UNR vs. Reno

What does the campus have against the city?

One choice fits all at the UNR student union bookstore.

One choice fits all at the UNR student union bookstore.


Reno real estate agent Dave Newman has a grievance. It’s against the University of Nevada, Reno, which insists on using the shorthand nickname of Nevada instead of University of Nevada, Reno, or UNR, thus depriving the city of publicity.

“When people hear Nevada, they think that’s Las Vegas,” he said.

It’s a grievance he used to discuss on his long-running Reno real estate show on KOLO.

“I think it’s a mistake mainly because we’re a tourist town and here’s Michigan State, and other places, that don’t use their towns,” Newman said. “Well, I don’t know where Michigan State is located. … It’s a crazy thing for a tourist town. It’s our primary industry. We want to draw people to this town and here we take our name out of our university.”

And he says he’s not the only one. There are a lot of people in the business community who feel that way.

“Everyone I talk with agrees with me,” he said.

He called the original decision to use the state name and avoid the city name “thoughtless.”

The late Clark Santini, descendant of campus president Walter Clark (1918-1938), once had business cards as the president of the UNR Alumni Association. The cards gave the name of the campus this way: “The University of Nevada.”

The implication—that UNR is the real Nevada—grates not just in Clark County but statewide. The hipper-than-thou attitude, needless to say, does not play well among non-Washoe legislators at budget time.

The state’s new governor, Steve Sisolak, as a Nevada regent said in 2004, “They [UNLV and UNR] are equal. One is not a child of the other one, or an offshoot of the other one.” But he has offered no sign of taking a hand in the matter as governor, suggesting he will leave the matter to the regents.

That the usage is a campus policy is indicated by a 2004 Las Vegas Sun report: “UNR’s School of Medicine and the Cooperative Exchange [actually Extension] are allowed to drop the Reno because they are statewide, [then-UNR President John] Lilley said, but those are supposed to be the only exceptions to the rule.”

Paradoxically, the medical school has apparently dropped its statewide identification and gone to being Reno-only. The website now recommends, “How we refer to ourselves/ Preferred[:] University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine/ When an abbreviation is necessary[:] UNR Med.”

It is not surprising that the dispute happens in a state where the favorite euphemism is gaming—which references everything from hopscotch to blackjack—as a substitute for gambling, which is more specific. Nevada can refer to anything from a Clark County university to a Carson City community college.

Most news stories have painted the matter as a north/south dispute. But while virtually everyone in the south calls that campus UNLV, the north is hardly unanimous in calling the Reno campus by the term Nevada. It is rarely heard. Referring to UNR as UNR is nearly universal in Reno. And if, as Newman suggests, the business community is unhappy with the Nevada term, critics of the older name may be pushing against an unlocked door.

The notion of favoring Nevada over UNR is often attributed to (1) native Nevadans and (2) sports fans. But only about a fifth of Nevadans are natives and many of them are known to use the acronym instead of Nevada. The same is true of sports fans.

A good example is the late Rollan Melton, raised in Fallon and a graduate of what was then called the University of Nevada. In 1992, the first Las Vegas Bowl—carried by ESPN and containing a dramatic UNR rally and near upset of Bowling Green—prompted Melton to point out in print that the term Reno was mentioned only twice during the broadcast, once in a commercial paid for by UNR and once at the end of the game by an announcer.

“Viewers got hardly a clue from ESPN’s game commentators about where the ’Nevada’ constantly referred to, is located,” Melton wrote. “Instead, ESPN buried listeners with Las Vegas references. Good for Las Vegas, too bad for Reno.”

Melton, a former Nevada regent, also wrote that without the Reno references provided by frequent and omnipresent sports broadcasts, “the city must struggle that much harder in the expensive quest to spread the city’s name afar.”

In trying to get a sense of what term locals use, we spoke with 20 random people, none of them UNR students, at two posts offices—Sparks and University Station. No one told us they felt strongly about the matter. Not one said they used Nevada in preference to UNR. And none defended the use of Nevada.

National sports announcers seem to use a term for the campus that many locals and Nevadans seldom do.

One-party election

Thus, each fall, newly arriving students send these novelties back home to parents, grandparents and others across the nation, and none of them read Reno on the back of relatives’ cars.

That also sort of killed our assumption that local cars with Nevada decals were expressing a preference, since no other choice is available.

Some commercial stores in the valley do offer items—particularly sweat shirts—that bear the full name or UNR. But such cannot be purchased on campus.

The matter has so bothered Newman that he wrote a four-stanza poem about it, which reads in part: “Our university on the hill/forgot what puts bread on our table and money in our till/It’s folks coming from far and wide/to take our gaming tables and our ski slopes for a ride/ They took the word Reno out of our school’s name/and to me that was wrong. It’s a crying shame.”