by Matthew Michael
Officials at Benjamin Phillips University have been in public relations damage-control mode since April 20, the day the British Petroleum oil company gained notoriety for the largest offshore oil spill in US history. Everything from admissions messages to the university name itself are being evaluated in the context of this summer’s biggest news headline.
“We’re pursuing a comprehensive rebranding campaign,” said Steven Meyers, BPU’s Vice President of Communications. “Obviously, our first step was to stop referring to ourselves as ‘BP.’ We’re looking into becoming Phillips University of Maine.”
Meyers believes that the athletics department has the most work to do. They are responsible for replacing the official team name: the Black Pelicans.
“The pelican was the favorite bird of Ben Phillips, the guy we’re named for.” said Athletics Director Kay Stearns. “I’m sure our predecessors weren’t thinking about oil-covered pelicans. They probably just thought black would be a more intimidating color than white for a pelican. Oh, wait. Was that racist?”
With PETA having released a video of BPU’s live mascot being dyed for this past year’s homecoming game, Stearns says the university has no choice but to find a new name and mascot.
Stearns also mentioned that the football team’s hard-to-catch quarterback, William Rivers, is in need of a new nickname. “’Slick Willie’ just isn’t appropriate any more,” Stearns explained. “We’ve made it an honor code violation for students to shout that name at games this fall.”
Even the alternative spring break programs have been affected by the university’s off-putting brand.
“We were hoping to continue our Katrina relief programs that have sent BP students to the gulf coast for the last five years,” said Jim Long, the university’s Assistant Director for Service Learning. “Our gulf partners are all asking us not to come this year—they think we’ve done enough.”
The admissions department has had to change course as well. Staff members have stopped emphasizing BPU’s strong mechanical engineering programs as students are no longer interested in becoming BP engineers. Instead, admissions counselors are advertising the proposed marine biology major.
Efforts to change the university name are stalled until BPU officials can reach an agreement with the Benjamin Q. Phillips Charitable Trust. “They flat out said ‘no’ when we asked about renaming,” said Meyers of the trust—the university’s largest single source of donations. “You’d think we were asking for something unreasonable like twenty billion dollars.”
Meyers declined to name the industry in which BPU’s benefactor had made his fortunes.
“We’re trying to keep a cap on that for now, but I’m sure someone will leak it eventually.”