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The Point: For the Place!


Greetings, Colleagues:

First off, given the time of the year and the state of….everything, I just want to send warmest wishes for a healthy end of semester for you.

Second, I want to think out loud with you about the new “branding” campaign that we have heard so much about recently from our upper administration.  In the spirit of loyal opposition that energizes so much of the writing I have done as communications director of the FSU, I want simply to float a few questions about the new campaign.  I have pored over the marketing materials and want to start with one unqualified bit of praise: I unequivocally love how our students are centered in the second half of the promotional video and other adjacent visual materials.

I understand that these marketing materials are not aimed at, nor are they intended to capture the priorities of, faculty and librarians.  I remain mindful of what Cooper and Marx teach us in Media U: How the Need to Win Audiences Has Shaped Higher Ed—that for decades now university administrators have shifted from addressing a relatively unified “mass” audience to what they call a “manifold” audience.  But who is being targeted by “For the times”? And how?  As I will discuss, I worry about the emphasis on time over space and wonder if it augurs (among other things) additional investments in the virtual over the real.

There are numerous grounds for concern with the rebranding.  The first—which is admittedly hard to get a bead on because of the lack of administrative transparency about it—is the bottom line.  We have heard that the campaign cost $1.5 million dollars but that the money was “repurposed” and hence budget neutral. I have no expertise in accounting or marketing but the price tag still this seems steep. (And I’m reminded about a wicked joke that a colleague at my previous job at Babson College told me about the difference between financial accounting and managerial accounting.) 

If this kind of money can be repurposed for a marketing campaign, just imagine how much could be repurposed to pay our graduate workers a livable wage. We will need to push for fuller accounting, that’s for sure—not only of the marketing campaign, but of various other recent outlays as well—especially the cost of the Boston law firm that has been hired to “audit” our Africana Studies department. For most campus employees, who will be receiving “raises” over the next few years that are actually pay cuts in real dollars, these budget decisions cannot help but resonate uncomfortably with what Larry Hanley and Vida Samiian have recently written about as one of “neoliberalism’s basic principles: austerity for most, prosperity for a few.”

More generally, I worry about what the rebranding attention is distracting our attention away from.  Some of our colleagues at Kingsborough Community College (part of the CUNY system) have created a brilliant slide show about Wavy the Bear, their campus “brand ambassador.”  I know we are all too busy already, but if you have time to read one extra thing this week I beseech you to choose this: the tone is lightly parodic, but the stakes are as serious as can be. 

Our Bobby the Beacon has not been deployed as promiscuously as Wavy, but this CUNY bear has so much to teach us about institutional performance of virtue, underfunded diversity efforts, and infrastructural neglect. Here at UMB we seem to be just a step or two behind CUNY, where community members are already being instructed in how to deploy the new brand: “Brand voice is how we behave as a university. It will be reflected in all we do, the words we write, the images we choose, and how we present ourselves across all of our many communications channels.”

I also worry about the slogan: “For the Times.”  I feel like I do have some expertise here as a historian with particular interest in cultural geography. To begin, the vagueness of “for the times,” anodyne as it first seems, strikes me as a hand-in-glove partner to that phrase we work so hard to get students not to use—“back in the day.”  Here the imprecision strikes me as purposeful—Eli Meyerhoff explains, in Beyond Education, that academic versions of crisis capitalism often present “time” as “abstracted from space.” 

There is something dis- or un-placed about our new slogan isn’t there?  While the promotional video has a quick image or two of the harbor, and some classrooms and labs, the dominant visual images come from our one dormitory, which could be anywhere. There is literally no hint that our university remains largely a commuter school. There is also little evidence that we are in Dorchester. 

But we must insist on our emplacement. We do our work not in some unmoored “times” but in the thrilling and messy realities of an actual place. Our properly-touted status as the “diversity flagship” of the UMass system is inextricably tied to our situatedness.  Effacing this reality threatens the urban mission that is foundational to the entire project of our university.  A slogan is just a slogan, but as dedicated teachers, librarians, scholars, and citizens, we will have to insist that we are here not only for the times, but also for the place!

This is your union! Please let us know at how you think we should engage with our actual campus and the surrounding community.


Jeffrey Melnick (

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage