michaellaszlo.com » Trump Vs. Waterloo

I first heard of Trump University in the subject line of some obvious spam that had penetrated my mailbox. Donald Trump’s surname is a glittering brand that figures on a clothing line, on bottled water, and, of course, on several gaudy buildings, but would he go so far as to lend his name to a diploma mill? The idea so amused me that I surfed over to Trump University, just as the spammers had intended. My amusement deepened when I saw the resemblance of the TrumpU logo to the University of Waterloo crest, as shown in the following chart.

university Trump Waterloo
crest [TrumpU crest] [UW crest]
coloring gold, black, red gold, black, red, silver
geometric decor two chevrons two chevrons
bestial decor one lion rampant three lions rampant

The similarities may be coincidental, given the small variety of shapes and colors used in heraldry. Anyway, the institution being ripped off is not exactly a venerable one. The University of Waterloo was founded a mere half-century ago, in 1957. Its coat of arms was granted only in 1987. It has copycat features of its own, such as the sinister-looking Math Building, a reasonable facsimile of Le Corbusier’s Monastery of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette.

[La Tourette detail] [Math Building detail]

The strongest excuse for the similarity of the TrumpU and UW crests is that it reflects the similar executive styles of the universities, both of which are headed by oddly charismatic real-estate moguls. The exploits of Donald Trump are well known: he built Trump Tower, bought Mar-A-Lago, sold the Empire State Building. Less well known are David Johnston and his conquest of North Campus. This broad tract of wetlands and wheat fields had been set aside by the UW founders while they raised their ivied walls on the smaller South Campus.

[Trump portrait] [Johnston portrait]

No UW President before Johnston had realized that the acres of North Campus, which remained nearly pristine, could be put to something other than academic use. Past administrators had lacked the flexibility of spirit to envision their public university as not just a school or even a strongly business-minded school, but as an actual business. Under the leadership of President Johnston, UW became a commercial landlord. The University built a collection of office buildings on North Campus, calling it the Research and Technology Park, and invited corporate tenants to move in. More buildings are under construction, including recreational buildings to serve office workers in the other buildings.

[Trump Tower sign] [Waterloo Tech Town ground-breaking]

While Johnston wins accolades for his gumption and energy, I wonder about the prospects of the North Campus development. Will the UW press office ever tire of prattling about the “powerfully supportive base for radical, high-impact research” and “those who seek commanding commercial advantage through technological leadership-organizations”? Perhaps they should resort to Donald Trump’s simpler style of hype, and describe the Research and Technology Park as a fabulous property with the very finest appointments. Will this office park really turn out to be a way “to foster radical innovation”? So far, it has only been a way to collect rent. I don’t think this is what the University founders had in mind for the campus.