Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2015
Written by Walter Pierce
Remember back around 2000, after our University of Southwestern Louisiana finally got legislative approval to change its name to the University of Louisiana — with the caveat that Lafayette be part of the official name and only on condition that Northeastern Louisiana University in Monroe follow suit? Many in Cajun Nation, put off by the deal after lobbying for years to simply be the University of Louisiana without a conjoined twin that prefers pork rinds to cracklins, half-jokingly proposed that UL Lafayette go by the nickname U La La or Ooh La La — a perfectly appropriate riff on the French expression and, as school nicknames go and in light of the local culture, awesome.
But Martin Hall was not pleased. Evidently worried that such playfulness might diminish UL’s cachet as an academic institution, the suits at the university insisted we call ourself University of Louisiana at Lafayette, or some buttoned-down variation on that. Sniff.
The controversy on how we as well as outsiders refer to our local university flared again in local media recently, and there’s enough thin skin in this story to gift wrap the state of Louisiana three times over and present it to Mississippi as a token of our gratitude for us not being Mississippi.
After a minor dust-up in January, the Sun Belt Conference decreed we will be referred to as UL Lafayette on first reference and UL-L on second. But the NCAA and the Associated Press, at last check, refer to us in sports stories as Louisiana-Lafayette. Let that slip through the edit filter and you will get a vermilion finger wagged at you by the UL folks.
I most certainly don’t mind LSU being referred to simply as LSU, despite the fact that LSU grads proudly hang on their walls diplomas hailing them as alumni of Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College. But it’s just LSU. And I’m cool with that.
I would prefer my alma mater be known simply as University of Louisiana — or as Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns by the sports writers, announcers and color commentators. That’s probably the consensus of alumni, and why the heck shouldn’t our prerogative be acknowledged?
Well, for starters, we were so anxious to drop Southwestern from our name that we agreed to have Lafayette perpetually tied to Monroe in the nomenclature — codified in state law by legislators driven by a host of motivations, not the least of which was anxiety by LSU boosters in the Legislature that people outside Louisiana might assume a UL to be bigger and more flagshippy than an LSU.
Full disclosure: I’m a UL grad twice over but also a lifelong Tiger fan. My dad lettered in football at LSU in the mid-1960s. My mom was a Tri-Delt there. I grew up going to games. The only time I don’t pull for LSU is when it’s playing my Cajuns, which happens only infrequently. In other words, I’m not one of those Ragin’ Cajun fans with LSU envy. And I most certainly don’t mind LSU being referred to simply as LSU, despite the fact that LSU grads proudly hang on their walls diplomas hailing them as alumni of Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College. But it’s just LSU. And I’m cool with that.
Our UL has nearly 16,000 undergraduate students to ULM’s 7,500, making us twice as big as it. Why shouldn’t the biggest university in the system get to call itself whatever it pleases? The University of Texas at Austin does. It just goes by Texas. Same is true for the University of George at Athens. Just Georgia. And who has a problem with that? No one.
Who has a problem with UL going by Louisiana or University of Louisiana? ULM and LSU — the former because it’s small and insecure, its Aunt Gerty is a greeter at Walmart and it cries itself to sleep at night to reruns of Duck Dynasty; the latter because ... well, because it’s LSU.
Given my druthers, University of South Louisiana would have been perfect. It would have broadened our geographic identity, and South Louisiana is everything North Louisiana isn’t. It’s what non Louisianans think of — Cajuns, Creoles, gumbo, New Orleans, fais do dos, Mardi Gras, étouffée, zydeco, all lumped together in a well-seasoned cast-iron pot — when they think of Louisiana.
This paper will stick with UL Lafayette on first reference, UL after that. And for me it’s just plain UL or, after a few Bud Lites on the south knoll at Cajun Field on a Saturday afternoon, U La La.