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Beaver College Not a Filter Fave


March 22, 2000

In 1927, the following dirty little ditty was published in an anthology of American folk verse: She took off her clothes from her head to her toes and a voice at the keyhole yelled, 'Beaver!' Poof, "beaver" had a new meaning in the English language. Poof, little Beaver College, founded in 1853 in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, had the seeds of a PR problem.

"The word 'beaver' too often elicits ridicule in the form of derogatory remarks pertaining to ... sexual vulgarities," wrote Beaver College President Bette Landman in a recent letter to Beaver alums, students, and staff.

Still, for 75 years the proud, plucky Beavers ignored the double entendre, just never you mind those ribald jokes from the likes of Howard Stern and Conan O'Brien. Never mind the spate of self-proclaimed "beaver movies" spawned by a 1969 Supreme Court ruling that pubic hair wasn't obscene.

But then came the Internet, and suddenly the Beavers mind -- mind so much that after 147 years, Beaver College is thinking of ditching its name.

"We have a lot of evidence that people aren't able to get our information in high schools because of Web filters in the libraries" that block out sites with "Beaver" along with other presumed smut words, said Beaver spokesman Bill Avington. "With so many people using the Net as the initial means to look at colleges, that's a serious disadvantage."

Filters will block email from Beaver college staffers to prospective students, too, Avington claimed. Mail that isn't filtered is frequently deleted by people who assume it's porn spam when they see the domain name.

And kids who go searching for "beaver" on the unfiltered Web find it all right, but they don't necessarily find the Beaver College website.

Search for Beaver College on the Deja.com and up comes an anatomically graphic snapshot captioned: "Jenni's application to Beaver College for graduate studies has been accepted."

"I got a call from a father who was irate because his daughter, who was trying to find our site, had stumbled on a 'beaver site' with an extremely crude image on it," Avington said. "He was upset with us, and I said, 'I can't control what's on the Internet.'"

All this, plus a survey that found 30 percent of high schoolers wouldn't even consider attending an institution called "Beaver College," prompted Landman to mail out a letter and survey last February to 20,000 Beavers, ex-Beavers, and families of Beavers, asking, "Is it time to change the name?"

As of Tuesday, more than 6,000 surveys had been returned. Avington declined comment on early results.

The deadline to return surveys is Friday. Beaver College will tally the results, then host a series of "town meetings" to solicit further input. The name change committee will then make its recommendations to Landman, and by the end of May, there may be no more Beaver College.

But sophomoric denizens of the Web need not lament -- there are, apparently, other mockable fish in the sea of higher learning.

"Apparently, there's also a Ball State University!! LOL!!" wrote one thrilled poster in a newsgroup discussion of the Beaver dilemma.

Craig Bicknell, Wired News


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