As part of our broader common interest in geographic minutiae, my son Isaac and I like to find out where all the NCAA tournament schools (and the conferences they come from) are located. Robert Morris University was a new one for us. It seems to be the only one of the Founder-named schools to make the NCAAs, and of course it was doubly interesting to me to discover that someone had named a college after a lesser-known (to civilians) and rather disreputable character from American history. Morris was the “financier of the Revolution,” true, but he was also one of the more Madoffian figures of his day, running his own Ponzi-like schemes in the area of land speculation (frontier real estate flipping) and ending up in debtor’s prison. The Iroquois distrusted Morris and called him the “big eater with the belly” whose appetites ran to food, wine, and their lands. Read up on the Treaty of Big Tree.
We were pleased to find that RMU has a surprisingly nice, somewhat unsugarcoated page about their namesake on the school site. Debtor’s prison was mentioned. There is even a game you can play, and Robert Morris is given his own tabloid-ready nickname, “RoMo.” Really, more Founders need to have their own games and tabloid nicknames: G-Dub, A-Ham, J-Mad, T-Jeff … the list is endless.
The school seems to be a sort of business-oriented institution, which is appropriate but perhaps not so heartening in terms of whom it would good to take as your role model today. I feel certain that RoMo would have loved credit-default swaps and tried to use them to buy Kentucky or something. “FatCats” might be a better mascot than “Colonials.”