TRUE FACTS: On October 11th the nation learned that average scores on the ACT, a widely used college readiness test, had declined for the sixth consecutive year (ACT Newsroom and Blog). One day earlier, the University of Wisconsin System announced that the new name for its network of schools would be the “Universities of Wisconsin.” According to President Jay Rothman, this new designation “is the best way to describe our thirteen excellent universities” (University of Wisconsin System online, October 10th).
What President Rothman did not describe was the real reason for the name change: the majority of Wisconsin’s adult population no longer knows what the word “system” means.
In a Gallup telephone poll commissioned by the Wisconsin State Legislature in August, 54% of the respondents could not define “system.” Another 8% claimed that a system was “the female sibling of a tem.” And 5% mistook the word for “cisTum,” a medical term, which refers to an antacid tablet that identifies with the gender of its color (i.e., blue = male, pink = female).
In an email sent to the leaders of Wisconsin’s 13 public universities in late September, Rothman maintained that “it makes no sense to continue using a word that our constituents do not comprehend. I’m sorry, but ‘system’ has got to go.”
Several of these leaders welcomed the change, confessing that they were also clueless concerning the word’s meaning. As one of the university presidents put it to a University Life reporter, “I’m a numbers guy, not a words guy.”