There are at least two theories about why the University of California abandoned its effort to adopt a modern logo with a blue shield and a swooping golden "c.''

The first is that university administrators were overwhelmed by the backlash in social media. More than 53,000 Cal grads and nongrads signed an online petition denouncing the new logo.

The second explanation -- it lacks wide currency, but it should probably be discussed here -- is that my embrace of the new symbol a week ago delivered the kiss of death.

"What? That curmudgeon in San Jose likes it? He thinks it has artistic merit?" you can hear some UC fundraiser saying. "We have to dump this puppy right now."

Naturally, I prefer the first explanation. UC administrators hoping to raise money with a new marketing campaign found it hard to risk indignation over a logo. In my version, they caved.

My readers and colleagues savor the second analysis. If I were to summarize the polite response, it might go this way: "You are an idiot." The views went downhill from there.

"You are WRONG!" wrote one Cal grad. "It's a disgrace and a design flaw at best. If you want to be fair about this issue, run a poll of your readers, then let's hear your thoughts." When I wrote back that I expected to be in the small minority -- and that it never had discouraged me -- she vowed to report me to my bosses.

Credentials

A number of other readers took issue with my admittedly flimsy Cal credentials: I camped with my family for 14 summers at Cal's Lair of the Bear family camp.

"Of course you like the new UC seal," wrote a correspondent with the handle Chica Fina. "One should expect nothing less from an elitist Ivy League commie You hate America. You hate tradition." Thoughtfully, the message included a seal with a hammer and sickle over a "C."

The most common critique touched on what the new symbol evoked. One writer compared it to the Round Table Pizza shield. Others saw a flushing toilet. And one reader thought the new logo turned upside down resembled an elephant's butt (This actually is true, although we can quibble about the size of the tail).

UC administrators are sensitive to this because they depend on public funds. And I can accept that there's room for a wide variety of opinion of the new logo.

I worry about a couple of things. The first is that universities and alumni communities are hardly the havens of free debate they pretend to be. Because campuses are enviable and sheltered places, a challenge to tradition shatters on the rocks of orthodoxy.

The second is that social media, with all its immediacy, can invoke the tyranny of the mob. You have to wonder how the design for the Vietnam War memorial or Alexander Calder's Flamingo sculpture in Chicago would have fared in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

Sure, a quick and vehement backlash might have prevented a travesty like the Quetzalcoatl sculpture in San Jose's Plaza de Cesar Chavez. But you have to question: Who's going to defend upside-down elephant butts?

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/scottherhold.