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University Traditions

Although the name under which the University was originally chartered was the “University of the City of New-York,” the institution from the beginning was commonly known as New York University, and the name was officially so changed in 1896. Despite the seemingly public nature of the name, New York University has always been an independent and autonomous institution of higher education, financed primarily by private endowments, current gifts, and fees. It is not to be confused with other institutions having similar names, the oldest of which is the University of the State of New York, created originally in 1784 as a corporation authorized to charter and control institutions of higher and secondary education in the state; it is now the corporate name of the State Education Department headed by the Board of Regents.

Another, and more recent, such foundation is the State University of New York (SUNY),
established in 1948 to coordinate and develop under a board of trustees the state-financed
institutions of higher education; still another is the City University of New York (CUNY),
established in 1961 to coordinate the municipally supported colleges governed by the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York.

The official seal of New York University combines a silver ceremonial “torch of learning,” which is carried in formal academic processions, with a group of four running figures symbolizing effort or striving in the pursuit of learning. The seal carries the Latin motto “Perstare et Praestare,” which is generally translated as “to persevere and to excel,” together with the name of the University and the roman numerals for 1831, the year of the founding of the institution. When reproduced, the darker portions of the seal are usually printed in violet, the official color of the University.

In recent years a simplified version of the torch alone has been abstracted from the official seal and has gained wide acceptance when used as a symbol of New York University to identify publications, letterheads, buildings, etc. It appears on the cover of this Handbook.

The origin of the University color, violet, is obscure. It may have been chosen because in years gone by violets are said to have grown abundantly in Washington Square and around the buttresses of the old Gothic building. On the other hand, it may have been adopted because the violet was the flower associated with Athens, that center of learning in the ancient world, and was thus regarded as an appropriate symbol of education and knowledge. Both considerations may have entered into the selection, of course. Over the years various shades of violet have been used as the University color. In 1964, however, the University Senate decided that the official standard for University use would be a particular bluish shade of violet, registered with the Color Association of the United States as “Mayfair Violet, 17575.” The Senate also decided at that time that the academic robes for the University would be produced in Mayfair Violet.

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