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RG turns over more rocks, uncovers more of UO’s bloated branders

Last updated on 01/07/2016

5/16/2015 update:

Two new stories to add to the three printed Saturday in the Register Guard about UO’s branding efforts. These are all online now, new ones in print Sunday. I’ve posted extracts with a few comments for all five stories below. Follow the links to the stories, and please consider leaving your comments on the RG website, where they will be read by many more people than here.

This series of five stories is another tour de force for Diane Dietz and the RG’s Higher Ed reporting. Rich Read at the Oregonian must be a little green.

I’m no journalism professor, but I’m gradually learning a little bit about how reporting works. The UO administrators that Diane Dietz quoted in these stories really didn’t want to have to answer questions about where the money was going. But they knew they would have to respond if Dietz had documents. So they tried to stonewall her public records requests. Once the District Attorney made Dave Hubin’s office produce the public records, the administrators had to give interviews, or be embarrassed with “no comments”. And so Dietz got these revealing quotes from Chuck Lillis, Tim Clevenger, and others.

There are tens of millions of dollars and UO’s national reputation or “brand” at stake here. I know that at least a few UO donors have been questioning the wisdom of the road that the UO administration and the new Board are taking us down. Perhaps if they looked at options like Job Killing Dan Klein courses, or other courses out there, that could help. In the meantime, these news stories are going to help fuel those questions. Once again the RG has done the University of Oregon a great service with their reporting. I’m guessing those UO administrators who worked to keep the basic facts secret are going to see it a little differently, of course, and that they’ll keep trying to hide public records as well.

With its scores of communicators, UO tries to find one voice. Diane Dietz, here.

Dietz goes through UO’s long and expensive history of failed branding efforts:

The UO already employs platoons of communicators, marketers and public relations specialists – and it farms out millions of dollars to outside contractors for the same kind of work.

The UO’s marketing and PR machinery, in fact, has become so costly and unwieldy that top UO officials are taking steps to figure out if it’s working well.

Citing a need to coordinate the extensive effort to sell the university, interim President Scott Coltrane in mid-March imposed a hiring freeze on communications and marketing-type jobs, except with special approval.

…The hiring of the top-flight 160over90 firm about a year ago under a three-year $3.4 million contract marks the second major branding effort the university has undertaken.

In 2008, the university signed a three-year, $1.2 million contract with global firm Fleishman-Hillard for a “branding, positioning and media strategy” to make the UO sought after. Perhaps a more cost effective method of branding would have been to focus on their social media presence and how their brand is represented on platforms like Instagram. Of course, a higher follower count on these sites carries more status and so a business may want look into growth services in order to give their instagram followers an additional boost to take the reach of their brand’s message and image to the next level.

… Still, on staff, the UO has more than 100 marketing, public relations, strategic communications and digital communications employees, a review of the UO’s personnel records shows. All work largely in the service of the UO’s image-building. The total salary and benefits cost the UO about $10 million a year.

A hiring spurt added as many as 20 new marketing and communications employees to campus over the past 18 months. And, despite Coltrane’s recent freeze, the hiring continues.

… Separately, UO schools and colleges have launched their own self-promotional efforts, spending at least $3 million in recent years on marketing, advertising, public relations and branding contracts.

Four years ago, the UO School of Journalism and Communications – SOJC – sought to define itself as a “destination” school for journalism students nationally, said Tim Gleason, dean at the time.

… Alumnus Tracy Wong’s A-list agency, the Seattle-based Wongdoody, put his staff to work for the college. The staff helped write the SOJC slogan: “Ethics. Action. Innovation.” … Wongdoody did the work at cost – $20,000, Gleason said. “If we had taken it out to an open bid, it was several hundred thousand dollars worth of work,” he said. “We were very fortunate.”

… In 2013, the Lundquist College of Business hired Songlines Communications of Bend – for $36,000 – to create a unifying “brand story” that “succinctly, elegantly and emotionally communicates the unique identity of the Lundquist College of Business,” according to the contract. Next, the college bought $12,000 worth of marketing advice from Fixx Consulting of Portland. … De Kluyver also OK’d a $100,000 contract with White Horse Productions in Portland in fall 2013 to redesign the college’s website with a “lightweight, forward-thinking” touch. De Kluyver is featured on a website video – wearing trademark suspenders – playing a banjo and explaining that teaching business management is like improvising in jazz.

Two years later, 160over90 is refashioning the Lundquist brand, writing brochures and ads to promote MBA programs; eventually, the firm will redo the college’s website, Clevenger said.

UO’s ever helpful 160over90 branders even provide the administrators that sign their $3M check with talking points on how to fight off faculty who think it’s a waste:

The UO’s agency, 160over90, warns its university clients about likely opposition to their branding plans from “a disgruntled tenured professor in the humanities department with a dull ax to grind,” according to 160over90’s humorously written manual for university administrators.

… At the UO, Clevenger fretted about which faculty should be invited to talk with 160over90 to help discern the essence of the UO, according to an email obtained by The Register-Guard through a public records request. Let deans select four to five professors to participate, Clevenger wrote. “I don’t want any open call to faculty,” he wrote.

Yes, best to get that essence from the usual brown-nosers. Not that it matters, Chairman Lillis has spoken:

Chuck Lillis, president of the UO Board of Trustees, built a $60-billion-plus empire on his background in marketing. Lillis earned a doctorate in marketing at the UO in 1972. …

Lillis, the inaugural chairman of the UO board – and $14 million donor to the UO business college – is squarely behind the 160over90 campaign.

“We can’t spend $3 million more intelligently than this,” he said recently.

Actually, I think it’s more like $20M over 5 years, plus the $10M per year in internal salaries. But whatever, here’s Sunday’s second story, on how little this branding crap can do to counteract reality:

Blizzard of bad news may be tough for UO to sweep aside. Diane Dietz, here:

As the University of Oregon tries to boost its image nationally, one measure of success UO executive Tim Clevenger touts is the number of times a single story – favorable to the university – appears in newspapers across the United States. An Associated Press story about the UO’s $20 million branding initiative, for example, ran in 230 newspapers, Clevenger recently told the UO Board of Trustees.

But Google searches show that bad news can travel farther and faster, underscoring the difficulties UO marketers face.

When a Duck football tight end dumped a bucket of snow on a hapless UO professor in 2013, the story appeared in 225 media outlets, rolling out as far as TV 2 in Norway. A video of the incident drew 4.7 million YouTube hits.

A Duck running back punched an opponent on the football field in 2009, and the story rocketed through 2,136 newspapers and other media outlets. Even a UO effort to engineer good national attention – by giving The New York Times and Sports Illustrated an exclusive first look at its new football operations center in 2013 – wasn’t an all-out success. Of 311 online comments on The New York Times article about the center – ‘Oregon Embraces ‘University of Nike’ Image’ – negative reactions outnumbered the positive, three to one.

… The UO’s leadership can choose to ignore negative media reports in the hopes that the branding campaign makes a bigger noise, [Some PR guy named Forrest Anderson] said. … The pressing challenge for universities now is sexual violence …

For the UO, the subject has led from one black eye to the next.

First, the UO chose to release little information about the incident. The UO responded to records requests from newspapers – including The Register-Guard and The New York Times – with color-coded redactions that concealed the text of most of the documents. Publications ran photos of the colorful redactions. [Coffee cups and t-shirts available at]

That looked like a cover-up, Anderson said. “It just looks like (the university has) something to hide. It’s my take as a general consumer. ‘Oh, they must be hiding something’ if they don’t want to let us know.”

University lawyers typically advise in favor of blacking-out information, Anderson said. “One of the signs of a good CEO is that sometimes they ignore their lawyers. They say that might be the legally prudent thing to do, but is that the right thing to do? And they do the right thing,” he said.

5/15/2015: RG analyzes UO’s “What the if?” branding campaign and JH’s trust destroying secrecy

The stories below were posted Friday and in the Saturday printed paper. Read them all, and please consider leaving comments on the RG website, where they will be read by more people than here. I’ve just posted extracts with a few comments:

1) UO’s $20 million national branding campaign holds promise, faces steep challenges. Diane Dietz, here:

Chuck Lillis thrills to the sight of the University of Washington rising in the top 100 best-colleges rankings.

But Lillis, the current – and first – chairman of the University of Oregon Board of Trustees, frankly doesn’t like what he sees in the rankings when it comes to the UO, where he also went to school.

“I want us to see our rankings and have goosebumps,” he told the UO Senate recently. “I don’t like these rankings that are 92nd, 104th, 86th. That just isn’t good enough.”

So in May 2014, a month before the Board of Trustees formally won control of the university, the UO quietly started a $20 million, donor-funded plan that included hiring an edgy Philadelphia branding firm – 160over90 – to elevate the university’s stature.

To put this in perspective, the $20M the board has decided to spend on PR would have paid for start-up packages for 10 to 20 top research professors. They are gambling instead that “What the If” TV ads will encourage enrollment of out of state students willing to pay full tuition – meaning not academically gifted enough to get scholarships from other schools:

But in recent decades, the UO found itself at the bottom of the AAU pack in key academic excellence measures, says a report by interim UO President Scott Coltrane.

For a research university, the UO is short on tenured faculty, doctoral students, research spending, research production and high-achieving students, says the report. Bringing all those measures up to snuff would take an endowment of billions, says Lillis.

“We’re financially weak,” Lillis told the Senate. “We’re very weak if we want to be a great university.”

Unexpectedly, it seems our 160over90 branders agree with my analysis of how this $20M campaign is in some ways needed to counteract the pernicious influence of Duck football wins on UO’s national reputation. After all, what parent wants to spend $200K sending their child to a big-time football party school for 4 years?

The sports success has been an asset and a drawback for the UO’s new academic branding initiative.

The university’s academic side, in adopting the Bakas-designed “O” as its logo, tapped onto the sports brand that Nike built. The UO president at the time, Dave Frohnmayer, wanted the “O” to represent the whole university. “If you’re not represented by something,” he said, “people don’t know what you stand for.”

Some faculty saw that as a takeover of the university’s image by Nike and the football team – a contention the UO’s new branding firm assumes is true.

“Obviously the university has a big problem getting out the message that we’re a serious academic institution,” Bill Harbaugh, economics professor and publisher of the blog, said recently. “The football program has co-opted the university’s message; it’s all about the Duck brand.”

A key UO image challenge, according to the brand strategy recently developed by 160over90 for the UO, is the “unbalanced national perception of the university, currently dominated by athletics.”

So, instead of spending $20M on academics, we have to spend it on advertising. How convenient for 160over90 – that just happens to be the business they are in!

Will it work? Even PR flacks like UO’s $209K Chief Strategic Communicator Tim Clevenger seem to think it might make more sense to spend the money on science instead:

The university needs academic substance to be great, said Tim Clevenger, a long-time private sector ad man whom the UO put in charge of the new branding effort.

The university needs the academic corollary of a Rose Bowl or a national championship – a scientific breakthrough, a Nobel Prize win, a reinforced perch among the nation’s pre-eminent schools.

“A brand can have a really cool logo and neat ads,” Clevenger said, “but if there’s no substance behind it, it doesn’t mean anything.”

2) The RG’s second story, here, goes on to explain some of the ways Clevenger is spending his $20M.

Let’s just say it’s not on substance.

3) UO slow to release records on its cutting-edge branding effort. Diane Dietz, here.

This last story goes into the enormous difficulties the Register Guard had in dealing with Dave Hubin’s Public Records Office to get the branding documents. When UO wants to spin reporters about something that makes the administrators look good, they’ve got plenty of well paid PR flacks like Clevenger, Tobin Klinger, Craig Pintens, etc. Money is no object. Not enough flacks on staff? Hire Anna Richter-Taylor from Gallatin Public Affairs to consult, at about $300 an hour.

But when a reporter wants some documents that might have some actual facts, and might actually inform the public about what’s really going on in Johnson Hall, they send them to Dave Hubin’s black hole of transparency and trust. Dietz reports:

The University of Oregon is breaking a sweat telling the nation about the benefits of a UO education.

But it has moved at a crawl to disclose basic public information about the cost and other aspects of that branding campaign. It took an order from the Lane County District Attorney’s Office to force the UO to produce some records.

When the Legislature granted the UO independence from most state oversight in 2013, lawmakers required it to remain a public university and to continue to obey Oregon public records and meetings laws.

In June and September 2014, The Register-Guard submitted records requests seeking documents on the work that 160over90 and other branding and marketing firms were doing for the UO. Tim Clevenger, the UO’s associate vice president for communications, marketing and brand management, in May had established 160over90 as the “ad agency of record.”

The university charged the newspaper $800 for the June request and $500 for the September request to supply hundreds of pages of documents.

Then, in both cases, the UO took more than three months to begin releasing documents.

And in both cases, the UO heavily blacked out some documents and simply neglected to provide many others that were in its possession, even though they were clearly covered by the newspaper’s request.

… [UO Economics Professor Bill Harbaugh] said the UO’s redactions and delays in this case are typical of the UO.

“Most university public records offices are very business-like. They try to help you find the documents and they try to get them to you as quickly as they can,” Harbaugh said. “They don’t waste your time with trivial fees and they don’t waste your money with big fees.”

By comparison, the UO public records office is known statewide for its delays, high fees and heavy redactions, Harbaugh said.

“The University of Oregon is as prompt as molasses on a really cold day, or a really cold winter, because a day is too short a time period to capture the full extent of their slowness,” he said. “It’s best measured in geologic time.”

At a recent meeting of the University Senate, Harbaugh told UO interim President Scott Coltrane that delays in providing public information is hurting relationships at the university. “Without that transparency, you’re not going to get trust,” Harbaugh said.

Coltrane’s reply: “It’s getting better. It may not appear that way to you, but we are working on it.”

But Harbaugh said he’s seen no evidence the public records office is improving. “If anything, things are getting worse,” he said.

But don’t trust me on Johnson Hall’s obsession with secrecy – read what the RG has to say about how they had to go to the District Attorney to force UO to release the public records:

The Register-Guard determined that the UO failed to provide at least 20 key branding-related documents. The newspaper knew the documents existed because they were referenced in emails that the university did release.

For example, the records the UO released mentioned numerous advertising and public relations conceptual and strategic papers and presentations, including slides, Powerpoints and other documents, that 160over90 and the UO had recently developed and were at the heart of the branding initiative. But the UO failed to provide those to the newspaper, even though they were clearly covered by the newspaper’s request.

In February, The Register-Guard petitioned the Lane County District Attorney’s Office, asking it to order the UO to provide the omitted documents and undo the redactions.

In mid-March, before the District Attorney’s Office ruled, the UO suddenly provided the newspaper with many of the missing documents, and also with previously redacted documents that the UO decided should not be blacked out after all.

On March 30, the District Attorney’s Office ordered the UO to un-redact a significant number of additional documents.

In his ruling, Assistant District Attorney Spencer Gwartney said the UO could black out parts of records based on federal student confidentiality law, and on exemptions to Oregon public records law in matters of trade secrets and personal privacy.

But Gwartney said the UO erred in claiming many documents could be blacked out under state public records law’s “internal advisory communications” exemption.

Gwartney ordered the UO to disclose all 34 pages that UO lawyers had blacked out, in full or in part, under the “internal advisory communications” claim. Gwartney said the UO had failed to establish that the UO’s need for secrecy outweighed the public’s interest in openness. The UO obeyed the order.

No transparency, no trust. Unfortunately that’s now a large part of the legacy of Scott Coltrane’s brief interim presidency.


  1. Branded 05/15/2015

    We public. We got records. We got public records. But we got black markers, too. Do we use them? Of course. We duck. We duck FOIA requests.

  2. reading between the lines 05/15/2015

    Some great one liners there.

    “We’re very weak if we want to be a great university.” Could this indicate…..but we are well positioned to be a great party school with an almost championship football team.

    …”If you’re not represented by something,” he said, “people don’t know what you stand for.” Clearly, we stand for what ever Nike wants.

    The university needs academic substance to be great, said Tim Clevenger, a long-time private sector ad man whom the UO put in charge of the new branding effort.

    So we offer them 0%, so they know where we stand on their worth.

    Unless you research the effects of bouncing in sports under garments, jock itch or sneaker sales better look elsewhere.

  3. reading between the lines 05/15/2015

    and one more…

    These students have “low awareness of the breadth of research opportunities and academic rigor” at the UO.

    There are aware of the truth Tim, there is a lack of academic rigor and an abundance of sports-frat-rape culture.

    The real question at UOwe is What if….my daughter did not get drugged at the party/bar, and then was not afraid to tell anyone about it.

  4. honest Uncle Bernie 05/15/2015

    The biggest thing they could do quickly would be to try to raise the academic level of UO students. As in SAT scores, in which UO lags behind such academic powerhouses as Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa (when ACT equivalence scores are used). To say nothing of would-be competitors among our 8 “comparators” (of which Iowa is one).

    In my many years here, they have never, to my knowledge, tried to do this. If they have tried, it certainly hasn’t been publicized.

    What I have constantly heard is that the “enrollment management” people emphasize what an awesome place UO is for having a good time.

    If they raised the SAT scores, admitted a smaller fraction of applicants, then UO would rise in the U.S. News rankings.

    These student criteria are among the items on which UO is weakest. The other main ones are financial resources.

    Just going by “peer assessment” UO is probably about #65. Far better than our overall ranking.

    Maybe what I’ve mentioned is the idea of the “branding campaign.” But it sure doesn’t sound like it. “Branding” sounds all wrong to me, always has.

    You could ask, what does Uncle Bernie know about these things, and it would be a good question.

    To which I reply, look at how what they have been doing — which includes years and years of “branding,” as I can attest from sufficient university committees — has worked out.

    Not so great, huh?

  5. Old Man 05/15/2015

    We note that UW has divested from coal. That is a smart move for the climate and, en passant, will attract smart students. If we want to steal some of those smart students, we (i.e., the Foundation) will divest from all fossil fuels. (Some of you will know that our Foundation recently turned up its nose at a Senate Resolution calling for such a divestment. WTF, if you’ll pardon the expression.)

  6. awesome0 05/16/2015

    So chuck lillis spent our raises on advertising instead of true faculty retention or financial aid?

  7. tweety 05/16/2015

    Donor factions have helped bring this about with help from declining state support (the preferred whipping boy) to a certain naive and needy president who couldn’t say no and mean it. Strong, teflon leadership was and is required

    In actuality, we have competing brands: athletics and academics with the branders attempting to use the same whiz-bang that worked with donor-profitable, flashy entertainment athletics as the PR method of choice for the serious and more benevolent academic side of donor giving. How is that ever going to work? Laughably, Clevenger cites growing website hits as positive results. Wow.

    Casting smoke and mirrors aside, one could argue that athletic branding hasn’t been all that successful for UO given the hemorrhage of funds from both the basketball and baseball programs and facilities. Add to that an expensive, divisive athletes-only glass palace, and an expensive, divisive football fortress dedicated to those few pursuing Pro Football (and a Nike career) as their academic program of choice. Now the Knike Foundation wants to continue brand competition by re-making Hayward Field, related campus facilities AND the EWEB property into some glorified Track and Field mecca which will serve other “students” studying to work and run for Nike when the time comes, and be a quaint, global entertainment stage for international corporations and corrupt officials.

    The only way this has a chance to work out to some beneficial academic end is if Michael Schill is a sane weaver of inspirational dreams and social magic. It’s a big job, but he appears to have the energy and smarts to do it.

  8. tweety 05/16/2015

    ““We can’t spend $3 million more intelligently than this,” he said recently.”

    As newly anointed Senior Wizard of the Corporate Born Universals handling the sacred PR sacrament named “branding”, what the hell else would he say?

    A side note: when the RG spends the time and money to moderate their troll dominated boards, which includes the half dozen squatters who imperiously deride most every comment they don’t happen to agree with on any topic, I’ll be glad to comment there. I suspect far less people actually read comments now than used to be the case.

  9. hnoest Uncle Bernie 05/16/2015

    Uncle Bernie has a question. Being kind of behind the times, he is a bit perplexed about the meaning of “UO’s ‘What the if?’ branding campaign.” Is this a play on ‘What the f’? This is supposed to make UO’s academic reputation? What the f are they thinking? Or is Uncle Bernie missing something?

    • just mindless iffing 05/16/2015

      They just want you to know they are serious If-ers. They are academically serious about iffing. They are if-ed … as in g-if-ted. They like to sing “We are the If-ers” sung to the tune of “We are the champions.” Pretty sure THINKING is not really designed to be part of this campaign. Don’t ruin their vibe, Uncle B. Sigh.

      • hnoest Uncle Bernie 05/17/2015

        OK, OK, I know I’ve been had. It’s “We if” not “What the if.” I read it in the RG. uomatters was playing with us just as always.

        “We the if.” That is brilliant! It’s worth $20 million to come up with that. Hells bells, as my daddy used to say, it’s worth $200 million. It’s worth the whole iffing $2 billion campaign! UO should borrow against its pension obligation bonds or something to kick start it. What the if!

        We if!

  10. just different 05/16/2015

    Please can we see the “humorously written manual”?

    • Old Grey Mare 05/17/2015

      I’d like to see it too. There’s something off-putting about a branding campaign that makes fun of the faculty it was hired to promote.

      • uomatters Post author | 05/17/2015

        That bit about a “dull ax” got to you, didn’t it? Seems those prep-school twits don’t know that here in Oregon we use a Stihl.

        • Old Grey Mare 05/17/2015

          Husqvarna. Okay, both.

          • just different 05/17/2015

            Well, it’s 214 pages of image-heavy, low-density adspeak, by turns depressing and banal. But it does give some insights into the thought process–if that’s the right description–behind university-branding-as-youth-marketing, as well as some things we have to look forward to:

            Schools simply aren’t dedicating enough effort to making their .edu experiences relevant and meaningful for one of their most vital audiences—leading us to one of our core principles for higher ed web design: instead of being an information clearinghouse, schools should instead dedicate their .edu as a marketing-only site, offering only enough information to key audiences to allow them to make a decision on how they wish to engage with the school. (p.174)

            Once your brand has been developed and approved by your internal stakeholder committee, your need to give your message escape velocity. EVERYONE within your organization should be able to summarize your brand positioning in a few sentences to anyone who asks. To get to this exalted plateau, we recommend holding brand camps and town hall meetings to introduce your efforts to your entire community. (p.95)

            Realize, however, no matter how good you are at reaching a consensus, you will always have some who want to tell their own stories. Some mean well, but don’t understand the story, and need guidance. Others are openly defiant of any message the school communicates, and tell their own stories, which may only be true to their personal subjective situation—not the school as a whole. In the corporate world, good companies hire the right people and fire the wrong ones. Universities, however, have thrived for centuries by bringing differing viewpoints together to spark discussion. Everyone thinks their way is the best way, but if an individual is not being completely honest about the mission of the school in order to further his or her own goals, he or she is essentially lying to kids and stealing their tuition before the kids ultimately drop out. You can work hard to get everyone to understand why organizational cohesiveness benefits everyone, but there are still those who persist in pushing forward with their own agenda. In cases like this, don’t try and muffle their opinions—just make sure your voice is louder than theirs. They’ll hopefully turn their attentions (or get a job) elsewhere. (p.23)

  11. Ha! 05/17/2015

    Are the faculty and students in the business school/marketing dept so incompetent that they cannot generate ideas for a branding campaign? Based on incoming SAT scores and low faculty pay (if they are that good they would command higher salaries….right?), perhaps this is the case. Perhaps it is a manifestation of the lack trust (or contempt) the administration has for the faculty that they cannot do this “in house”. Seems like the perfect opportunity for the brilliant minds of UO to shine but this sends the clear message that there are no brilliant minds on campus and the money must be sent elsewhere to “get the job done”. And after all the fighting to get away from the state, the UO is now begging to get closer to the state. Sad situation there in Eugenistan.

    • tweety 05/17/2015

      “And after all the fighting to get away from the state, the UO is now begging to get closer to the state.”

      Yes, and that’s the nasty little secret that’s not so secret anymore. The whole push to have an independent board insures donor money will be spent within their pet clusters the way a donor wants without getting much into the messy administration of the general student population and faculty. Schill has already made state support a renewed talking point, and Lillis has said he (and HIS board, obviously) will not get involved in union/faculty/administration issues (although in reality, I imagine that depends on the issue) . Can’t imagine there are open arms in Salem.

    • Lincoln Steffens 05/18/2015

      Alas, the budding spinsters mostly are in the “journalism” school,

      • Inigo Montoya 05/18/2015

        In your effort to be clever, you managed to stumble upon a word that has a very different meaning.

        • Lincoln Steffens 05/18/2015

          OK. spin-sters

  12. hnoest Uncle Bernie 05/17/2015

    Seriously, this is pathetic. Seriously pathetic.

  13. Dr. Funkenstein 05/17/2015

    “What the If” indeed. I suppose it was bound to come to this. The Administration is now locked onto a dangerous “students as consumers” course that will inevitably lead to a continued slide down the precipitous slope of pandering at the expense of faculty and the rest of the “party poopers” here at the U of O. I imagine it won’t be long before the brilliant branding minds will come up with an online app, complete with in-game purchases, along the lines of “Easy ‘A’! Cheat your Way to a PhD!”, or “DuckMania! Earn “DuckPoints” every time you display Duck Spirit! 50 points for interrupting a lecture to sing Mighty Oregon! Upload your in-class video here!”

    Making fun of faculty is going to become par for the course, since it’s the obvious next step in any successful branding campaign aimed at High School seniors. They’re already accustomed to thinking of their teachers as overpaid “leeches” who enjoy a nine month working year and permanent jobs via tenure. They like having their fate in their hands by way of their performance on standardized tests. Why wouldn’t they like to hear that they will enjoy the same relationship with the University faculty?

    • Inigo Montoya 05/18/2015

      Yeah, I’m going to bomb my SATs to get my high school math teacher fired, that’ll learn her!

    • Upside down 05/18/2015

      “Universities on the make hire image creators to give themselves an academic face-lift, what the trade calls a new “brand” …

      “Top college applicants are treated like pampered consumers whose demands must be satisfied. The notion that these are adolescents who are supposed to be formed by a college education is dismissed as quaint. …

      Universities embody values the market does not honor: “The belief in a community of scholars and not a confederacy of self-seekers; in the idea of openness and not ownership; in the professor as a pursuer of truth and not an entrepreneur; in the student as an acolyte whose preferences are to be formed, not a consumer whose preferences are to be satisfied.”

      — David Kirp in Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education

  14. Daniel Pope 05/17/2015

    About 30 years ago, the University ran ads during football games saying something like “Our students are serious. Over X percent of them major in science or the professional schools.” I was a disgruntled humanities assistant professor then. Now that I’m an emeritus, my gruntle has taken another hit when I read that a critic of the marketing push is likely to be a “a disgruntled tenured professor in the humanities department with a dull ax to grind.” I happen to have spent a fair amount of my academic career studying the history of advertising and marketing. I’m no Mad Man but I have encountered a lot of bs in my time. It’s sad to see the University “branding” itself this way.

    • just different 05/17/2015

      The best part is that 90% of the people generating this tripe are formerly-unemployable humanities majors.

      • Old Grey Mare 05/18/2015

        Some, maybe. But I’d like to see the numbers.

        • just different 05/18/2015

          Given what I’ve heard anecdotally about “alt-ac” for humanities PhDs, marketing and other communications fields seems to be employing them.

  15. SaveUofO 05/18/2015

    This is the best UofO could do to waste millions on? There is a marketing program on campus full of bright students and faculty, all of which could have done the job with superior results and at a fraction of the cost. The real question we should be looking for is who is connected to who. Is someone in the administration connected to 160over90? Friends? Former classmates? Throwing millions on branding and marketing when we already pay people for this is outrageous.

    • Canard 05/18/2015

      Might have found it – the CEO of 160over90 is Shannon Slusher – perhaps related to Howard Slusher?

      • Fact check 05/19/2015

        That’s a no, according to 160over90.

  16. The Old Oligarch 05/18/2015

    I’ve been reading “Three and a Tree” with the very best attitude I can summon. According to their descriptions of the best brands (i.e., Apple), the company is focused chiefly on making an excellent product and everything follows from that. So just do good work and no branding company will be necessary!

    I do wonder whether they think their audience is receptive to such statements as:

    “In the best cases, when the university community can come to an agreement on who they are and what they can stand for, and can confidently prove it with countless stories that back up that identity, students who identify with that philosophy will be naturally drawn to it like moths to a flame, or Apple fans to a cupertino keynote. (ok, that’s our last Apple reference in this book. pinky swear.)”

    I can only surmise that they are deliberately trying to annoy.

    • Sun Tzu 05/18/2015

      The Old Oligarch writes “I can only surmise that [160over90] are deliberately trying to annoy.” Might be true however I have a different take.

      For about 120 years from the UO’s humble beginnings in 1876, the university had a functional horizontal governance system of faculty governance with administrative support. Over the past 20+ years, however, the University of Oregon has devolved from a traditional faculty-run academic institution to a business with a vertical hierarchical structure and corporate mentality. This change began in earnest with Frohnmayer’s appeasement of Phil Knight during the WRC fight and the subsequent public and private attacks on faculty and the Senate as a governance institution (there were very personal reasons underlying Frohnmayer’s caving to Knight and Kilkenny during the WRC fiasco but that is a subject for another post). Frohnmayer continued to disable the faculty governance for the duration of his presidency in major part because he was afraid of losing Knight’s bucks that were bankrolling large parts of the University (and a private Frohnmayer foundation).

      A major consequence of Frohnmayer not standing up to Knight was that the administration began to listen more to Knight and his rich business buddies (e.g., Kilkenny and Lillis). And what was the viewpoint of the ultra rich who made their money from business ventures? Turn the University of Oregon into a business! It worked for us, why not for UO? Just do it! This is why the University actively became more “corporate” during the Frohnmayer era. Moseley led that charge and developed all sorts of business strategies including allowing donors to dictate university academic decisions. He also oversaw the addition of corporate titles to University administrative positions. The symbolism of Frohnmayer and Moseley placing the titles of CEO and Sr Vice President, respectively, in FRONT of their academic titles of President and Provost did not go unnoticed and was a bad omen of things to come.

      The State Board, made of up business people with no clue how to run the state universities, agreed wholeheartedly with the corporate-is-best approach for UO and hired subsequent UO presidents to sustain this approach. Every President since DF continued to diminish the faculty voice in campus decisions and increase the corporate structure (e.g., re-writing the University mission statement, producing endless strategic plans, allowing the increased isolation of athletics from the rest of campus, viewing students as customers/clients, adding layers upon layers of management, despising unions, ignoring shared governance processes, and attacking anyone who disagrees with the “view from the top”, etc). The current Board of Trustees, autocratically run by Lillis, is taking us even further into corporate fantasy land and away from the 800+ year tradition of faculty governance in Western universities.

      Is it therefore so surprising that the Board has approved spending tens of millions of dollars for branding, which is the current buzzword for advertising and that the administration has accepted this without a word of disagreement? The business world is the only world the BoT and those who pull the BoT’s strings know. They have no clue about Academia or how it works, but they certainly know or think they know about business practices. They have neither the time nor interest to understand the UO in particular or Academia in general. Thus they are following the only road map they know.

      Until the faculty rise up and say “the university is on the wrong path and we faculty are not going to take this anymore”, the corporatization of the UO will continue and UO will continue its sad slide into mediocrity.

      • Old Man 05/18/2015

        Sun Tzu’s history of the Frohnmayer/Moseley transition from University to Business Op reminds me of the day when Dave and John encountered me on 13th Street. John, very excitedly, announced that the University was henceforth going to operate like a business. Dave appeared a bit alarmed that John was so indiscrete as to trumpet this plan. I was glad that I was close to retirement.
        It is such a shame.

      • Bat Girl 05/19/2015

        Nicely put:

        “For about 120 years from the UO’s humble beginnings in 1876, the university had a functional horizontal governance system of faculty governance with administrative support.”

        When did administrators forget that they should work to support the faculty’s efforts to further the research and education mission of the university?

        I want Scott Coltrane to phone my department chair and ask how he can support the work of the faculty.

  17. Rep 05/18/2015

    Anyone else notice the O in the 3 and a tree cover?

    After reading 3 and a tree I looked at our new UO website. I am happy to report that we have avoided the deadly 3 and a tree. We have a couple 4 and a book and sciencey gadget, 2 diverse females, and an entire picture of just trees… but no three and a tree.

    We have also done pretty well hiding all the complexity of post secondary education and any whiff of useful information from those intellectually challenged customers we are trying to reap–er students we are trying to recruit.

    $3 million well spent!

    Oh and for all those who are not on the same brand as TRUTH page, who are telling DIRTY LIES, STFU, or you will feel the retribution and relational of our branding admins wrath.

  18. History says..... 05/18/2015

    ….it is easier to flee the sinking ship by any means necessary than to keep fighting for a lost cause. The tipping point is in the rear view mirror and the clothes are in the dryer. What is on the horizon you may ask? UOwe faculty as academic whores working for the Greek madam of victory in athletics [not academics].

    Some may speculate the BOT knows all about archiving tests and exams from classes to optimize the pursuit of corporeal pleasures while minimizing time spent on coursework. Hence, faculty have no position of importance and are simply “in the way of progress”.

  19. Rep 05/18/2015


    I thought the same thing. It looked like marketing trying to step in and create a new business opportunity for the new Oligarchs, who do not know how to run a University. As with all good straw man arguments they take something that is truth in that the legitimacy, credibility, and reputation the institution builds over a century IS why students chose us, and then prescribe that by paying them $3 million and jumping through some seriously asinine hoops, your reputation now branded BRAND will have a title wave of Benjamins, flooding your pockets.

    Instead of reading the sales job three and a tree as how the university will fleece students but rather the play book by which the brander will fleece the university and foundation, I really am feeling a little ill that the people we trust to lead can be so lost.

  20. Rep 05/18/2015

    Sun (and Oligarch),

    Could it be and fundamental shift in demographics along with the lack of the idea of common wealth or trust?

    Sun you said that the state board was all businessmen who looked at the schools as a business, but perhaps the state Oligarchy :) wanted to monetize the common wealth for their personal enrichment, little things like using the state university as an urban real estate developer ( Or using college and university budgets to hire construction companies to build building, hire your girlfriend or wife to work on Energy projects (

    Perhaps this is just a continuation where the new crop of administrators for universities, the ones that take 5-10 VPs to do the same job one registrar one provost, one president or one VP used to do alone, where they job out everything because really, as the truth stated about students in the 3 and a tree, also holds true for our MBA masters, all this fuzzy data stuff is just too complex…

  21. just different 05/18/2015

    I’m just waiting for the “brand camps.” And I’m wondering why they’re not called “brand retreats.”

    • Anas Clypeata 05/18/2015

      One time… at brand camp…

      • Texas Guy 05/18/2015

        What happens at brand camp stays at brand camp.

  22. Anonymous 05/18/2015

    Just an FYI/ side note: The over “100 communicators on campus” should not be lumped into one bunch. Many of us are not trying to recruit, but trying to communicate our events, services, and resources to current students in order to help them succeed while at the UO. Some of us want to reach our student population solely for their benefit. These positions should not be frozen.

  23. Dr. Funkenstein 05/18/2015

    I shall call for open revolt before I shall be caught dead in a “brand camp” or anything remotely similar. Anyone feeling the same way will find me at Roma wearing a bandana and smoking a large cigar.

  24. Not convinced 05/18/2015

    Re: Phil Knight and the WRC fight. I recall hearing Phil Knight on the radio publically forgiving the UO for their disobedience in deciding to join the WRC. In his speech, Uncle Phil likened the UO to the prodigal son, whom he graciously decided to forgive despite their willful transgression, now that they had changed their mind.
    It was the first time that goings on at the UO made me want to vomit. Sadly, it was just the beginning of a long descent into pathetic servitude to our corporate masters.

  25. uomatters Post author | 05/19/2015

    Maybe UO should have followed Northeastern University’s plan instead: spend the money gaming the USNEWS rankings. At least those expenditures – on things like smaller classes – have some benefit for students, instead of just for and ad agency and a few Duck PR flacks.

    Thanks to Bernie for the link to this very interesting story on how Northeastern went from 162 to 49:

    • Working GTF 05/19/2015

      Because to blatantly commodify unpaid amateur athletes in that way is to admit the emperor has no clothes, instead slyly winking at the fact by removing the names from the backs of the jerseys for sale at the Duck Store.

    • um 05/19/2015

      We have elite track athletes arriving here from all over the world. It is a TRACK MEET. A big one. The sign is welcoming them.

      • Dr. Funkenstein 05/20/2015

        Thanks, Phil.

      • Oryx 05/20/2015

        An honest question, since I haven’t read the description: Are there only Nike sponsored athletes on the giant mural, or all sorts of track athletes?

          • Makes you wanna shout 05/20/2015

            Wow, there are bald-faced lies and then there’s this whopper. Every single athlete on that mural is a Nike athlete. Perhaps the brightly colored shoes would offer a clue. And by the way, because they are under contract to Nike, they are REQUIRED to be here. Please stop pretending they’re making some sort of grand gesture coming to Eugene when all they’re doing is showing up for work.

          • Yes, 05/20/2015

            Um, the banner has a swoosh on it, as do all the athletes featured. I’m not trying to talk down to you, but it’s an advertisement.

  26. anonec 05/20/2015

    They should have chosen PLC – more space, more positive externalities… but maybe CAS and 160over90 can put some billboards up and finance a make-over.

    • Dr. Funkenstein 05/21/2015

      Yes, perhaps they can use some Roundup and make a giant Nike Ad on the quad! That’ll make that sandblasted sidewalk logo thing look lame. Wait… maybe not.

      • Old Grey Mare 05/21/2015

        Shhhh. Pay no attention to the man with the backpack sprayer who is pacing out a giant swoosh.

  27. Working GTF 05/21/2015

    They’re kind of already is a Nike ad on the quad. As I overheard one of our cheery campus ambassadors describe to their group:

    “On the front of the Lillis complex is the iconic “O” symbol. The outside of the “O” is in the shape of Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks play, and the inner oval represents our historic Hayward Field.”

    • Dr. Funkenstein 05/26/2015

      Yes, sadly I overheard one of those well meaning tour guides point to McKenzie Hall and say, “That’s the History building, but I’ve never been there in four years,” and laugh. I would have stopped and made a quivering pile of jelly out of him, but I decided to let him live.

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