PR will make the UO great? Don’t buy it.

John Orbell is a UO Professor Emeritus of Political Science. The RG has his Op-Ed on UO’s “What the if?” branding campaign, here:

How to build a university’s reputation for greatness? The answer is straightforward: Actually be great, and the word will get around. Being great involves a lot more than just ginning up a public relations campaign to persuade potential students (and their parents) of the university’s greatness — which, if the university is not, in fact, great, is no more than high-priced lying.

The relevant fact for the University of Oregon is that, despite its membership in the prestigious 62-member Association of American Universities, the UO’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report has slipped to 106th.

Making an academically mediocre university actually “great” is not the same as persuading a 17-year-old to buy a particular brand of jeans, as one PR person suggested in The Register-Guard’s stories on May 16 and 17. The bad news is that it’s not that easy; the good news is that it might cost much less than hiring dozens of public relations people. …

This $20M 160/90 branding campaign has done more to destroy the faculty’s trust in the judgement of the new UO Board than their delegation of authority policy grab did. Time for them to turn it around, cancel the contract, and put the donor money into real investments in UO faculty and students.

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20 Responses to PR will make the UO great? Don’t buy it.

  1. dog says:

    is the 2015 report about gains in academic reputation from 2000 for various institutions in the world. Its a good example of the process of evaluating academic reputation.

  2. Pinto says:

    Let me say this as delicately as possible: the University of Oregon has never–EVER–been a great university.

    It has been a good university, but everything depends on what you put into it as an undergraduate.

    Forget about the AAU, national rankings, what Around the O says–it is student agency that matters.

    • Pollyanna says:

      What Pinto says about student learning is the case everywhere. Students don’t learn by osmosis, by hanging around great classmates, great professors, great programs, or great institutional resources. But student engagement and investment can be either encouraged or discouraged, by how the rest of the variables interact–including professors who are encouraged and rewarded for activating student learning, instead of distracted from it or penalized for giving it too much attention. And also, obviously, including a higher percentage of academically motivated students in the student body. Orbell’s op-ed is right on.

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    The 160/90 branding campaign? Is that supposed to be a plug for high blood pressure? The kind you get from putting up with all the dopey nonsense?

  4. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    tip to UOM, in case you missed it: a letter in the RG Wednesday about high-flying local HS grads. The writer noted that 45 were going to OSU, only 30 to UO, and wondered about the cause.

    Could it be, as I have been hearing for years, that OSU “enrollment management” aggressively sells its academic programs, while UO sells its cool lifestyle?

    • thedude says:

      Could it be that the hard sciences (which has some of the UO’s best academic degrees) have terrible job outcomes, as do the humanities, and that the UO lacks engineering programs.

      I think the UO would be well served to to try to develop a strength in computer science, especially around security and machine learning (which could actually tie together the natural science and computer science) as that’s something close to engineering with cross the property lines OSU has on those fields.

      • Payroll Guy says:

        Could have something to due with the UOwe’s lack of online options. Students of today want options not constraints when it comes to learning.

        • thedude says:

          I don’t think it helps, but online is more of cash cow because it caters to people who start degrees but don’t often finish.

          That’s not why we aren’t attracting the best students.

      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        The lack of engineering certainly hurts. But OSU also touts itself as “the science school” and “the research university” while from what I’ve heard, UO doesn’t try to counter that or especially emphasize academics in recruiting.

        Job prospects have not been great in the sciences, but I think UO could also do a lot better in preparing and promoting its science students for careers. I don’t know how OSU does in this regard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if better than UO.

        • thedude says:

          But the jobs for science degrees (unless your pre-med) are terrible even at top schools. I knew people with Ph.D.’s in biology from John Hopkins and other elite schools making 60k a year in a lab. Undergrads are going to only make 30k if they can find a job. Science jobs are simply incredibly primordial and a narrow market.

      • Patrick Phillips says:

        A great example of what can be done is the new genomics and bioinformatics Masters program in Biology. Trains students over an intensive summer and fall and then places them into internship positions in the winter. Highly successful thus far.

        This program is built upon the graduate internship model that Chemistry has largely created (led by Dave Johnson).

        It is not the only thing that we should be doing, but it is a very effective piece of how to create a portfolio of options that leverage research strength, rigorous education and very effective job placement.

        Perhaps most importantly, while doing this we have built the educational infrastructure to help support our own Ph.D. students that are headed into more traditional academic roles. It is a strong win-win.

    • Old Grey Mare says:

      Well, OSU has club polo and we don’t.

      It it is worthwhile to look more closely at these top local HS grads and consider both the high schools they are coming from and the schools they are going to. The high schools differ very much in where they send top students and the college application culture they foster.

      Many students want to leave town for college and many parents want them out of town. An hour downriver is an easy distance. (And there’s polo).

      Where do the top Corvallis high school grads go, the ones who don’t want to play polo?

      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        But, I believe it is the case that Lane County sends far more students to UO than to OSU. So I would expect, everything else being equal, that UO would get considerably more of the top local students than OSU — not less.

        Really, the statistic in question is kind of a scandal — enrollment management, the branding team, the pres, everyone should be paying attention to this kind of stuff. But I’ve never seen any evidence that they do.

        • that effing Canis again says:

          I would think we should care more about getting top high school students from around the state, than from Local Eugene.

          • honest Uncle Bernie says:

            Of course, I agree, but the article that the letter writer wrote about was about Eugene, as far as I can tell. And it IS embarrassing if OSU beats us in our own back yard, imo.

          • dog says:

            well they beat us 2 to 1 in federal funding now so …

  5. that effing Canis again says:

    short response as I have posted ad nauseam on this before:

    The UO, and all other Universities, need to move towards an interdisciplinary collaborative set of curriculum activities and courses and reduce butt in seat time and enhance experiential learning.

    Yes, easier said than done. Yes requires better infrastructure. Yes requires rethinking teaching and learning. Yes, requires moving away from departmental thinking and focus – these all the reasons this is not happening at the UO (and most other places). But it will happen, and those institutions will do well.

    Here is one example of the kind of meaningful interdisciplinary career building programs being developed. (still in development)

    In terms of merging computer science with hard science – this is what the emerging field of “data science” is all about. This is a good direction to go.

    • thedude says:

      And with economics and statistics.

      There are degrees in sympbolics at Stanford that cater to students who want in essence a big data degree.

    • Patrick Phillips says:

      The big Canine and I are known to agree on such things, but it is so obvious that this is what we need to be doing that the fact we are not deep into implementation at this point is one of the deep costs of extensive turnover in the upper administration. This is not something that individual faculty can do on their own — even if they happened to have met nearly weekly for nearly two years to develop a plan.

  6. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Maybe to post elsewhere: a NYT article on the Wisconsin tenure and governance controversy:

    It is less than a cataclysmic change — tenure policy up to the regents, not enshrined in state law (in which Wisconsin is claimed to have been unique) — but still worth noting.