Professors Marketing Programs

The article “Dying on Our Swords” (IHE, 11 December 2013) presents a problem that has long concerned me. That is, adding marketing responsibilities to professors as enrollments decline. The article addresses the debate on whether faculty should engage in marketing to help their academic programs survive (which can appear self-serving), or whether marketing professionals should take on that responsibility with university leadership allocating appropriate funds to support marketing activities (which can be very expensive).

My view is that faculty should remain focused on their traditional duties of teaching, research, and service to the university and their profession. Why? Because teachers perform the value-creating function that students, payers, and others want. Marketing work should be performed by non-value-adding overhead function administrative personnel. Also, just because professors create the “product” does not mean they know how to sell it. In fact, most professors, untrained in marketing, will probably be pretty bad at marketing their academic programs. It makes far more sense to teach professors on how to improve academic processes than to train them in marketing.

Imagine a car company that experienced a significant decline in sales. Would top leaders task the people who create value – workers in the machine shop, fabrication shops, paint shop, and assembly lines – to spend 10 or 20 percent of their time marketing automobiles to prospective customers? No they would not. The auto company would instead task factory workers to improve processes (to improve quality, reduce costs, and improve productivity); designers to design more appealing cars; marketing people to work with advertising suppliers to create more appealing advertisements; engineering and purchasing to work with component suppliers to improve automotive technology; offer incentives to buyers; etc.

Faculty who accept marketing responsibilities will surely spend less time on teaching, research, and service to the university and their profession. At evaluation time, they will likely be criticized by management for teaching problems, lower research productivity, etc., If faculty were to market their academic programs, then evaluation criteria must change so that time-consuming marketing work counts towards service to the university.

But, doing this would, in my view, be a mistake, even though faculty could learn a lot by directly interacting with prospective students, payers, and others. Though, in a well-functioning university, that information would be conveyed to faculty by marketing people. And it should be conveyed unfiltered. (Note: I have never received such information from my university’s marketing people).

If faculty do their traditional duties well, then they give the marketing people a cornucopia of great stuff to market. (Note: My university does this poorly). So the question becomes, why would university leaders ask faculty to market their academic programs, and, as a result, reduce the amount of high-quality material that the university could use to market academic programs to prospective students and payers? That would be a dumb thing to do. Again, It makes more sense to teach professors on how to improve academic processes.

I have personally been in a situation where faculty were asked to spend 4 to 8 hours per week to market academic programs to regional businesses due to large declines in enrollments (caused by substantial tuition price increases). I left that university in 2005 because I knew that I would not be able to pursue my twin visions for teaching and research if I spent those hours marketing. There is no doubt that I made the right decision. Too bad my university does not know how to market the resultant innovative teaching pedagogy and wonderful research produced across three different disciplines.

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