Hey UT, seal is no reason to rake Barbecue Club over the coals

By John Kelso
Austin-American Statesman
Friday, July 25, 2003

You'd think a major institution with Texas as part of its name would have enough sense to revere barbecue, not mess with it.

But that's not the case at the University of Texas, which is attacking a club made up of its own students who hold in esteem the sacred principle of wood-smoked meat and a side order of potato salad.

The UT office of trademark licensing is going after the UT student Barbecue Club for using a seal that UT says is the UT seal.

Although the university's seal reads, "Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis," or "Education, the Guardian of Society," the club's seal reads, "Brisket Sausage Pork Ribs." So you could see where there would be some confusion. Not that there aren't similarities. Both seals, for example, are round.

"I mean, I get the comedy behind it. But if somebody just looks at it, it looks like the seal of the university," said Craig Westemeier, director of UT's office of trademark licensing. He sent an e-mail to club members and asked them to remove the seal from their Web site after someone in the university's legal affairs office tipped him off about it.

It's nice to know the legal affairs office has enough spare time to involve itself in such urgent matters as badgering a bunch of kids who visit a different barbecue joint about once a month. But when you're a big shot at UT, I guess you've got to justify those high salaries somehow.

The club is thinking about getting an attorney and fighting the university.

"I think the primary goal of this whole endeavor is to get some kind of retribution in the form of meat from UT," said Barbecue Club President Dinyar Mistry, 22, a UT business student. For the aggravation it is causing, he would like UT to give the club about 20 pounds of sausage — or Bevo, so club members can eat him.

"First of all, this guy can't even spell barbecue," wrote Michael Hoffman, Barbecue Club ambassador to the Court of St. James. Hoffman finds it outrageous that Westemeier spelled barbecue with a Q in his e-mail to him. Hoffman points out that the Barbecue Club's seal is not like the university's seal because it clearly says "The University of Barbecue at Austin," not "The University of Texas at Austin."

Hoffman said the club might put a disclaimer on the Web site to make the university happy. But there's a problem. The webmaster has become a vegetarian, and Hoffman and his fellow club members don't have the password they need to add the disclaimer.

Meanwhile, Mistry says he thinks the university could end up in legal trouble like Oprah Winfrey did for insulting beef.

"Texas does have the whole anti-defamation of beef laws to keep people from denigrating beef like in public," he said. "So I think you could potentially get in trouble by saying bad things about barbecue and beef. I just don't think UT should be messing with the Barbecue Club."

Now, the Sushi Club, that's another matter.

John Kelso's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at (512) 445-3606 or jkelso@statesman.com.