Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RAVES!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 01/08/21

The Collegiate University-Naming Team

I love those stories which fall into the category of, Si non vero, ben trovato, that is, if they aren't true they should be in any genuinely entertaining universe.

I have a nice example for you here.

It comes from the beginning of a lecture given at Glasgow University in 2015 by Mark Blyth. Now I've touted Professor Blyth here before, because his lectures and other contributions to debates are cogent and clear even to non-economists, and are expressed in the direct way you would expect from a Dundonian.

The lecture was entitled Austerity And The Politics Of Money - A Disconsolate Analysis, and the whole thing can be found here (Blyth comes in at the 13-minute mark after a lot of waffle from no fewer than three university functionaries).

This anecdote is by way of being a completely irrelevant preface to the subject of his talk, but it's a beauty and I transcribe it for you below:

"Let me begin with a lovely story, just because it's a brilliant story. I just love telling stories. It's my favourite story about Glasgow.

"So in the nineteen-sixties, when they were expanding higher education from twelve to forty universities around the time of the Labour government of sixty-four, Strathclyde was then King's College, or King's Royal Technical College, or something like this; it had been around since the seventeen hundreds, and they were going to be made one of the new universities.

"So, the guy who ran the shop at that time had a nemesis. Now in academia, it's one of the few places in this world where you're allowed to have a nemesis. So this guy's nemesis was an economist - it's funny how that happens - and he thought, "Right, I'm gonna stuff this guy", so he put him on the committee to name the university, 'cos he knew this would drive him ballistic. 'Cos these are these types of committees where, basically, everybody talks even if they have nothing to say, sucks up an inordinate amount of time, nothing gets done, blah, blah, blah. So he thought he was sticking him on one.

"So, of course, the guy took the committee over. So this is how it works out:

"Everybody's talking about all the possible names.

""University of Cowcaddens?" "No, scratch that.", right, you know.

"And he eventually says, "Look! You're missing this one. Glasgow is a famous city, and there's two universities here."

""Well, what's your point?"

""Well, who are we? We're the technical guys. James Watt, Boyle's Law, all that stuff was done here, right? Now, who's the mob up the road?"


""Glasgow! What do they do? Arts, literature, classics, law. So think about it; where else in this world do you get one city, two famous universities, one's the old one that does all that stuff, the other one's the technical school..."

"Somebody gets it: "Oh, my god! It's MIT and Harvard! We're the new Cambridge! This is brilliant!"

"So of course, the meme is released, it goes round the committee, everybody buys it hook, line and sinker.

"And they say, "Have you given any thought to what you'd like to call it?"

"And he says, "Well, we should play on the kind of MIT thing."

""So what are you thinking of?"

""The Scottish Higher Institute of Technological Excellence".

"Without missing a beat, they wrote a press release and sent it to the Evening Times. That evening, the Evening Times published the following headline:


"Now, I have no idea whether that story is true or not. But you know the wonderful thing about Glasgow? It could be true. And there are very few places in this world where that could be true.

"And that's why it's good to be back home."


I'll follow the good Professor up with a brief story of my own along the same lines: back in the late nineties, when the Depratment's IT estate was getting a wash-and-brush-up, it was considered a good idea to encourage staff to try to solve their own computer problems. A Grand Plan was drawn up with a wide variety of help cards to assist people in troubleshooting what was ailing their desktops (all on paper, because this was before the idea of a departmental Intranet was considered, or even possible).

When it came to what would be called 'branding' for the new service, someone thought the best name for it would be:

"Self Help for IT"

It was literally two days before it was due to be rolled out before someone pointed out that there was no need at all to point out so baldly what we already knew about the incorrigibly ropey nature of our computer systems.