27.2.04

CONDEMNED TO REPEAT THE PAST? No sooner do I complete this post comparing the difficulties of the railroads in the late 1960s with the difficulties of the contemporary university, than does word reach the Superintendent's office about this abortive meeting.
NIU’s Board of Trustees were to be briefed Friday morning on the findings of an 18-month study aimed at examining the university’s identity. However, the meeting was canceled because of a lack of quorum.

When the meeting is rescheduled, trustees will hear results of the study that will help lay the groundwork for establishing NIU’s long-term mission.

The study will assist in long-range planning for the university, maintaining a visual identity with consistent themes and presence, said Melanie Magara, NIU vice president of Public Affairs.
Let's see, we've sold out the freshman class for 2004, we're looking for sufficient space in the dorms university housing for entering frosh, we're attempting to preserve our core system, and the School of Music is making do without an accompanist and headquarters is worried about the university's "visual identity"?

Time for a little history lesson, with some visual aids.

In the late 1960s, a number of railroads hired high-powered image consultants to change the railroad's image, sometimes by developing trade marks that were as un-railroad-like as imaginable.

The Great Northern is a particularly instructive case. Although the railroad was involved in proceedings before the Interstate Commerce Commission that would lead to the creation in 1970 of the Burlington Northern, management hired consultants to change the railroad's image. The color scheme in 1967, the year the image change was announced, looked like this.

If these colors look familiar, they should. Burlington Northern Santa Fe uses the same Omaha orange and green, when it's not using the Santa Fe warbonnet and the Holy Rood (or is it a sun sign) of the old Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.

The most notorious case of an image makeover was Canadian Pacific's, where the shield and beaver gave way to some abstraction that looked like a foreshadowing of Pac-Man. But if you see a recently painted Canadian Pacific car passing through your town, you will once again see a shield and a beaver.

But there is a better object lesson for the trustees, running right through DeKalb. As it was in the beginning, it is now (and ever shall be?) Armour yellow and the Federal shield on the Union Pacific.

What is headquarters thinking? What good does it do to change the external visual identity (yet again??) of the University while the internal visual identity is one of deferred maintenance and missing accompanists?

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