Robert Morrises resolve name dispute

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No, the mascots didn't have to slug it out.

Instead, the case of Robert Morris versus Robert Morris, a spat over identity that landed two campuses hundreds of miles apart in federal court, has been amicably resolved.

Under an agreement, the college named Robert Morris -- the one in Chicago -- can legally begin calling itself a university as long as it tacks the word "Illinois" onto the end of the title.

It's part of a settlement preserving the name belonging to Robert Morris University of Moon, Pa., which became a university in 2002 and holds federal trademarks asserting it alone can be called Robert Morris University.

The agreement addresses everything from campus signs and athletic uniforms to logos. It ends a lawsuit that showed how important campus identity is in a brand-conscious world, and what can happen when schools with similar or identical names try to coexist.

The case in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, was filed in July by Robert Morris College, a private school with about 7,000 students. It said the school gained university status in 2005 but was told in June by the Illinois Board of Higher Education that the title change required proof the college owned the name.

Both sides yesterday expressed satisfaction with the settlement.

"The public is going to be able to see us for what we are -- a university," said Robert Morris College President Michael Viollt.

"The important thing is, there is enough differentiation that anybody who is not familiar with one of us individually would know the difference -- that one is in Illinois," said Jonathan Potts, a Robert Morris University spokesman.

The Chicago school's Web site still uses the word "college." Mr. Viollt said the school has not made an announcement about its new name but will do so on or around April 1. The parties resolved their issues privately in November but offered no formal announcement of the settlement or its terms.

Both schools are named for the man who was among the wealthiest signers of the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Morris is credited with helping to finance the Revolutionary War and was a key founder of the financial system of the United States

The suit said Robert Morris College was founded by the son of an official of what is now Robert Morris University. The suit said the college, which was chartered in 1965, initially was a branch of the Pennsylvania school but for decades has been a separate entity.

Under the agreement:

• The Chicago school can use as an acronym "RMUI." It also can use "Robert Morris," "Robert Morris Illinois" or "Robert Morris Springfield" in communications provided the full legal title is used at the start.

• The Chicago school can locally use "Robert Morris University" or "RMU" for campus signs, facility banners, athletic team uniforms and logo merchandise for sale in its bookstore;

• For five years, the Chicago campus will not join the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the university in Moon will not join the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics;

• Neither will use the other's official colors (red, white and blue for RMU and maroon, white, gold and black for RMC), nor logos -- the Eagle for RMC, and the Colonial for RMU.

There was no monetary award. The settlement prohibits both parties from discussing legal fees.


Bill Schackner can be reached at bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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