Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Declarative Consultation and the New Fresno State Logo

Craig Bernthal

I have yet to talk to a faculty member who likes Fresno State’s new logo, and although my methods of information gathering are probably more hit and miss than Cindy Matson’s, I do see a lot of email.  You can go to the logo link and get a sense from the comments that the bulldog paw--if bulldog it is--doesn’t do it for a lot of people. Many of the comments on this link appear to be from students:

Here’s a sample:

“As a student I’m outraged I wasn’t consulted—since “university” has been removed and I certainly would like people to know I attended a university—not just some place in Fresno. . . . are being asked to pay more (for a diploma that won't even say University) and so many academic programs are cut, yet we can pay 15,000 for some company to come help us "market" ourselves better. WE AREN'T A BRAND. We're a UNIVERSITY. Learning should be the primary objective, not this nonsense. Down with Welty and the other over-paid morons who continue to suck up money that should be for teachers.”

“It doesn’t ‘look professional’ because it lacks the word university.”

“God forbid they use the word UNIVERSITY or COLLEGE in the logo. I don't understand what about that concept John Welty fails to understand. It's been his personal goal since he's been at California State University, Fresno to OFFICIALLY change the name...something students AND faculty have REPEATEDLY voted down!. Fresno is NOT a state.” 
“Another logo for the Bulldog gangs to use.”
“This must be a joke. It looks pathetic. Are they still selling the old stationary? I need to stock up...”
“Wow that's bad. Fantastically poor font combination. Horribly unbalanced. Nothing is good about it.”
There is one comment on the site out of 15 that liked the logo, and at least two registered sympathy for the hard work of administrators.
And here is a very small sample from faculty email and conversations, which I am happy to add to if anyone cares to weigh in:

Hey Craig - In looking at the logo, I noticed the paw print does NOT really look like a bulldog paw print - I googled it and it actually looks more like a CAT print!!!!! 

[Here is an email response to the above: One comment on Craig's blog, with the biologist response: 'The logo looks like a cat's paw print, not a dog.' Of course it does--dogs have non-retractile claws, therefore, leave prints with spots anterior to the pad prints where their claws impress on the ground. Cats walk with claws retracted and produce prints like the new logo, and a paw print of those dimensions from a cat indicates a stout feline. Therefore we are the Fresno State Fat Tabbies.]
This logo is even more frustrating when one considers this:  The Chair of Art and Design was asked to not participate in the committee when he objected to the logo, and when he presented more than 100 ideas that the Art students designed --all far superior to the logo we now have.  

Puzzling for me is the statement that supposedly over 2,000 people were consulted on this change, yet nobody I've talked to knew about it until now. This has been in the works for 3 years and we find out now through the scratchers. I remember similar discussions over "unifying" the name and image in the 90s, but then there was lots of consultation and lots of discussion in the Academic Senate over the issue (which grew out of the concern that the full name of the university was not good for athletics). I must say I agree there were too many logos floating around; the seal, the centennial image, the bulldog and whatever else packed onto a page was too much. But why almost conceal the official name and expose one that doesn't place us geographically in a recognizable way (outside of the Valley and perhaps CA) nor identify us as part of a large university system? To me this indicates in yet another way minimizing the academic side of the university in favor of marketing logic that benefits only the non-academic side. And, again, how disappointing that the provost, the head of the academics, chaired this Integrated Marketing Steering Committee, again disregarding the academics. 
The second day I was on campus long ago an old grizzled professor, long since retired, told me this: "East of Cedar it is "California State University, Fresno", but west of Cedar it is "Fresno State Bulldogs", and those two institutions should have nothing to do with each other." The tail now definitely wags the dog....
Why don’t they just call the place Härvard? 
I would guess that if my email volume is any indicator, the administration is getting heaping portions of complaints.
I don’t think the logo looks good either, but my problem is that, if it isn’t an accurate representation of our university already, it may soon be. OK, the design is insipid, and with the paw print—good enough for a T-shirt or hat maybe—we’re advertising ourselves as Bulldog U. Discovery, Diversity, and Distinction are hollow enough buzzwords to fit any institution. We’ve got Diversity: well and good. But every state university in America bugles its Diversity, so it’s at odds with Distinction, and what does distinction mean anyway? Bonnie and Clyde were distinctive. And it’s hard to tell what Discovery means in an institution where MAs are replacing Ph.Ds, research money is drying up, and the RTP emphasis pushes new faculty harder and harder in the direction of “community service” and away from teaching and research. But, on to the broader issue.
Declarative Consultation
What was most interesting in this episode, at least for me, was how the administration handled “consultation,” not by doing it, but by declaring that it had been done. I think this deserves a new term in the lexicon of faculty management: declarative consultation. Just declare that consultation has taken place. Maybe, as an administrator, if you declare consultation, you can blow an unpopular policy by the faculty.  And it’s always fun to think of them hunting through desk drawers and old emails, in search of some sign that consultation really took place. You can picture them wandering the halls, muttering, “Consultation?  . . . consultation?” At the very least, you’ll confuse them—and it’s not such a bad idea to keep the faculty off balance. Besides, you won’t spend all that energy on jawboning. And there is always the chance that, if you do consult the faculty, they won’t want to go along with whatever scheme, program, or logo you deem best!
This was the genius behind the way the logo was handled. Back in the 90s, the faculty actually was consulted about changing the name of the ambiguous institution we work for, from California State University, Fresno, to Fresno State. I was in the senate at the time. The proposal didn’t fly. Senator after senator spoke against it: they all said that the word “university” had to be in the title. Well, once burned twice shy. Better to just change the logo and declare consultation!
So, on April 12, the day the logo was unveiled, we were informed in an email from Shirley Armbruster that the faculty had been consulted:
Our new Fresno State logo has been unveiled! You can see the logo and read about its development at

The logo is one part – and a very visible part – of the work over the past three years by the Integrated Marketing and Communications Council. This group involved research, surveys and discussions with 2,500 faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members about Fresno State's image, communications and visual identity.

The work also included research into best practices in university branding in the United States.
I have no desire to shoot the messenger, Shirley Armbruster, but I wish to call attention to two things. First, the timing. We are informed that consultation had taken place the day the logo is “unveiled”—wow. No time for the Senate to mount an opposition and say it had no part in the consultation. (And “unveiled”? Maybe for a statue of Mr. Lincoln or Jubilation T. Cornpone.)
Second, what is described in the email is not consultation: research, maybe, but not consultation. We have a consultative body. It is not a task force. It is not one or a number of “focus groups.” It is not a survey of alumni. That body where consultation takes place with the faculty is called THE FACULTY SENATE. We actually elect them to perform that function for us, and on the logo, the Senate was never consulted. If it had been, we wouldn’t have this logo.
Now what happens when you don’t consult and you institute or attempt to institute a policy that no one is behind? You get opposition and outrage. This whole year has been characterized by justified opposition and outrage: no consultation about school mergers and divisions until we get an announcement that it is virtually a done deal; no consultation about cohort hiring or changes in the allocation source for hiring; no consultation about the logo.
Back in January when I was asking questions at the faculty assembly about cohort hiring and trying (unsuccessfully) to get budget information, President Welty said, “Let’s not tear ourselves apart.” Do you want a method for tearing the university apart? Declarative consultation. That will do it.

[April 20 addition: see Madhusudan Katti's blog, "a leaf warbler's gleanings" for "How the athletic tail wags the academic dog at the new 'Fresno State': Leaf Warbler: tail wagging the dog ]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Craig. "Declarative Consultation" is a brilliant addition to the lexicon of academic doublespeak, and captures what's going on on our campus quite well.

    If you don't mind me jumping into the conversation as well, here's a link to my blog post about the new logo: