After a recent speaking gig, a woman came up to me and said, “You don’t like faculty do you?”
She might have been reacting to a comment or two I made regarding campus marketing know-it-alls, some of whom might be faculty. Or my statistic about the painfully lowish percentage one client’s “committed” faculty volunteer for critical Open Houses.
Or the slide that said “I Don’t Like Faculty, Ask Me Why.” OK, I didn’t have that slide.
But I did reply straight away. “First, ‘faculty’ is too general, but I do like most. I respect their passion to engage students and impart knowledge. They are the backbone of a college, pure and simple. I even respect when that passion is aimed at brand issues and marketing, or enrollment and recruitment.
“I just don’t see that always going, umm, so well.”
Case in point—faculty (more than staff, but let’s not forget staff) are almost always at the forefront of brand attributes, for their mentoring ways, academic rigor, engaging demeanor, or research chops. Faculty, by and large, are instrumental in the brand.
But more than a few years of this brand work has taught me that instrumental to institutional image as they are, faculty don’t always live said brand. Sometimes there is a comeuppance, moments that I cherish:
- Halfway through a summary of brand research for a troubled law school, a faculty member stopped me when I lumped faculty and staff together in a category. The faculty member—sitting in the midst of all student life staff—said “I don’t mean to be demeaning1 but staff opinions don’t carry the weight of faculty.” The staffer next to him turned a maroon shade I still do not believe exists in nature, then pierced his soul with her eyes.Next slide—“Staff say the greatest strength of the law school is the faculty.” I note to the room without missing a beat that per Professor X (I used his name), this slide is in error. I still am the staff’s hero.
- A large public U’s faculty took exception to being surveyed at all. Reason—“You have us listed as ‘employees.’ We are faculty.” I bet you can guess how the rest of that struggling institution’s brand intervention project went.
- A professor of mathematics challenged me at a public hearing about a set of data. “I don’t agree with your methodology.” Since the topic of the data was the exceptional perceived strength of faculty, I asked him if he refuted the analysis. “No, I agree with your findings just not your methodology.” Even when I was praising him, he couldn’t just let that go—a committed mathematician or paranoid genius?2
So look, I love faculty most of the time, and in brand work they are staggeringly important.
But like many of you, I still harbor the white whale of revenge ideas, the ultimate moment when I go into the class of my most heinous academic adversary, his baton elevated, her beady pompous eyeglasses resting on the face’s furthest bough, mouth partially draped open with knowledge cocked to impart.
And just as they told me over and over in my office what the tagline should really be or where the billboard should really sit or what I didn’t really know from a hole in the something else, I get to say: “No, you’re doing it all wrong.”
Now that’s a brand I’d like to live once. And you know who you are, Professor…
1“Yes, you do.”
2Interestingly, the methodology he questioned was not only right, it was something he teaches. Sigh.