Why does a university need a C.M.O?

Thursday, January 10, 2013   |   Posted by Jim Hightower
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A new fad is sweeping across America's university campuses – and it's seriously goofy.

This latest craze is not led by students making a cultural statement, but by top administrators trying to make a corporate statement. It's called "rebranding," an attempt to modernize the image of venerable institutions by adopting corporate-styled logos, slogans, and other marketing fluff.

For example, for 144 years, the University of California has thrived under an official seal featuring a bright star beaming onto an open book, with a banner proclaiming : "Let there be light." Straightforward and rather elegant! But it's so old school, cried the rebranders, so out of sync with today's market-oriented world – especially now that universities are multibillion-dollar, conglomeratized enterprises run, not by academicians, but by highly-paid executives whose chief role is to charm money out of wealthy individuals and corporate benefactors. Forget light, "Let there be money," is the new academic aspiration.

Thus, the UC system was rebranded with an abstract, U-shaped logo with the letter "C" subtly burned into it. It looks very much like a logo for bank– and that's the point, for it's meant to impress money people. As explained by the C.M.O. of UC, "The university needed to... do a more proactive job" in expressing "where the university was headed."

Yes, and what better way to do that than by resorting to PR artifice and corporate gobbledygook, right? All you need to know about where universities are "headed" is that their latest administrative fad is to hire a C.M.O. A what? A chief marketing officer.

The good news is that students overwhelmingly prefer light to marketing. More than 50,000 outraged students signed an online petition protesting UC's corporatized logo, forcing officials there to withdraw it.

"Campus Protests Return, but Over Rebranding," The New York Times, December 27, 2012.

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