Mea culpa and branding UM

by Pete Talbot

Eating crow

First, an apology to our readers for a factual error.  We wrote that GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Miller was going to announce Billie Orr, from Bozeman, as his running mate.  It turns out that the PSC’s Bill Gallagher got the nod.

We got the Orr info from a reliable source.  The tip was originally emailed to jhwygirl but it bounced back because of an old address. It was then forwarded to me.  I passed it back to j-gal because: 1) I’m super busy right now and 2) I’m not really that interested in who the far right is recruiting for lieutenant governor.  But I figured the tip was worth a mention.

Now in real journalism, at least one more source should have confirmed this, and calls to both Miller and Orr would be made, to confirm or deny.  But hey, this isn’t the New York Times.  It isn’t even the Missoulian.  It’s a blog.  The contributors here all have real lives and do this in their spare time, with no remuneration.

But apologies are still due to jhwygirl for me passing the buck to her, to Pogie for giving him an erroneous tip, and to our readers.

Some interesting asides, though.  One is that I learned a little something about Ms. Orr — an education activist and tea party member.  Now that’s an oxymoron.  Also, the Miller campaign is doing some strange things — campaign insiders are either being very clever or haven’t a clue as to what’s going on.  I suspect the latter.  Finally, the PSC’s Gallagher is a right-wing ideologue who poorly represents Montana on the commission.  We can only hope he resigns to spend more time on the governor’s race but fat chance of that.  The PSC paycheck is just too good.

UM makeover

So the University of Montana is giving $160,000 to a Pittsburgh consulting firm to “rebrand” the school’s image.

From the Missoulian story:

“Tree-hugger school.”

That’s what a Missoula gas station attendant called the University of Montana when a Mind Over Media team member casually asked whether he knew anything about the university.

The university is redoing its image based on what a gas station attendant says.  It should be ashamed of its nationally recognized environmental studies program, its touring Montana Repertory Theatre, its creative writing program, its journalism, pharmacy, law, education, forestry and music schools …

Yo.  It’s a liberal arts college.  If someone wants to learn about mining, they go to Butte’s School of Mines (now known as Montana Tech).  Engineering or agriculture?  Go to MSU (also known as Moo U, but I don’t see them “rebranding”).  Another excerpt:

UM is still defined in some ways by the political rhetoric expressed in the 1960s. That, in addition to its liberal arts curriculum, has earned UM names over the years such as “The People’s Republic” and the “Dancing Academy.” It shows how slowly perceptions change, said Chris Comer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Your campaign is going to have to be awesome,” he said.

Again, the university should shy away from its artistic, political and environmental activism.  That sure would be “awesome.”

Here’s a PR suggestion: take that $160K and put it toward faculty and staff raises, or a break on tuition, and be proud of what you are, UM.  I am.  That’s what I call “branding.”

  1. ladybug

    This is a spoof, right? Sorry Missoulian, it’s not liberal, it’s neoliberal. Science kneels to the stump gods at Plum Creek University (w/stump logo in center of t-shirt). Almost any retired biology prof can verify the ugly details. Structural problems cannot be overcome with new paint and logos. Dennison is gone, leaving a legacy of cronyism and corporate corruption that bandaids can’t fix. When the philosophy dept., art and literature regain some former strength and respect, and football is dialed back to a healthier level, UM will probably shine again. That would be a great thing to to behold.

    • JC

      Um, I remember a quite fun and humorous marketing campaign back in the late 80’s when a bunch of enterprising evst students took their advertising expertise to the parking lot of the Forester’s Ball, and rebranded the bumpers of hundreds of cars.

      Who would have known that bumper stickers could have such an effect on people’s attitudes, cross-campus. And it only took half a c-note investment to collect this information.

      One of my favs: “UofM, Home of the Forester’s Bawl”

  2. Chuck

    Weird. I though the school had a marketing program, a journalism school , media production staff and equipment plus a host of administrators that would be capable of developing and executing simple branding campaign.

  3. Chuck

    This is off topic but I hope you will write something regarding the SGK foundation and Planned Parenthood. I am a big supporter of PP. Here is a link to sponsors of the Susan G Komen foundation in Montana. I had dinner last Friday with the CEO of one of their largest sponsors. I am calling him this morning to ask that he rescind their contribution to the SGK foundation.

  4. I have a better idea, Pete. Take that $160K and use it to reduce student costs plus a couple more $million from reducing the pathetic admin/teacher ratio that plagues higher education.

    And although the U of M is a liberal arts college in the classical meaning of the word “liberal” I see know need for it to be understood as a liberal liberal arts college. In fact the political bias of the econ department alone should disqualify the U of M as actually being called classically liberal insofar as curriculum is narrow and parochial. That goes for the law school as well.

    • Drill Baby Drill

      The money should be returned to the tax payers or used to reduce tuition, not enrich professors who already make well above the average state salary.

    • Pete Talbot

      The Bureau of Business and Economic Research, within UM’s business school, easily counters the so-called political bias of the economics department, Dave.

      As for the law school, it’s pretty mainstream, now that radical Professor Rob Natelson has left the fold to be a mouthpiece for a libertarian think tank.

      And what’s wrong with being a “liberal” liberal arts school? Don’t like the curriculum? Don’t send your kid there. There’s always MSU-Billings (formerly Billings Normal), Havre, Butte, Dillon, FVCC, Rocky, Caroll …

      • Matthew Koehler

        Pete, Thanks for pointing out UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research in regards to claim of supposed bias within the entire econ department.

      • The Bureau is a waste of resources whose work is nearly useless. It’s bullshit and the reason I give the B School that I refuse to donate to them (I’m an alum.) But, I have to ask, why is the B School compelled to have its own economic presence? It may be an answer to bias on the part of the econ department (but that’s not what I said above and maybe you should think a bit more about me labeling them “narrow and parochial”) It should be abolished and the econ dept should do whatever economic research is to be done.

        You have me wrong, Pete. I have a double minor in English Lit and Music comp. I’m a huge supporter of the arts and a believer that the problem with higher education is not too much humanities but, rather, too little. But what is in fact a flaw is the view of humanities’ schools is that a “liberal” bent in the humanities academy is correct in its outlook by it purveyors. The lack of breadth from which real and rigorous debate can be formed is almost non-existent. We end up with an educated class that is both closed minded and uninformed writ large.

        Now, I don’t hesitate for a minute to send my kids to the U of M. But as they are fed Nietzsche I make sure I feed them Hume and Kierkegaard. When they get fed Keynes I make sure they read Hayek and Friedman. There is more at the U of M than any one can fully absorb. The problem is one of balance. We do a disservice to students by not teaching them that difficult ideas always have rational and reasonable counter arguments. And we are all poorer for it.

    • sweet lew

      The law school is ‘politically biased’? Based on what Budge, your conversations with Bobbie? Get real.

      • Actually I’ve never had more than a two minute conversation with Rob. What my comment is based on is conversations with an number of graduates over the years on concerning broad topiics such as federalism, constitutional law, the impact and use of stare decisis at both state and federal levels, and a host of civil rights issues.

        It’s obvious that my libertarian leanings run contrary to much of what is thought to be “settled law” and there are many things that I disagree with Rob on.

        What you see depends on where you sit. That’s what I see (besides the fact that you come off as someone who doesn’t know me.)

  5. Who is in charge of spending the university’s money wisely? A drunken sailor with a wooden brain? And what’s wrong with Tree Hugger U? Do the powers that fret think the sobriquet should be Tree Chopper U?

    I know that given recent events Fanny Pinch U (that can be turned around, if you like) might be more appropriate since it’s not tree’s that are being hugged, but that might lack sufficient dignity for such an upstanding institution.

    So, I’m stumped. All I can recommend is sobering up, getting back the $160,000, learning to live with the name “University of Montana,” and not letting gas station attendants exercising free speech send university administrators screaming to Pittsburgh for help.

    • Pete Talbot

      Well said, James. It should also be noted that enrollment has increased every semester for many years, that I can recall. So the U must still have some sort of a draw.

      • Party school. That’s how I knew it.

        Fact – I dated a guy who came out here with his parent as a senior in high school and it was such a party school (in his mother’s eyes) that it was never more than a short week.

  6. Mark Miwertz

    My take on the whole university “rebranding” thing; a room full of academics, freely circle jerking.

  7. the U chased chuck jonkel off campus twenty years ago to please big bucks.corporate contributors like plum creek and champion. the rebranding has nothing to do with attracting more students. the U could care less about the cattle in the pens they have to herd through school. it is to chase big donors who hate environmentalists.

  8. Steve W

    The U of Montana has succeeded in uniting the right and the left against the idiotic.

    That’s no small feat.

  9. Rob Kailey

    Honestly, a little rebranding of UM might be a healthy thing right now, and well worth the money in the long run. For pretty much the first time in history, the U is being viewed borderline unfavorably when compared to MSU. In part, that’s because MSU already has rebranded itself, beginning under Gamble and aggressively being continued under Cruzado. MSU is no longer Moo-U, but rather one of the preeminent research universities in the Northwest. That didn’t happen by chance, and it wasn’t cheap.

    The results of MSU’s efforts have been fairly dramatic. Going back about 6 years, more graduating Montana high school students were attending UofM than coming to MSU. Being many years behind the times, the Board of Regents shifted $3 million of the state University budget from the MSU group to the UM group last budgetary cycle. The thing is, that trend shifted years ago, when more graduating in-state students enrolled at MSU. That’s how it’s been for 3 years now, and it isn’t slowing down. Since .the number of Montana high school graduates is hitting a low point, the competition for those students is severe, and MSU is winning.

    Both universities have ‘benefited’ from the down economy. UofM more so than MSU, since their enrollment numbers include the off campus College of Technology (formerly the Missoula vo-tech). and also due to shifting state demographics. Unless the U can sell the idea of vocational training as a viable alternative to the traditional college education, (to both potential students and employers) they simply can’t rely on past growth to support future growth. That’s gonna take some marketing and rebranding, especially for a supposed Liberal Arts school. MSU has been aggressively marketing itself in the traditional 4 year degree market and has seen a large influx of out-of-state students, many from the east coast. ‘Moo-U’ is looking at .a potential 16,000 main campus students in as little as 5 years. Their graduate programs are swelling, and with a large donation for a new school of business, there is the potential for MSU to offer graduate degrees in that discipline (other than accounting which is already a staple of MSU.)

    $160,000 sounds like a lot of money, ’cause to most of us, it is. Compare that to the $3,000,000 (or more) in state funding that the U of M stands to lose in competition for resource with MSU, and it isn’t that much at all.

    • petetalbot

      Granted, Rob, UM has an image problem these days but it’s mostly due to rape and assault issues, and some other criminal activities associated with the football team. I remember the Bobcats having some serious PR issues during Coach Kramer’s reign. Seems like those are in the past, though.

      Anyway, some clarification is in order:

      1) I’m not opposed to UM polishing its image but not because some rednecks and inbred legislators think the school is riddled with hippies and commies. I’m proud of the universities artistic, political and environmental activism, which leads to …

      2) The universities in Eugene, Madison, Berkeley, Boulder, etc. — have they done much rebranding? They get a bad rap all the time but still seem to thrive. What UM needs to do is recruit top-flight faculty, promote high academic standards and advance state-of-the-art facilities, just like the above-mentioned universities do.

      3) You mention that MSU has been in the process of rebranding itself. Did it hire an out-of-state consulting firm for this task? You say that Gamble and Cruzado worked hard on this image. Great. I’m all for administrators and faculty doing PR. But a Pittsburgh firm? Again, from the Missoulian story:

      “Tree-hugger school.”
      That’s what a Missoula gas station attendant called the University of Montana when a Mind Over Media team member casually asked whether he knew anything about the university.
      “I was not expecting that,” said Cecil Foster, a partner at the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm hired by UM to help rebrand the university. “As a researcher, I want to know why they call it a tree-hugger school. That’s probably not what President (Royce) Engstrom wants his brand to be.”

      The consultant was not expecting that. That’s because he’s from freakin’ Pittsburgh. Hire someone from Montana who knows what’s going on, will do as good, or even a better job, and for less money — if you really feel the university needs “rebranding,” which I don’t. But I could live with a Montana firm.

      • Rob Kailey

        In truth, I’m convinced that the U of M is facing an identity crisis, not a momentary tarnish on it’s excellent athletic tradition. Yes, that is just my opinion, but I’d like to think that it is something of an informed one. I listen to a ‘state of the Universities’ report every month from a member of the Admin. I have attended both Universities, U of M most recent. Then, MSU was all about the ‘paying for your future job’, and UofM didn’t seem to know what the hell it was, save National Champions in football, baby! And, because it supports my job, I follow the trends, the politics and the money.

        There are those who apparently think that I was ‘bragging up’ MSU. Not at all. It’s just that they’re doing things correctly right now, for the benefit of the state, Bozeman and their students. The U of M has a relatively new President who inherited Dennison’s weak leadership and pandering. Picking a direction and moving that way is a tough job for a new President. Branding itself is not a bad thing for the U. Yes, it costs money. But branding, as a base form for marketing, can go a long way to moving an organization away from bad memories. That’s what MSU has done. UofM could do it too.

        (That’s actually why they fired Coach Kramer. He was a smear on the brand ‘MSU’. It cost MSU $240,000, but still say that’s money well spent.)

        It also seems that I was misunderstood in that state money is not what the Universities compete for. They compete for in-state students, because the the money follows the students. It’s not vice versa. State funds are only a part of University budget. Tuitions drive the budget cycle, and that means getting students. The students follow what they overwhelmingly see as the best use of their time and money. Marketing tells them that MSU has a clear identity, a record of job placement and research assistance. My only point in commenting here is that U of M’s marketing says little but that it’s close, forward looking and has a good football team. That’s not really going to cut it when most students want to get something for the mammoth amounts of money they are spending. The people who pay into those ‘state funds’ kinda have the same feeling. MSU has offered people an answer to their questions. That’s what they’re doing right. U of M has to choose a path, and I really hope they do. The U could do worse than follow the model of MSU.

        • Mark Miwertz

          Good post with good insights. UM has a reputation as a party school, with loose rules, and low graduation rates. They do need to change that.

          Rob also expresses a lot of what any rational Montanan wants, and that is our desire to have pride in the entire university system.

          I just think that 160k goes a lot further if we put it into rethinking the whole university system and finding a way to put more kids and returning learners into post secondary education, while giving up our old rivalries and the stupid idea that education spending is welfare or pork.

  10. JC

    I’m going to channel big ingy here. Maybe Tree-Hugger-U shoulda hired this cute 5-year old to do their branding study.

    Oh, and as far as I’m concerned, Hippy-U can let Moo-U suck up all the funding from the state that it wants. Universities using taxpayer dollars to compete against each other is about as yucky as corporations using monies from government contracts funding candidate campaigns and paying lobbyists to fight for more money.

    And as to Moo-U’s “rebranding campaign”, it has been about as effective on western Montana’s impression of it as a landgrant ag college as UM’s rebranding campaign will have on eastern Montana’s impression of Missoula as anything but Hippy-U.

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