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.