Fraught of feather, talk of talons, enchant of eyes

The mascot at Rowan is The Prof. He comes to life in the form of an owl named Whoo RU … because owls say “Who” and RU are the initials. Imagined in 1957, brought to life in 1959, and not made official until the 1990s — the idea of an underground mascot encouraging and antagonizing people for almost 30 years is hilarious — he is, like all costumed mascots, as dynamic or mediocre as the people involved with the project make him. But this, the first line about the mascot from the athletic department’s page, seems like a missed opportunity.

The Rowan University “Professorial Owl” has been a misunderstood yet deeply dynamic figure for 50 years. Not only does Rowan’s Prof promote the sports teams, but he has also, over the years, become a proud endorser of the student publications, campus events and all-around Rowan pride.

The biggest question from people, linked academically to Rowan or not, would have to be “What is a Prof?”

I’m not sure who named the character, or when, but I assume they were big fans of The Who.

(I really wanna know.)

Anyway, I decided today, on day two of orientation, that I would ask some big questions about this. Whoo RU, where are you?

That one was on a little handbill with useful contact information we received in one of the many sessions. This version was on, well, you can tell what he was on.

Whoo RU, where are you?

What’s going to happen a lot is that we’ll see a bunch of different owl logos meant to be evocative of Whoo RU, but only specific instances of the actual character because he’s limited to athletics. There are reasons for that, but I wonder if it diffuses, or reinforces, the brand in the long run.

Do you see a lot of alternate versions of Georgia’s Hairy Dawg or Florida’s Albert, or Puddles, the duck at Oregon? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Maybe you see them, but the costumed mascots are so iconic that your brain makes the leap without thinking about it. Call it “The mental shortcuts of things that don’t matter overmuch, not really.”

So I guess the question is, does the mascot have to be iconic to overcome that? Or is it enough that a mascot that is locally iconic? Or can a mascot that’s long been deeply misunderstood do it, too?

For what it’s worth, having not met Whoo RU yet, the cartoon owl holding a stack of books is pretty great. Is that meant to be Whoo RU, or an owl cousin with a backstory we just aren’t supposed to question? Whooever — see what I did there? –that library-going owl is, he looks ready to be the lead in a classic kids book.

Anyway, more orienting today. Full of truths, allusions to truths, helpful information and stuff that blows right by you. The thing is, if you gather a group of 50-some incredibly well trained people in disciplines representing all different disciplines that a college campus can offer, and those people are also at different stages in their careers, you’re going to find that they need different information. It’s a difficult event to program, but the programmers did a pretty nice job with it.

I didn’t have a welcome packet for some reason yesterday. The lady who does this sort of thing was a bit upset, concerned that I would be upset. I was deeply, passionately moved by this first impression. And I let her have it.

I said, “This is not my first impression, but I really must tell you, this leaves an impression. And the impression that it leaves is, I am not … ”

I didn’t say any of that, of course. It’s an easy oversight. There are a lot of moving parts. You don’t know how much goes into programming a three-day event that involves seven rooms in three-to-five buildings a day across a campus, involving dozens of people who watch their schedules like a hawk an owl, to say nothing of the catering and technology until you’ve done something remotely similar.

Several times, because it happens in medium-sized group dynamics, I ran into this nice lady. Each time she was apologetic. Finally, I made a joke that it was OK; I don’t need a name tag because I am working undercover.

She came up to me at lunch today with my gift bag and name tag. Inside the bag — a quality reusable bag which will haul groceries for me soon — was a water bottle, a folder with the schedule of events, a pen and a cool lapel pin. The name tag was blank. This, I thought, was a terrific joke in reply. I wore it with pride, that blank name tag.

Another good day, a long day. But the people were nice, the catered food was perfectly passable and the sessions were useful.

It brings the start of the fall semester another day closer, but this is the thing I’ve learned: I need more sleep. So, seeing that it is late, I’m going to give that a try.

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