Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Murdoch Qualms

Some times I forget exactly how pervasive the internet has become. Case in point: I've been contributing to a friends start up blog The HyperboleMachine, on it one of the contributers [a fellow murdoch student herself] had a bit of a rant about West Coat Blues and Roots in which she took both sunset events and Murodch to town for a few different reasons. You can read the post in question here. To Gerry's article you can see that I left a fairly scathing reply which focused exclusively on Murdoch and where I think it's been assing up. It went something like this...

Murdoch really really really need to stop trying to “capitalise on the new media opportunities” and “speaking to young adults on their level” and realise that they are a fucking university. I don’t want you on my god damn level, murdoch. I want you to be the shining beacon of everything I’m not, I want you to be the institution that chews me up and spits me out, if I’m lucky, with a degree that’s worth more than the paper it’s printed on. I want you to make me admire you, not suckle at the teat of whatever new ploy your young marketing staff has come up with this week.

If you want to capitalise on the “new media” I’ll let you in on a secret, you can’t make it work for you. The new media is us, it’s this, right now, what I’m doing here, what people are doing elsewhere. It’s said that markets are now conversations, and I’m under no illusion that a university is a market driven entity, but here’s the genius part about markets now being conversations, you can’t direct them. You can’t fool us, the new media, with gimmicks and shiny baubles. Sure, you might catch what vestigial features are left of the old school mentality, but the bright minds, the committed thinkers, the people you should be wanting to attract, all you are doing is leaving them with mud to throw, buckets and buckets of it.

Pick up your game, lead by example, stop pandering to the lowest common denominator. You are a higher education institution, start acting like it. *IF* you do, we the media, will start saying nice things about you again, but I won’t lie to you, it’s going to take a while

Now, the reason I started off by saying that the internet is pervasive is that a member of the marketing team at Murdoch, one of the same ones that chose me to be an endorsed blogger. The same ones who have given me cool free stuff like tickets to blues and roots. They emailed me because they had seen my comment on this other blog, one I have never linked to here, and asked me, very politely, if there was anything in particular I had issue with and that the team felt they were doing the best they could to give prospective students a window into uni life. So I thought I'd take an opportunity now to clear up what I meant in my criticisms.

My issue isn't with the marketing team at Murdoch, online or otherwise. In fact I have a fair amount of respect for them, both professionally [thanks to t.v. ad campaigns like the "I want to try" ad, which I can't find a video online of unfortunately] and individually [the online marketing team that I've had the most to do with actually seem to care about stable of bloggers and students they've got helping them out, something that is pretty hard to come by in the industry, believe you me]. No my issue with Murdoch is not with the marketing team, it is with the upper management directing them. For too long now Murdoch has become the last thing in the world is was ever envisioned being, a degree treadmill. This is especially hilarious as Murdoch isn't even a predominantly teaching university, it's a research uni, and of the two, research uni's make significantly less money.

Now, the upper management will go to the grave saying that it is for this reason that Murdoch, as an institution has had to make some of the hard decisions that it has over the last few years. I know this because I conducted an interview with one of the bigger mucky mucks about the executive's side of the story in last years pay dispute. He said that Murdoch is run extremely close to the line and that there is very little surplus money for things like paying teaching staff more. A very useful excuse to use when the financial operations of the uni are not transparent, meaning open for scrutiny. Now, I'm not an idiot, I am fully aware that a company should not reveal it's financial decision making process to it's stakeholders because stakeholders have NFI how to run a business. The only problem with this is that Murdoch is a Public University, and as such, not only does it in part belong to the staff and students who teach and attend it, it belongs to the community as well.

This is the crucial facet of the approach the Murdoch Executive has towards conducting itself which I feel is essentially flawed. Yes, Murdoch needs to be financially ship shape and able to support itself. This however does not mean maximizing profits and receiving the best return on your investment. Especially when part of that means selling false promises to prospective students. Your marketing campaigns are wonderful at invigorating people and stirring up their social motivations and desire to not be a part of the crowd, unfortunately I've studied here for three years and I am yet to see the innovative thinking and outside the box approaches that you sell.

At the end of this semester you will lose two of your best and brightest from the media department to Monash, a crushing loss for those of us in the media school. A friend of mine started uni as a mature age student this year and despite being a switched on self reliant young lass I have had to wade waist deep into the quagmire of bullshit that surrounds simple tasks like, enrolling, or, signing up for tutes, the administrative staff being unable to offer her the solutions to her problems because they were either over worked or had no real experience with the online systems. Murdoch has a policy of not allowing fliers or posters on columns of bush court or the poster pillar near the main car park [which funnily enough is called such because it's sole purpose in life is to act as a home for posters] which they claim it to keep the uni neat and nice looking... it's a university you morons, it's supposed to be covered in fliers. Couple this with the fact that students are not allowed to set up food vending stalls and tables outside of very strict guidelines for fear of unfair competition with the food hall, [us crazy students having the proclivity to partake in activities that provide services without generating profit] are just two of many examples of measures the executive has undertaken which, deliberately or not, leave the Murdoch student culture a malformed still-born year after year. The list of failing goes on and on, and while I would dearly enjoy being self indulgent and listing them all [it is a blog after all] I fear I'm already starting to lose your attention so I'll anchor all of these symptoms to the root disease.

Murdoch is being run as a entity with it's financial prospects as the huge and overwhelming priority, other benefits such as quality of education and staff conditions are externalities and considered as factors in an economic equation. I have an alternate view to propose, what if students, staff, and research where the combined goal, and financial sustainability merely a way to best maximize returns to that goal. As I said in my quoted comment from the other blog, markets are now conversations. We are reaching a point in social organization where anything BUT quality product [and your product in this case is a vibrant, healthy, and happy university] will get you nothing. You can still try and run the ship with the old school headspace, and that will most likely work right through to the end of your respective tenures, but what then? You will leave the next round of administrators with a university with no student life, dissatisfied and underpaid staff [if there are any good ones left at that point] and shitty research culture, and in this future, when a shiny media campaign has become irrelevant, how the fuck are you going to sell Murdoch to us then?

P.S. once more to the marketers at Murdoch, I really have no beef with you guys, you've always been super lovely to me, despite me being an arrogant douche bag, which is really rather nice of you. And like I said, I got the mad respect for you, having successfully polished a turd.

P.P.S. If you like what you've read here, quote it, link it, and spread it.