When I read about the presentation Mark Neustadt of Neustadt Creative Marketing gave and the changes he advocated as part of a rebranding process undertaken by Pomona College, I didn’t disagree with the need to rebrand so much as the focus on external perceptions. Any institution that offers services in any market needs to analyze how it presents itself to clients, but I can’t help but see this rebranding process as furthering the commodification of higher education.
One of my concerns about being brand-conscious has been stated already in other Opinions pieces, specifically that Pomona already has earned itself a clear spot as one of the top higher education institutions in America. Despite Neustadt’s insistence that one of the main purposes of a rebranding process is to change the culture within the institution, I still read his approach as emphasizing the future in the wrong way.
Neustadt proposes that changing the perceptions people have when they first come to Pomona would produce more successful students who become happy alumni, who we can’t deny are important to the college’s functioning. While he doesn’t necessarily define success as having an impressive professional life after college, his recommendations seem to go hand in hand with a move the college is making to address the escalating squeamishness that has come to surround a liberal arts degree in our career-driven society. One example of this is the institution of meetings for first-years with the Career Development Office (CDO). Of course taking steps to ensure professional success after college is certainly important, but I perceive this all as a general shift away from unadulterated scholarship.
Pomona cannot allow itself to be distracted from the academic achievement occurring here, such as the 15 Fulbright Fellowships offered in 2012 or the fact that the percentage of Pomona graduates accepted into medical school is twice the national average. I still think a focus on the future is important, but our mission statement already captures the school’s goal of creating alumni who will contribute to the world with their knowledge and passion, not because they visited the CDO as first-years.
Neustadt’s presentation was valuable not because he pointed out how we need to change who we are, but because it revealed the discrepancy between who we are and how we present ourselves. It is a dangerous game to tell most students at Pomona that they are not driven. Neustadt got it wrong. Instead of changing the culture here, Pomona just needs to present itself as it is, as Michael Maltese PO ’14 put forth so eloquently last week. If there are still qualms regarding the difficulties of having a liberal arts degree, then maybe Pomona needs to have a little more faith in the benefits of having a liberal arts degree that it puts forth all the time, such as how it gives us important communication skills and holistic approaches to problem solving. The rebranding process needs to be framed as an attempt to adhere more closely to our values and achievements, not as a result of the fears of being a liberal arts institution in Southern California.