So, I recently wrote on Chicago is Our Campus about a film entitled Monsters University. No, I have not seen it. And no, I am not advocatng changing our name in order to coast on the publicity that the film is getting. What I wrote about there -- and am writing about here -- has to do with the ways the film markets itself, through the use of the web. Yes, Monsters University has a website. And, in this particular case, it has a fake dot edu site, which if you are not careful might fool you into applying. There are big holes in the site (e.g., around federally required financial aid data, and related legalities). And yet, there is a lot there that seems pretty darn familiar if you spend your time looking at college and university websites. Here is the site. (If you look at the url you will see that it is really a dot com rather than a dot edu.)
The rash of writing about the site, combined with Shimer's current work (thanks to Isabella and others) on our new website, has made me stop some and reflect. In what ways are we submitting to market pressure -- not unlike the capitalist pressures associated with the film industry and the way such entertainment shapes us -- by both having a website and trying to have one that stands out, that is quirky and dandy and Shimer-ish? Of course, our challenge is to pick our battles -- and survive and thrive - in order to ensure that the educational mission we believe in is accomplished (which means reaching the right students in the right ways). And yet, is there more to this than meets the eye? Does our Shimerian critical thinking require us to worry just a tiny little bit about all of this? All this makes us ask what we do and do not include, how our visuals conform to expectations and challenge them, and what it means to recognize that to succeed colleges and universities must "market" themselves.
I did not understand this when I was the "consumer" -- entering college or even graduate school. In fact, I did not know this when I got my first jobs in higher education. (A different sort of market for us?). I recognize it now. And, on occasion, I think about how my belief in liberal education is related to all this. And, how my urge to see education as a public good, and as a challenge to the status quo is related to this.
Do you wonder too?