The slugfest is finally over. After a heated five-year fracas, students at the University of California at Santa Cruz have their mascot of choice—the banana slug, a bright yellow gastropod mollusk that lives on fungus and debris and leaves a thick trail of slime in its slithering wake.
The battle lines were drawn when the school, invited to compete nationally by the NCAA, needed an official mascot and team name. A majority of the 7,000-plus student body favored the legless slug, a familiar sight on the 2,000-acre campus during the rainy season and an unofficial mascot since the school opened in 1965. But Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer, in one of his most unpopular decisions, selected the sea lion instead, calling it “a mascot with spirit and vigor.”
When Sinsheimer blocked a pro-slug initiative, a massive grass roots campaign arose. John Sulmeyer, 22, formed a rock group, Bobby and the Slugtones, and soon had the campus singing The Slugs Are Back. Marc Ratner, 24, Peter Blackshaw, 21, and Bob Byington, 20, produced shirts bearing the legend “Fiat Slug” (Latin for “Let there be slug”). Slugs won paeans as well in the San Francisco Chronicle and a storm of impassioned alumni letters, including one complaining that “all sea lions do is fornicate on the rocks while making grotesque sounds.” Support for the lowly creature was apparently based on high ideals. As a symbol, the slug seemed to its partisans to capture the spirit of their unorthodox school, where there are no fraternities, sororities or athletic scholarships and no grades except by request. “The slug represents our uniqueness and our resolve to stay that way,” says Eric Satzman, 21, chairman of the Student Union Assembly. Agrees athletic director Dan Wood, 41, whose department fields a team in Frisbee football as well as in more traditional sports: “Students here always favor the underdog. The slug seems less elitist than the sea lion.”
Sinsheimer finally bowed to the pressure last month. “The students are entitled to a mascot with which they can empathize,” he conceded as he reluctantly issued a press release giving the slug official status. Yet, while victory parties were being held on campus, Sinsheimer was urging the biology department to start a research program aimed at genetic improvement of the slug. “The potential,” he said ruefully, “seems endless.”