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Published: Friday, December 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Cal logo 2.0: Let there be UC Lite

When you think about it, it's amazing that the high-minded swells at the University of California didn't unveil a new logo sooner. The old logo, which will continue to appear on diplomas and official letters, features the school motto, "Let there be light." Ancient. An English translation of a Latin phrase. And a book. Dead-tree lit. 1868? Dead white guys. Under a star. Too militaristic.
But it wasn't political correctness that relegated the old UC seal to the dusty top shelf reserved for weighty documents only. The new logo, explained UC spokesman Steve Montiel, is "an operational thing." The seal doesn't look so hot when reproduced dime-size. The administration wanted a logo that could be used in different kinds of media and with other logos that represent UC campuses and facilities -- yet remain distinct.
Problem is, the new logo is bland, and some versions are ugly. UC 2.0 is not lofty, it's UC Lite.
To be fair, the new brand is not ugly in all of its iterations. There's a blue-and-white version that doesn't remind the casual observer of a flushing toilet.
But a school-colors version that features a filled-in blue U, with a top like the top of an open book and a bottom with a fading gold C, is unappealing. It looks like a tacky smart phone frozen as it struggles to connect with Wi-Fi.
In other words, in an attempt to be forward-looking, UC repeated its history by offending just about everybody.
It looks dumbed down. Designers deliberately got rid of the words, "Let there be light." That offends old fogies like me who think words belong on a university seal. A UC video dramatizes how designers replaced the light motto with light colors.
On the other end of the spectrum, left-leaning students take umbrage with the new emblem's slick, corporate-style branding. They look at the new symbol and see: UC Inc.
Montiel notes that UC has been using the new logo for more than six months with little public complaint until the news media reported on the makeover. "It's been overblown," says he.
UC marketing director Jason Simon tells me that the monogram, which was designed in-house, will be used next to the words University of California. (So there are words.) The logo is flexible, and the design community approves.
John Ellis, head of the California Association of Scholars, however, shares my misgivings about losing the motto. "Let there be light," he said, reminds students and professors that "the university is about knowledge and understanding, first and foremost."
Dumping the motto, Ellis added, serves those who see the primary purpose of the university to be, rather than educating, inculcating students with a social justice agenda.
Simon says the new logo can appeal to 17-year-old applicants. So it's farewell to, "Let there be light." Farewell to words. Let there be light colors.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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