You will recall that over the past few years, we have been discussing how Iowa State University essentially did everything wrong concerning an alumni group running a pro-marijuana organization that made use of school symbols and iconography. After initially approving the group’s use of school trademarks, several members of the state’s conservative legislature got involved, leading to the school rescinding that authorization. NORML, the name of the group, sued the school, claiming all of this was a violation of their free speech rights. The courts agreed, eventually to the tune of a $ 600k judgement, meaning that school wasted over half a million dollars of taxpayer money to fail at trademark bullying.
You might have expected that this would serve as a delightful education for the school as to the reasons why they don’t want to be a trademark bully. You would be wrong, of course. Instead, the school’s next step was to immediately rewrite its trademark use policy, making it laughably restrictive and essentially attempting to give the school broad oversight over all uses of its iconography by student groups. This, predictably, has led to a full on revolt both by many of the school’s student organizations and its student government.
To start with the student organizations, they are largely dropping ISU connections from their name and branding like a hot stone.
A year ago, Iowa State University’s student chess club was easily tied to the university through its name. Now, it’s the Ames Collegiate Chess Club. The student aviation group had been the Flying Cyclones. Now, they’re the Ames Flyers. And the student space club, which had had “Iowa State” in its name, is Ames Space Teaching and Recognition Association.
Why the changes? University administrators over the summer tightened Iowa State’s trademark policy by limiting most student organizations’ access to trademarked references to the institution.
As noted elsewhere in the post, ISU has a habit of puffing its chest out over its large roster of student-led organizations and clubs. Yet, because of its heavy-handed new policy, those ties to the university are being severed, taking those bragging rights away. Where ISU once could be seen as having a rich tradition of clubs and organizations reveling in student participation, a separation line has now been drawn. All because the school wants to choose control over culture.
And the students are pissed.
The policy so riled student government members that they unanimously approved a resolution this week requesting the administration, at least temporarily, backpedal from the guidelines that were posted Aug. 1 on ISU’s Trademark Licensing Office website.
“The administration went about this poorly,” Michael Tupper, an ISU student government member, said at this week’s meeting. “They implemented the change in the middle of the summer, when there were no students on campus.”
In addition, Tupper said during the meeting, “We’ve been told multiple times that the change was not in direct result to the lawsuit. … That is not true.”
A school spokesperson states that the school will review the resolution and then meet with the student government, but it’s painfully obvious that it would rather have avoided student interaction altogether through sheer timing. Making such a policy change where the primary effect will be felt by student groups when students weren’t even on campus isn’t particularly subtle. Meeting with the student government now is CYA, not some kind of olive branch. And that’s likely why the student government is not screwing around here.
Some at this week’s student government meeting suggested that if university officials don’t follow through on any requests in the resolution, other actions could be taken, including votes of no confidence or censure.
It’s a problem entirely of ISU’s own making. And, given the culture that is supposed to be fostered on college campuses, this is about as wholly unnecessary as it gets. As entertaining as it is watching an institution like ISU learn absolutely all the wrong lessons from a well-publicized trademark dispute, it has to be just as frustrating for the students on campus.
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