Mason Needs a New University Seal

On December 14, the University of California shelved a plan for a new logo after widespread criticism of the design.

la-et-cm-new-uc-logo-deserves-catcalls-2012121-001

The proposed logo was indeed ugly, especially in comparison to Cal’s dignified university seal, and the incident made me glad that Mason adopted such a nice logo in 2004, just as I was arriving. GMU_PLogo_RGB

The Mason logo isn’t perfect. Its odd shape–with the quill sticking up–can make it awkward to fit into a tight space, like the bottom of a Powerpoint slide. And I’m not fond of the way the yellow portion of the vane fades into a white paper background; I would have preferred the yellow to be sandwiched between green. Overall, though, the Mason logo works. It looks good in print (as on a business card) and on a screen. It looks good large and it looks good small. And it is moving us toward identification as “Mason,” which I take is part of a long-term strategy to avoid the initials “GMU.” It’s not the best university logo around (I like UConn’s oak leaves), but it’s better than many.

The seal, on the other hand, is a disaster:

seal_mason

As best I can tell, George Mason began forging an AT&T share certificate using a quill pen on a tattered roll of paper towels. Since he didn’t start writing until halfway down the roll, he ran out of room and abandoned the project.

What dismays me most about the university seal is its shabbiness.

Some university seals are cluttered:

St. Francis University seal

Some are dull:

University of North Carolina seal

And some must be modified when rendered in stained glass.

But pretty much all university seals I have seen are drawn with clean lines and text, not the jerky curves and illegible writing of the Mason seal. %22university seal%22 - Google Search

Mason has the most crudely rendered university seal I can find. (Only Oregon State comes close.)

Until recently, I figured there was not much to be done. Once you have your seal, that’s it, right? It’s certainly easier to find an example of a university adopting a new logo than a new seal. But in following coverage of the University of California debate, I came across a page explaining how Stanford redesigned its seal after 82 years. Mason’s seal is only about half as old; before its 1972 independence, George Mason College used the University of Virginia seal. So maybe it’s not too late to get something better.

We could just redraw the existing seal to a cleaner form, as did Stanford and Northeastern.

seal-1977 seal-current

Or maybe we could start fresh, keeping the quill (to go with the logo) but abandoning the ragged paper in favor of something–a battlement, fleur de lis, talbot, or dove–from George Mason’s arms:

Mason Lineage and Arms

Either way, the current seal is unworthy of George Mason University’s ever improving image. We’ve redesigned our logo, our website, our mascot, our slogan, and even, to a degree, our name. Can we not seal the deal?

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About Zachary Schrag
Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University. The views expressed here are my own and may not reflect those of George Mason University.

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