Sunday, May 22, 2005

“Focus Groups” in the Wake of the “Gold” Decision

Here is an e-mail we should have posted two weeks ago, but did not due to the press of breaking news concerning the Marquette nickname. It was written on the Friday after the “Gold” nickname was announced, and also in reaction to a “focus group” held the evening before. Looking at it now, it provides a vivid portrait of alumni reaction in the wake of the “Gold” decision and more importantly insight on the University’s thinking.

We have added emphasis to passages we think are particularly important.


So many of you have vocally expressed your opinions and asked me about last night’s meeting that I wrote the following response. I’m sending this to those I think may be interested. It’s a summary of last night’s focus group meeting at Marquette, as I observed and interpret it, presented for your information.

Several days ago, before the new MU nickname was announced, I was invited to participate in a focus group regarding the new name.

Per the letter I received:

“This focus group is being convened to help the university understand feelings and characteristics people have about the athletics nickname after the Board of Trustees meeting on May 4th.”

The invitation was made before anyone outside the Board of Trustees knew what the new nickname might be.

Ours was the third and final focus group to meet yesterday, and it consisted of seven Milwaukee-area members of university and college alumni groups/boards. I was invited as Past President of the College of Engineering Alumni Board.

When we arrived, we were told the purpose of our meeting was to gather opinions towards the development of a new athletic mascot and/or logo. While the meeting was scheduled for 1½ hours, it actually went closer to four, the added time being used for serious discussion and venting.

Not one of us was pleased with the new name nor how it was selected. Further, we unanimously felt that this compounded the mistakes made in 1994.

Here are my observations and opinions:
  • We were told the Trustees’ decision is final and irrevocable. My personal opinion is that we will be stuck with this new name for several years, especially if no retraction is made in the next several weeks. Expect to see smoke and mirrors pumping up its acceptance, as was done for Golden Eagles, but expect to see the new name die of lameness within a few years.
  • We believe the Trustees made the sort of terrible decision that often doesn’t look bad until you’ve had time to think and reflect over it (think: beer goggles). We wonder what real alternatives were presented to the Trustees.
  • Most of the calls and emails we received were opposed to the process used to make the selection. The messages I received were different in that they opposed the result, not the process.
  • We were told that if we had a really good basketball season that much of this furor will go away. We replied that we have no team this year and we’re going to be smacked big time in the Big East.
  • We felt that MU was being made a laughingstock by the media, alumni from other schools, and in our own thoughts. We thought that MU embarrassed their “stakeholders,” including alumni, faculty and students.
  • We felt that the stakeholders had little real input to this decision. We were told that the survey generated 2,000 pages of written opinions and that both pro-Warriors and pro-Golden Eagles fans thought the survey was biased against them. Also, several of the most absurd questions were discarded, ie: “Would you destroy / discard your Warriors apparel?”
  • We were told the negative reaction was no worse than in 1994 when the Warriors name was dropped. While most online polls tend to attract the ends of the spectrums they survey, it’s hard to disagree with the 95% “hate it” responses to both the Milwaukee Journal and Marquette Tribune polls.
  • We were told that MU will work to be very inclusive in developing a logo and mascot, now that the name has been selected. We thought it was too little, too late to repair this damage.
  • One participant is faculty member of the Dental School. He asked for his fellow faculty’s opinions in a meeting and received 42 boos, one gold finger, and not one favorable response.
  • We said that Tom Crean’s appearance on Mark Belling yesterday did not help, nor did Fr. Wild’s public statements that the negativity was (paraphrasing) primarily due to people disappointed by the rejection of the Warriors name. Fr. Wild’s statement effectively discarded the opinions of most alumni as being defective.
  • We were told that the last name change did not affect alumni donations. One example was the overwhelming amount donated for the Al McGuire Center. We countered that this fundraising success was because Al McGuire’s name was on the project and this was not a referendum on the Golden Eagles name.
  • Regarding mascots and logos, we were told that they could not have any gender or race associated with them. We reviewed a variety of other schools’ mascots. I noticed and said that all of the mascots and logos that were animals or cartoons appeared to be male, ie: Bucky Badger, the Georgetown bulldog, the red blob of (Kentucky?), the orange blob of Syracuse, etc. I said I think it’s natural and normal for people to hang a gender on living creatures and that the common gender for strong figures was usually male. Look how we refer to God as male and how odd it seems when God is referred to as female.
  • We suggested that maybe the mascot could be something like a golden retriever puppy that grows and becomes a strong adult dog. We could name the dog “Warrior” and work to disassociate any former connotation with Indians. Whatever the mascot chosen, we should consider this. Perhaps, in the distant future, Warriors could again become a safe name to use.
I could go on, but I think I’ve hit the highlights.

In my opinion, the forgone conclusion was made early that we would not go back to the name Warriors, evidence was promoted to support that, and then a new name was chosen from a limited pool of selected favorites. Further, the above conclusion was fostered by the ever increasing tendencies of spineless weenies to bow before the “tyranny of the minority.” My objection is not so much to the process, it’s to the result. Fortunately, I also believe we will revisit this in a few years. Have hope!

My humble observations and opinions,
Dave Bonin
Past President,
MU College of Engineering Alumni Board

PS: Its things like these that are the origin of the black humor laments:

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

“What the (insert expletive here) was I / were you thinking!”

[All emphasis added.]

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