Traversed Mexico and was the first European to lead an overland expedition to the Pacific. Name means 'cow's head' in Spanish."
"Caboose-a-who? Hard to pronounce, hard to spell, not well known enough."
"To you or the general public?"
"Alexander Mackenzie. In searching for the fabled northwest passage, became the second European to cross the American continent. National hero in Scotland and Canada."
"A Canadian hero? You finish the 4th grade, you're a Canadian hero. So here we have another who failed to find what he was looking for. Too bad because 'Alexander Mackenzie' is a strong name. I don't know, I just can't do it."
"Because of not finding the northwest passage?"
"There's that, plus my ex-wife's lapdog was named Mackenzie. Doesn't sit well with me. Next."
"Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Accompanied by the 29 soldiers in the Corps of Discovery, Sacagawea, York, and Seaman, they - "
"Hold on. And who?"
"Lewis' dog was a Newfie named Seaman."
"Poor dog. Continue."
"Seeking an all-water route across the continent, they became the first Americans to reach the Pacific by land. Potential confusion with Lewis & Clark College in Oregon."
"Okay, okay, solid story. Great recognition. We can just be Lewis and Clark University, LCU. Problem solved. But I'm worried about the homoerotic undertones."
"The most famous pair in American History. One is rarely mentioned without the other."
"Pardon my speaking out, sir, but there is no evidence of anything illicit between the two captains."
"Tell me, Brookings, what happened to the other members of the Corps of Discovery after their return?"
"Nothing much. Most of them died soon thereafter."
"And what did them in?"
"Venereal diseases. Contracted among the natives...no. Surely that can't be proof enough for you."
"Surely it is. I can research as well. Why did Lewis and Clark live long lives free of VD when every other soldier quickly died? Friendly buggery. And that dog's name doesn't help."
"I can assure you there were no sexual relations between Lewis and Clark!"
"LCU is on the short list, at best. Moving on."
Brookings took a few breaths to calm himself.
"Vasco de Gama of Portugal. First man to sail from Europe to India. Was castrated by hostile Malagasy. His name lends itself to the terms vas deferens and vasectomy."
"Ugh, gruesome. How did he make the final finalist list? These things make a vas deferens to me."
"It was a joke. Next."
"Henry Hudson. He sailed for the Dutch around what is now Canada. His crew cast him off his ship never to be found. His dates of birth and death are a mystery."
"It makes for a sexy story. But his crew mutinying? Not a leader. Next."
"Ferdinand Magellan. Portuguese circumnavigator. He was killed in the Phillippines by a poison dart. His crewmate finished the voyage for him."
"Our school needs to inspire people to finish what they start. Next."
"Edmund Hillary. He and his sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first to scale - "
"Hillary is a woman's name. We are not a woman's school. Next."
"Alexander von Humboldt. A German who - "
"Shall we take a break, sir?"
"No, no. When I hear it, I will know it. Go on."
"Very well. This is the last on the list anyway. Robert de La Salle. He claimed the Mississippi River area for France."
"A possibility. I like the name La Salle. Sounds learned but not snobby. Any embarrassing peccadilloes?"
"Any children out of wedlock? Mass slaughterings? Scandals or bribery?"
"Not that I could find."
"Hmm. I'm liking this one more and more. The least pathetic name on the list."
"Sir, is it wise to honor someone - in quite a permanent way - for being the least pathetic?"
"I think it makes us seem accessible. Don't worry, Brookings, I'll change the wording."
La Salle University
Not The Most Pathetic
Not The Most Pathetic