Thanks to Breitbart, Fox News, the Chronicle of Higher Education and other top news sources, attention on the University of Wyoming is at an all-time high.
Last week stories about UW’s hot new marketing campaign to recruit students, “The World Needs More Cowboys,” were all over the Internet. Suddenly people who never even knew the university in the Magic City of the Plains existed began inquiring about T-shirts and other merchandise they could buy before the campaign began.
UW’s Board of Trustees recognized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and seized it. Meeting in Cody on Thursday, it decided to officially approve the campaign and start it early. It didn’t spend much time on what made the story so newsworthy: the culture war it sparked between faculty members and others who hated what they viewed as a sexist and racist campaign vs. cowboy fans who railed against pointy-headed liberals who can just go live somewhere else if they don’t like it.
There are plenty of reasons to object to this cowboy recruiting slogan, beginning with its exorbitant price tag. UW paid a marketing firm called Victors & Spoils $500,000, which amounts to $100,000 a word. Moreover, the university apparently couldn’t find a Wyoming company with enough expertise to earn the contract, instead turning to one located in the leftist Republic of Boulder in Colorado.
Another problem is the fact that Oklahoma State University — which already shares versions of Wyoming’s bucking horse and rider logo and UW’s athletic mascot, Pistol Pete — has its own recruitment campaign. Unbelievably, it’s also called “The World Needs More Cowboys.”
Is it too much to expect that someone at Victor & Spoils or the University of Wyoming could have Googled their half-a-million-dollar creation to find out if anyone else is using the same slogan?
But most of the internal UW criticism centered on the notion that forever tying the university to a symbol of a straight, white male icon (think of the Marlboro Man or John Wayne) any more than it already does with its cowboy mascot was directly at odds with the need to make the student body more diverse. The campaign also ignored the contributions of Native Americans in favor of recognizing the white guys who tore up treaties and put tribes on reservations.
“It becomes incredibly problematic to try to imagine using any of this [campaign] when I’m recruiting Native students,” Angela Jaime, director of American Indian Studies, told the Casper Star-Tribune. “The term ‘cowboy’ evokes the play time — the racist play time — of cowboys and Indians, right?”
I only read about 100 of the 2,000-plus comments right-wing Breitbart readers put online, but they universally condemned anyone who dared to suggest cowboys aren’t the symbol of everything that’s right in America. The conversation didn’t degenerate into homosexuality, racism and bestiality, it started there. On the bright side maybe some Breitbart commenters could be recruited as UW students, because obviously few of them know how to spell.
Chad Baldwin, UW’s assistant vice president for communications and marketing, has the unenviable task of trying to sell the new slogan to critics. He explained the university is reinventing the word “cowboy” to show that it can also include women, Native Americans and other ethnic groups.
“We’re recasting the concept of the cowboy,” he said, “so that it represents everyone associated with it.”
But the campaign jumps the shark when it claims in its promotional materials that every era has cowboys — outside thinkers “who dig beneath the surface by relentlessly questioning what others blindly accept.” Under this definition, UW identified some surprising, unlikely historical figures who were really “cowboys,” including Galileo, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mary Wollstonecraft.
This got me thinking about how UW could capitalize even more on its new slogan if it makes the right moves. But it should act fast. Such outside thinking could be stolen by non-cowboys.
Wyoming is the state that gave Donald Trump his largest margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election. With that kind of popularity, the university wouldn’t have to name Trump an honorary cowboy to make him the figurehead of “The World Needs More Cowboys.” His relentless questioning of reality already makes him one.
The president has extensive educational experience from running Trump University, which settled a lawsuit with unhappy students for $25 million before he was inaugurated. While that sounds like a disaster, no doubt Trump could teach UW business officials how to use monumental failure as a huge tax write-off.
These recycled earnings could be utilized to buy a host of investments for UW, including casinos and more Trump Towers. Laramie could expect at least a world-class golf course, an expanded airport to handle Air Force One, a resort hotel filled by reporters who would flood the city to mindlessly record whatever the president says, and foreign diplomats who want to curry favor with the new Western White House.
To make sure everything is as ethical as Trump’s other business arrangements, the president would allow his three adult children to run his part of the UW enterprise. They would negotiate a percentage of the profits that would be high enough to keep their father satisfied.
Since we’d throw out the conventional cowboy clothing, we wouldn’t have to fit the president’s unique hairstyle under a cowboy hat. He would be more comfortable in his traditional “Make America Great Again” ball cap, with the addition of a Wyoming bucking horse and rider (not to be confused with an imitation one from Oklahoma State).
If the president had some spare time while hanging around Laramie, perhaps he’d be interested in being a guest lecturer. He could assign students to read his book, “The Art of the Deal,” and if he was called back to his presidential duties he could hand the class over to the person really behind Trump’s bestseller, ghostwriter Tony Schwartz.
What I’m trying to convey to UW officials is, “Fellas (and I’m using that word in its reinvented sense of inclusion of women and anyone else who could view it negatively) why not alter your campaign to take advantage of a man who described himself in a January tweet as ‘a very stable genius.’”
How often can a bunch of cowboys like us say we have this kind of an educational opportunity for our people?