The Chronicle of Higher Education recently noted that “over the years, colleges have employed a number of tactics to create the appearance of a more diverse student body than the one the institution actually has” (July 5th online).
True enough, but this phenomenon is simply the tip of the misrepresentation iceberg in higher education marketing. Here are five examples from just the past few months:
— A jury in Lewiston, Maine found Bates College guilty of placing photographs on its website that gave the impression the campus had more chipmunks than it truly had. A Marketing staff member broke down on the witness stand during the trial, admitting that she had conspired with a local rodent trafficker to release over 500 Eastern chipmunks on the Bates quad an hour before a PR photography shoot was to take place.
“College students love chipmunks,” the staff member observed. “We hoped the critters would stay at Bates, but by nightfall virtually all of them had migrated to Bowdoin or Colby. What we did was wrong. I understand that now. We should never have used those photos.”
— At Rice University, images of male Math professors were Photoshopped to remove pocket protectors and lengthen pants so that the cuffs were no longer 2 or 3 inches above the ankle. “We just wanted our faculty to look like normal people,” said the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Where’s the harm in that?”
— Website photographs of New York University showed students sitting on lush, green lawns, conversing amiably, when the reality is, there are no lawns, lush or otherwise, on NYU’s urban campus. When NYU students sit outside and talk, they typically do so in the middle of the street or atop a dumpster.
— Photos depicting the Registrar’s Office at Northwestern University show smiling staff members serving smiling students. Surveillance videos from that office reveal that it has been 12 years since one of its staffers smiled. That individual turned out to be mentally ill; she thought she was a Southwest Airlines flight attendant.
— 93% of all outdoor photos on the University of Washington at Seattle website show blue, cloudless skies with bright sunshine. When presented with National Weather Service data documenting the dominance of overcast, drizzly days on campus during most of the academic year, a school official claimed that the website photos “are meant to represent the cheerful, optimistic outlook of the U of W community, rather than a weather report. Now get out of my office, you cockroach!”
Coming next week: How tanned are all those undergraduates at the University of Miami?