August 6, 2004

iPods and Cigarettes

I started this as a response to the post on Palms about Duke's gifting of iPods to students... but it got so long that I figured I'd include it here and see if the "trackback" feature is working correctly.

I can't agree more with Tanya's concern over the mixed messages that universities send to students when they shower them with "gifts" upon the students' arrival.

Based on my experiences with fundraising at the university-level, I'd assume that the "iPods" were probably an "in kind" gift that increases the amount of money on the books that the school has raised for that academic year. Gifts in kind can be recorded as dollars... making it advantageous for the company who can both write it off as a tax break and use it as free advertising. The university benefits because the more donations they receive the more money they can raise. One of the oldest adages in fundraising is that it "takes money to make money." (We all know this to be true with the Bush campaign.) People like to give money to causes they know other people have already considered worthy of given money.

On another note, I have to agree with the fact that universities are turning into "higher entertainment centers." It is, of course, related to population dips that lead to the need for more aggressive recruitment; however, it sets students up for false expectations. I realized this while teaching an honors course one year. Admissions programs are charged with the near-impossible task of making sure that recruitment each year far exceeds recruitment from the previous year. In actuality, this simply isn't realistic, but it is the expectation we have of a "competitive" school. Each year we expect to have better recruitment with higher standardized test scores, lower acceptance rates, and higher yield. So, what do admissions offices resort to? Bribery, basically. The most highly desired students are treated like little geniuses. Admissions offices promise them unfettered access to faculty, the very best in facilities, even special "better" dorm rooms without roommates and with special plush carpet. So, my guess is that the "gift giving" is like corporate "customer appreciation" days.

The real shocker comes, though, after the first paper (at least that's what I see). Little Suzie and Precious Bobby get their first F on a paper (one conceived in the shower the morning after a 2 AM kegger) that was written in 3 hours before the deadline, and the jolt is unnerving. Here, for the first time, the student isn't being catered to... it's time to actually work. The shift is so entirely antithetical to the way they've been treated, so who wouldn't be shocked!

Anyway, I believe that these things: gifting, fund-raising, recruiting, and increasing failure on first assignments (as well as dissatisfaction with teachers who "expect too much") are all part of a large domino effect that begins with something as innocent as a "free lunch."

Posted by c_jane at August 6, 2004 9:51 AM | TrackBack

I really identified with what you've said in this piece. Good entry. The "university as corporation" is a problem everywhere.

Posted by: Mike Arnzen at August 8, 2004 11:10 AM |

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