At my first meeting of Provost’s Council a few weeks ago, I used what I’d always been told was a “dirty word” in academia. And the reaction was the opposite of what I expected.
In describing a feature of our new website to a room of deans and other academic officers, I said, “At the risk of using the ‘dirty M word,’ we hope this results in better marketing of our academic offerings.” I braced for a backlash, weeping, gnashing of teeth. None came. Quite the contrary.
“Finally!” one said, raising his hands for emphasis. “Hallelujah!” added another. While so-called “experts” tell us “academics” consider “‘marketing’ a dirty word,” here was a room full of people waiting, hoping, praying someone would acknowledge a greater need to market, promote or otherwise publicize all things academic.
If you’ve attended a higher education conference, you likely seen the following: A speaker uses the word “marketing” and then smugly says, “Of course, that’s considered a dirty word in academia.” The crowd then chortles along knowingly. Or not so knowingly. I’ve been among them. And I’ve been wrong. Maybe we all have.
Having worked in higher ed for nine years, I know this much: Almost everyone here welcomes and strives for greater publicity, promotion or marketing of what they do. They want to attract great students, want to retain those students, want to recruit and keep outstanding faculty, want to receive grant money, want to (individually or collectively) gain prestige. So why — other than our own preconceived notions and often-faulty conventional wisdom — would we expect them to be averse to the term “marketing” or any attempt to help them attain their goals?
The bigger problem is that once we start to see others as preconceived groups — academics or Briggs-Myers categories, generational stereotypes or ethnic types — we stop seeing them as people. Making assumptions on anyone — an all-too common practice, even in higher education — is just wrong. Maybe stereotype should be the real dirty word of the conversation.