Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, October 21, 2016

The “ivory tower” of academia has become overshadowed by a new edifice on campus that is reaching ridiculous heights: the tower of mammon.

As public universities have been driven by budget-whacking lawmakers to seek ever-more private funding, schools that once prided themselves as being centers of free thinking are increasingly dominated by corporate-think, turning their institutions into sales centers.

“A lot of schools are taking a much more corporate approach,” exulted a PR executive who works with top university administrators, marveling that “a CMO didn’t even exist on most campuses 10 years ago.”

A what? A chief marketing officer, whose job is to peddle the place like it’s a new model of car or line of cosmetics. As explained by the CMO of the University of California system, “the changing funding landscape” requires universities to sell themselves to moneyed elites, which means academic institutions must rework what he calls “their visual identities.” In the snappy new parlance of university commercialism, this is “rebranding” — an attempt to modernize the image of venerable institutions by adopting corporate-styled logos, slogans and other marketing fluff.

Forget intellectual pursuits, we’re talking about pursuing buyers, in the brave new academic marketplace. This results in colleges resorting to the same kind of ridiculous come-ons that hawkers of consumer products often barf up.

Iowa’s Drake University, for example, rebranded itself a couple of years ago with the slogan “Drake-plus.” That was intended to sell students and donors alike on the clever equation that Drake-plus-you would equal remarkable results — even excellence. This could have been just another bit of inane but innocuous PR puffery — except that the school’s marketing geniuses chose to reach for graphic artistry. Rather than going with the boring literalism of “Drake-plus,” they rebranded with a more hip, abstract design, substituting the letter “D” to refer to Drake and punctuating it with the plus sign. Yes, that meant that the official brand they created to characterize their institution of higher learning was: “D-plus.” Not exactly a standard of academic excellence.

Meanwhile, back at the University of California, its hyperactive CMO declared the official seal of the system to be fusty; long overdue for a spiffy update. Actually, while the seal was 144 years old, it was rather elegant, and it made a straightforward statement about the institution’s academic purpose. The venerable emblem featured a bright star beaming onto an open book, with a banner proclaiming, “Let there be light.”

  • sigrid28

    Now I understand where all the money is going. I was trying to figure out why as many as 70% of courses at colleges and universities are now taught by adjunct “professors” hired course-by-course ($3,000 or so) without benefits or a work station. It took me by surprise to find that anyone applying for a tenure-track position at one of these institutions, had a Ph.D. “beyond its shelf life” if he or she were graduated before 2009. Considering this watering down of qualifications for faculty teaching at colleges and universities, I was puzzled to learn that families were paying up to $60,000-a-year tuition and room and board, and counting; and that those who couldn’t cough that up, were taking on staggering debt to buy graduates certification at these degree-mills. Now I know where all of this tuition, government loan money, and alumni support is going, to pay CMOs to market these “institutions of higher learning” so they can serve more and more customers. The joke is on them–and on me, I suppose.

    TO EXPRESS MY DISGUST AT THIS STATE OF AFFAIRS, I have to resort to suggesting a forbidden word, but I use it by way of quoting one of our great American authors, Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic. In her novel “Wise Blood” (xxxx), Haze Motes, grandson of a white Southern preacher, who carried religion around in his head like a wasp and used a car hood for a pulpit, becomes so bitterly disappointed with his lousy prospects in the same profession that he resorts to preaching the church-without-Christ, which doesn’t work out so well for him (it is a comic novel). He uses a forbidden word nowadays to frame one of the chief tenets of his new anti-religion: “Jesus is a trick on n*****s.”

    • Sand_Cat

      Well said!

      Who cares about learning, intelligence, and thought? It’s all sales and money.

      • sigrid28

        Thanks, and true indeed. Yet there is more to the scam than just a transaction. If a student cannot repay his or hergovernment loan, becomes disabled, or experiences an emergency, the loan can never be discharged. It is like owing money to the IRS, with penalties and interest making the amount due grow and grow. Bankruptcy is not a remedy for such a debt. Since it can only be paid and never forgiven, it follows any student who cannot pay to the grave. A student’s credit rating could be ruined before he or she even gets a job. All for this kind of an education.

  • Gregory Williams

    Getting the oligarchs OUT of education would be one way to begin to bring them and their multi-tenticled world spann9ing monsters under control – if they lack the means to program an acceptance of their desired (but bad for people and democracy) pattern of America into the minds of young potential leaders then we stand a chance of PEOPLE controlling the future and not the FEW who wish to rule using wealth as their bypass of standard PROVE you are worthy methods that produce actual leaders and not future CEOs dedicated to taking power from government AND the people.