New reader "Thomas" sent an email to 12MC concerning an institution of higher learning seemingly out of place geographically. The University of California has a number of affiliated campuses, although none of them are located in Pennsylvania. Yet, oddly there’s a California University of Pennsylvania. As always, there was a twist to the situation as I looked closer. The university was placed in a town called California outside of Pittsburgh. The town was founded in 1849, presumably in commemoration of the California Gold Rush that was happening at the same time. The university simply took the name of the town and the state. I replied that it reminded me of another geographically counterintutive institution from the same state, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
California University… of Pennsylvania
This could provide an exceptional opportunity for mischief, I thought as I considered the possibilities further. What if people wanted to misrepresent where they earned their diplomas, maybe pad a résumé or impress their friends, or for some other unknown reason? Maybe it would be easier or cheaper to attend a soundalike institution instead. If miscreants said that they’d graduated from Cal, would it be their fault if others assumed they were referring to UC Berkeley instead of lesser-known Cal U in PA?(¹).
I am certain that all of the similarly-named colleges and universities are perfectly fine places with solid reputations. However, the better known versions could convey additional benefits or prestige whether academic or athletic if used deceivingly. Those of questionable moral standing could easily employ a bait-and-switch.
I was curious to discover the prevalence of such opportunities even though I don’t condone improper use. The examination began with a listing of colleges and universities in the US, UK and Canada. I sorted for similarities and compiled a lot of close matches in a shared Google Doc. I distilled that down to a handful of optimal deceptive options.
Spring @ Cornell by matt.hintsa, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Several options presented themselves for those unable to gain admission to an Ivy League school or those unwilling to shoulder a six-figure student debt upon graduation. I called these choices the "Cheap Ivies" (not to be confused with the Public Ivies).
How about Cornell College in Iowa instead of the Cornell University in New York? They were founded by distant cousins from the same family so they’re practically the same. Any of the Columbia Colleges (Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois) could substitute for Columbia University. Finally, nobody would really need to know that Penn referred to William Penn University instead of the University of Pennsylvania.
Notre Dame Band, Notre Dame Stadium, University of Notre Dame DDZ_0303 by NDomer73, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), license
Not everyone will want to attend a big-time athletics school. Those universities tend to have tens of thousands of students. They can be very impersonal places. However everyone wants to be associated with a winner, right? A certain image would come across if someone mentioned he was a Notre Dame grad. It could quickly become a launching point for a thousand barroom conversations (or brawls) as long as he didn’t mention his preference for the Notre Dame Falcons from Ohio instead of the Fighting Irish. Similar situations existed for Georgetown in Kentucky, and Miami University of Ohio. How about Pitt? One could easily substitute Pittsburg State University in Kansas for the University of Pittsburgh.
Was it be Seton Hall University or it’s nearly identically-named Seton Hill University? They’re both named for the same person, Elizabeth Ann Seton, so go for it.
Cambridge University by Caffeinehit, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The University of Cambridge and its 31 constituent colleges in England are known throughout the world. There have been 90 Nobel laureates affiliated with the university. Stephen Hawking has long been associated with Cambridge. Isaac Newton went there. Its long list of famous alumni have made some of the most important contributions to mankind for the last several centuries. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to pursue a degree from Cambridge College in Massachusetts? "I completed my studies at Cambridge" would be a completely true statement.
Other substitutions could include Ottawa University in Kansas in lieu of the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Then there were the Yorks. There are York Colleges in Nebraska, New York and Pennsylvania, along with York University in Ontario and the University of York in England. Go ahead and substitute any one for any other.
Guess I should use one of my own photos while I’m at it
I found a similar situation with the Lincolns. There were Lincoln Universities in Missouri and Pennsylvania and a University of Lincoln in England. None of those were the unusual one. That honor went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. Someone could have so much mischievous fun with Lincoln Memorial.
It wasn’t their fault, though. The founders established Lincoln Memorial University in 1897. The Lincoln Memorial — the edifice in Washington, DC — wasn’t constructed until 1922.