Laurier’s ‘centennial’ a misleading marketing ploy

So let’s put the celebratory moods aside for a moment and get one thing straight: Wilfrid Laurier University is not technically 100 years old. Despite students being constantly reminded that this is “our centennial year,” many have to recognize that the celebrations currently occurring — inspirational as they may be — are nothing more than a marketing ploy.

There was, in fact, a building in 1911 on the corner of Bricker Ave. and Albert Street that was used for religious education, which went under the name of the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada. But if you look back at the history and the evolution of this institution, it wasn’t until 1973 — when the university adopted its current name — that it became a secular, provincially-assisted university.

As well, the school was an affiliation of the University of Western Ontario from 1924 to 1960 and became the base for the early beginnings of the University of Waterloo (UW) in 1959.

When deciding to change its name from Waterloo Lutheran University in the fall of 1972, the name Wilfrid Laurier University was chosen by students mainly as a matter of convenience because they could retain the WLU abbreviation. Why then honour a prime minister who has no official connection to the history of the school?

I do not doubt the significance of Wilfrid Laurier; he still remains one of the most praised prime ministers in Canadian history. However, I do have to question the university’s need to retrace history that has little real link to its present self. Two weeks ago, Bob Rae, interim leader for the Liberal party and former chancellor at WLU, spent an hour speaking about Wilfrid Laurier’s contributions on Canadian politics.

As informative and interesting as that was, what was the real point in terms of “centennial celebrations?” This is difficult to ascertain considering that Wilfrid Laurier’s legacy wasn’t associated with this institution until 1973.

Take last weekend for example, when homecoming signs around campus proudly displayed, “Soaring for a century.” Once again, if you look at the history of the institution, the “Golden Hawks” name wasn’t established until 1961, well before the school even received its current title.

The celebrations and advertisements
that have been occurring for the past
year have been mind-numbing, tiring
and excessive. The university doesn’t
have the reputation or success it has
today because it’s a “hundred” years

It’s because the institution became an established university and because of the academic programs, in particular the arts — which originated back in 1924 — and the incremental growth of the business faculty in the last couple of decades.

There’s nothing wrong with reiterating the history of the institution to the students. I just think it’s at the point where the university needs to step back from its massive marketing project, and start using academics and student success, not just a “birthday” or our “old age,” to attract investors and students. Just like everything else nowadays, WLU is a business and it needs to attract more students. But leading prospective students, or anyone for that matter, to believe that the institution is a century old — while also using this as a measurement of success – is misguided.

The Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, back in 1911, has a link to what eventually became Wilfrid Laurier University, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to really consider it the birth ground of WLU. UW, in theory, stemmed from similar origins of WLU, but I can’t see UW claiming they are a hundred years old as well.

Today, the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary remains — as read on the commemorative plaque unveiled two weeks ago — an “affiliate of the non-denominational university” and as an entity that is sometimes viewed separate to the university.

Well, if that’s what’s been here for the last hundred years, shouldn’t we be celebrating the centennial of that?

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