Branded a Cortland

Cortland is in the midst of rebranding. As was shared with the faculty this morning, one of the heuristics to develop this brand is to articulate a “promise,” or what might be better termed a sense of identity, that works out of the following Mad Libs-esque formula:

Cortland is a [some kind of place] where [adjective/descriptive phrase] students come to [an action].

No doubt there are numerous opportunities for humor here, but I’ll refrain. The obvious answer, and one I think provides little insight, is to say that Cortland is a “college” where “curious, studious, intellectual, hard-working, eager, and so on” students come to “LEARN” (duh!). But then, that’s what you might say about any college. BTW, part of this is to recognize that college as it is and part of it is to envision it as it might become.

So maybe you say something like Cortland is a “public, comprehensive” college where “working class and middle class” students come to “find a way into a professional career” or “mature into productive citizens of American democracy” (if that hits your ideological spot better). Either way that gives you a better notion of the particular sector of academia Cortland serves.

Maybe that opens up a marketing angle, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly sexy.

OK, before I any further, I should interject that I agree this is not particularly sophisticated. I’m sure the marketers have other things going on; I’m also sure the philosophical-ideological foundations of their work is typical. They wouldn’t know what to do with a statement like “Cortland is an assemblage of events where not-students come to depart.” That is, I would be inclined to resist defining Cortland as a molar-izing location or hailing our students or commodifying their experiences.

Of course I’m not a marketer, and when it comes down to it, I don’t have any objection to the College developing a strategy that strengthens the institution by, let’s face it, bringing in better-qualified students, staff, and faculty… but since this is an enrollment initiative, the emphasis is clearly on the first category.

My serious take is this. Cortland can tend to struggle with its notion of being average: an average state college teaching the average state high school student. This is a problem (though not an unusual one for academic institutions–most, obviously, are “average”) in a higher education discourse that emphasizes “excellence.” We tend to protest our averageness with various heroic narratives that say “we really aren’t average; we’re special” or “we might start off average but we can soar if we …” Of course we aren’t average, b/c average is a simulacrum. But we aren’t excellent or special either; those are also simulacra.

I may be wrong, but I think the “better” student who would decide to come to Cortland would be one who rejects that “high-brow” affects stereotypically attached to more elite schools as well as the anonymity of bigger universities. I don’t want to say to them, come to (our) college, enter the intellectual life, and become “special.” I want to say, come to our college and see how the “life of the mind” is ordinary. Maybe that doesn’t sound too sexy, either, but I think there’s a kind of coolness potentially associated with saying that becoming educated doesn’t mean you have to start speaking with a different accent or change your taste in music.

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