This College Class Brought to You By.....Hunter College Bows to the Buck?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 08:20 PM

I've been thinking of late that we might have hit bottom as a culture, a country, and a concept. I should know better, and who better to teach me once again that you can always go lower than a nice respected institution of higher learning like Hunter College.

According to the March 3 issue of Inside Higher Education (emphasis added):
At Hunter College of the City University of New York...a Faculty Senate committee is considering a formal complaint about violations of academic freedom - over a course sponsored last year by the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (known as the IACC), an organization of companies that are concerned about low-cost knockoffs of their products. The companies involved include some of the biggest names in fashion and consumer goods - Abercrombie & Fitch, Chanel, Coach, Harley-Davidson, Levi Strauss, Reebok and so forth.

According to the complaints filed with the Faculty Senate, Hunter agreed to let the IACC sponsor a course for which students would create a campaign against counterfeiting in which they would create a fake Web site to tell the story of a fictional student experiencing trauma because of fake consumer goods. One goal of the effort was to mislead students not in the course into thinking that they were reading about someone real. So-called “guerrilla marketing” - in which consumers are unaware that they are being marketed - is the subject of some controversy in the marketing and public relations world. But even among advocates for the tactic, there are some who are disturbed about what happened at Hunter.

Some question why a for-credit college class at a public university should be doing, in effect, discount marketing work for an industry group. Some wonder about a college using some students to fool other students. Others are concerned about the circumstances of the course itself. It was created without any curricular review. The professor who taught it says that he was pressured to do so even though he has no expertise in advertising or public relations (he teaches computer graphics) and had ethical qualms about the course.

Further, the professor - and other professors who have investigated the circumstances of the course - maintain that the professor was required to teach only one side of the issue, had to accept industry officials watching him teach, and had little clout to fight back since he didn’t (and still doesn’t) have tenure.

The department chair - designated by Hunter as the only person to speak officially about the course - at first said that this was “a Hunter matter” and didn’t warrant outside attention. But he then said that everyone involved had free choice to participate or not, and that there were no academic freedom issues raised by the arrangement.He did acknowledge, however, that the department had already adopted at least one reform in the wake of the experience: Any other new “sponsored” courses will have to be reviewed by a curriculum committee before they can be taught.

Yes, I can see why the department chair thinks the incident doesn't warrant "outside attention." That kind of attention is, after all, so damned inconvenient. First you get people who don't "understand" the concerns asking questions that have to be answered. Then you get even more "outsiders" examining the answers and pointing out illogic and self-serving claims. Then you get the people with the money ticked off at you, and the next thing you know you have to change the name of that planned new campus building to "Your Name Here."

This is atrocious, folks, just atrocious. For some blood/concrete money, you have a F'ing college allowing a corporate group to buy access to a classroom, from which it spreads a corporate fairy tale across campus with the unpaid help of the students taking the "class" designed by corporate shills. Outside of our current federal government, I can't think of anything less appropriate and less ethical being conducted out in the open for all to see.

I can hardly wait for out consumer product companies to latch onto this idea. Why not product placement in the classroom? Who's to say that when Romeo and Juliet sip their final poison that the poison wasn't simply added to a can of Coke or Pepsi? Surely Shakespeare won't object at this point. Final exams on the class can add to the college's take by promising the corporation to phrase questions to include product references: "In the Coca Cola scene, describe what Shakespeare was intimating with the line..."

Want to study history? Well we all know that history is one long blood bath broken up by periods of rest and recuperation. Surely we can add a few references to various medical institutions, medical products, even burial products to any discussion of any war, any where.

And surely we could save some faculty salary money, not to mention gaining some big corporate payments, by allowing the various corporate marketing departments to take over a few teaching jobs on campus. As the story at Hunter shows, we no longer care about faculty qualifications to teach corporate propaganda, so why not have a mid-level marketing guy from, say, Citicorp teach your kids about the glory of capitalism and the pure folly of taxing corporations to fund social programs?

In the online comments to the Hunter College story, there are a couple of responses from someone who either is or should be a paid corporate troll. And a couple of others indicating that hey, what's the big deal here.

Well, the big deal here, or at least one of several big deals here, is that this is supposed to be a teaching institution. Kids and their parents pay to go here. They do, and have a right to, expect that they will be taught as objectively as possible, and prepared to face a pretty harsh world. Part of that world's harshness is the fact that so many entities are out to mislead and propagandize you. Part of the college experience should be to learn that fact and gain the skills needed to combat those self-serving efforts by the business world.

I'd have more to say but I really feel like I need a Coke. My throat is dry from taking those incredibly effective Day Quill cold tablets that make me feel like I need to lay down on my Certa and grab a few winks. Tomorrow I have to go to a class where we'll be studying the Old Navy binomial equation.

Would someone please inform me when we hit the bottom?