Blaise Pascal, PenseĆ© 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.”

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stringer Bell's Lesson on Rebranding for Fresno State

In the third season of The Wire, Stringer Bell, an up-and-coming drug lord in Baltimore, is faced with a problem: he is getting a weak and inferior supply of cocaine. He's losing customers, who go to his main rival, Prop Joe, to get their drugs. But Stringer has big ambitions, and he has been taking business classes at the local community college. So he queries his professor, in general terms, how he might surmount the problem of his inferior product.

Stringer Bell: "What are the options when you've got an inferior product in an aggressive marketplace?"

Stringer's Community College Business Professor: "Well, if you have a large share of the market you buy up the competition."

Stringer (shaking his head): "And if you don't?"

Prof: "Reduce price and increase market share."

Stringer: "That assumes low overhead."

Prof: "Of course. Otherwise you operate at a loss. And worse, as your prices drop, your product loses consumer credibility. You know, the new CEO of World Com was faced with this very problem. The company was linked to one of the biggest fraud cases in history. So he proposed . . ."

Stringer: "To change the name."

Prof: "Exactly.

So Stringer changes the brand name of the drug he's selling from WMD to Pandemic. And it works, but only for a little while, as the addicts, whose sense of quality is built into their nerve endings, soon find out the drug is the same weak stuff it was before. Then they go back to Prop Joe.

I would suggest that we are doing the same thing at Fresno State that Stringer Bell was trying to do and that it will have exactly the same result. At a time when every buck counts, how much money is a name change and logo switch going to cost and what will be the equivalent loss in classes? Whatever design the Bulldog friendly logo takes, whatever we decide to call ourselves, we will be what we are, and we know that the quality of Fresno State is going down, not up, and we know why. If the object is to change our image as we become a big on-line university, I doubt that a Bulldoggish logo will have much zoom.

At Fresno State, we are becoming used to the assertion of style and fluff over substance. Community service, much of the time, is part of the fluff. For some of us, especially in fields that are part of health and human services, community service may indeed be a big and important component of our professional duties. But for most of us, our main function is teaching and research--that is our service to the community. Untenured faculty from all fields have community service as a bigger and bigger requirement imposed on them, and time wasters like UFO--the untenured faculty organization.

[Just a note. My generalizations about UFO are based on conversations with some untenured faculty, in which they flagged it as an organization they felt coerced to be part of. However, I have received one very articulate and persuasive email, defending the value of UFO, and listing many good functions that it performs. So perhaps my use of it as an example is unfair.]

We don't just have "research" but "faculty transformative research." Everything is hyped, from the language of retention/tenure/promotion criteria to Red Balloon to the titles of administrators. Why stop at Global and Continuing Education? What not go for Intergalactic and Continuing Education?

As part of this, the faculty is enticed and coerced into supporting the institutional drive to put style over substance by the kind of emails we used to get from CSALT (spiffing up our course outlines to look like USA Today!) and got yesterday from Cindy Wathen. What seems innocuous when taken one dose at a time becomes, overall, a "Pandemic." The rhetoric of hype should not be validated by the faculty. We are here to look for the truth. Skip the big event. Toss your scratchers. Those would be performative linguistic acts that speak the truth.

1 comment:

  1. Good article, but the Bell operation sells heroin, not cocaine.