Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cheng on WSIU: Marketing to the rescue

Chancellor Cheng was on WSIU's "morning conversation" this morning. The most striking part of the interview, for me, was the failure by Jennifer Fuller to ask about negotiations with campus unions. There was nothing at all about these negotiations in the interview. As if the threat of a faculty & staff strike (whatever you think of that potentiality) wasn't one of the more important things facing SIUC this fall. Contrast last week's conversation with President Poshard, where Poshard went out of his way to say things helpful to the administration side in those negotiations (SIU is broke; the faculty got big raises).  WSIU isn't always deaf to union issues, however: you will hear more about those negotiations next week, when a certain blogger will put on his union spokesperson cap and see how well he fares live on the radio. Yikes. At least I can still wear my pajamas on the radio.

I was also struck by a series of questions Fuller had obviously arranged in advance with the Chancellor, who had precise numbers at the ready (this pre-arrangement became clear later in the interview, when Fuller apologized for asking an unscripted question about what percentage of SIUC classrooms were smart rooms and the Chancellor didn't have a number handy). I didn't jot down the numbers fast enough myself, but that's not the point (or at least not my point). The questions were about how enrollment affects SIUC finances. The $1 million cut in state finances equals this many students; this many students would undo our "structural deficit". And we wouldn't spend a dime more to educate any of these students? Yes, enrollment does obviously impact our budget, and, yes, we need to turn around the decline in enrollment, though I think we need to have a conversation about how many students we ought to aim to serve: more isn't always better. But equating students with cash this blatantly struck me as crass. Our students are more than cash cows. Which brings us to marketing, after the break.

Fuller pushed Cheng just a bit on the money spent on marketing. But as was the case with the President, Fuller didn't name a number, or suggest how much spending was rising and the administrator (smartly) refrained from providing one. So the question had no bite. This led me to dig up a rather good DE story on marketing from June 28th. Cheng was quoted in that story as saying she didn't know how much SIUC would pay our new marketing firm (really?), but she did say that SIUC's budget on marketing is going to double; the story's wording implies that this will result in a total of roughly $5 million dollars.

It couldn't be clearer that if SIUC had kept its marketing budget and its athletics budgets constant, and spent money only on essential renovations of campus buildings, rather than grand new facilities for athletics and administration (the latter including the forthcoming "Student Services" and "Alumni Services" buildings), there would be no "structural deficit."  The "structural deficit," in other words, is the money the administration has decided to take away from academics to spend on athletics, marketing, and management.

One other item from the marketing story struck me in a decidedly painful way.
Cheng said the firm’s ultimate priority is to revamp SIUC’s main web page and the website for prospective students. A mission statement for the entire university is also a priority in creating a brand for the university.
I'll assume that "ultimate" is a mistake for something like "first".  Still, it is good to see that the webpage is receiving its annual revolutionary makeover: there's nothing that shows the quality of a university like its willingness to tear up the website again and again, burdening all the under-resourced part-time "webmasters" on campus with the task of revising everything to today's swell new standard. As someone who's struggled under the ever changing dictates from on high about campus web design, I can confirm, first hand, that when each new administration decides it's going to change everything from top down, forcing us to spend our time changing the look of our online content to match some imposed template, often one less functional and more ugly than the one it replaced, taking time away from our work on improving the quality of our content, it makes webmasters very, very happy.

Then there's the second sentence in that quote.  We're hiring an outside marketing firm to write our mission statement. I get that right? We need to ask an ad firm to tell us what we are about.

When a car company says that its sales are down but that all it needs to do to turn things around is to double its spending on advertising, I think most people are sceptical. Perhaps they need to make better cars. Yes, smart marketing can help, but in the long run if the cars don't run they don't sell. We need to provide a better education to our students. Gutting academic programs (some 280 positions are empty on campus) to double spending on advertising and athletics doesn't strike me as the best way to do so.


  1. Dave,

    I hope the pajamas part was a joke.

    If they want to do a phone interview, ask if you can do it in the studio. If they insist on a phone interview, talk with them from your office, where the connection is short.

    The sound quality on phone interviews with WSIU is hit or miss. You do not want the quality of the phone connection to determine how you sound on the air.

  2. Having an outsider write the mission statement -- the thing against which the university is judged in accreditation -- was already announced a month and a half ago. You are tardy, but not misplaced, in your outrage.

    Even if the chancellor didn't know what the university is GOING to pay Lipman Hearne or some other marketing company, she should know what the university HAS paid. Lipman Hearne received $562064 for "Marketing communications plan, products and services for the period of January 10, 2011
    through June 30, 2011 For University Communications." There may be additional money for work Lipman Hearne did before January 10 and for consulting work that was not part of this University Communications expense.

  3. "Yes, smart marketing can help, but in the long run if the cars don't run they don't sell."

    Unless you are GM. Or certain TBTF banks that will go unnamed. LOL

    Somehow I think SIUC is not TBTF, we are in the "too small to matter" category. ; - )

    PS: Any one know if our Lt. Governor is a union member?

  4. Law school faculty aren't unionized (and of course Sheila is no longer with the law school).

  5. I knew law school was out of the FA arena but wasn't she NTT? So, she cut her ties completely? I know professors-turned-politican who keep their posts and go on leave. Often for a LONG time!

  6. The company concerned is one of Rita's pets but one she has worked with in the past and will be gaining a huge amount of money for doing what a previous university body (now dismantled) was doing at a much lesser cost.

    Jonathan, I hate to say this but out of honesty I totally agree with you about the Illinois Democratic Party and your preceding post.

  7. A point of information -- the Lt. Gov. was a member of the NTT union last I knew. I'm not sure why anyone really thinks that relevant (she has no statutory authority here...politically she has little more).

    Regarding the "branding"...this also means changing the logo, stationary, etc. We just did this a couple of years ago and we've seen no actual evidence that there is anything wrong with what we have. This is an insane waste of money that has not at all be justified to anyone. We should be outraged by this, but no one will say a word.

  8. Sheila Simon was one of the first members of the NTT FA. She cant be a member now as shes no longer in the bargaining unit.


I will review and post comments as quickly as I can. Comments that are substantive and not vicious will be posted promptly, including critical ones. "Substantive" here means that your comment needs to be more than a simple expression of approval or disapproval. "Vicious" refers to personal attacks, vile rhetoric, and anything else I end up deeming too nasty to post.