Focus groups aren’t just for political candidates, new flavors of cereal and detergent packaging choices anymore—they’re now for naming colleges.
Or, rather, universities.
Laureate Education Inc. employed focus groups—random people asked to express their perceptions, beliefs and attitudes—to assist it in determining the new name for the College of Santa Fe. The result is the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
Here are the problems to which SFUAD is apparently a solution:
• Lots of older alumni and the Christian Brothers (who founded CSF) despise the idea of an international for-profit education conglomerate man-handling their beloved institution (regardless of the institution’s need for some manhandling).
• Exchange students from Laureate’s other schools around the world will think they’re being sent back to secondary school— “college” commonly refers to a degree-granting institution only in the US and, weirdly, Ireland.
• The old name doesn’t reflect the school’s new focus on, apparently, art and design.
• Prospective students who search the internet for information on the College of Santa Fe will find—horror of horrors—unfavorable media reports about its recent troubles or, as some of us call it, the truth. The truth makes marketing tough, we’re told.
Fair points for the most part, although changing the name of CSF is not like changing the name of Harvard University—there’s no real loss of prestige. (Although, I bet if you hired a focus group to name a university in Cambridge, Mass., “Harvard” wouldn’t even make it past the first round.)
It is legitimately important for the Santa Fe school to have a name that appeals to an international student body, leaving aside that students who can’t juggle a few regional terminology differences probably don’t belong in college, much less “university.” “University” has never been as precious a term as many think, but it has had no weight whatsoever since the rise of the University of Phoenix. SFUAD does plan to offer graduate degrees in fine arts in order to proudly fly the “U,” and will likely expand its graduate offerings in the future.
The City of Santa Fe required Laureate to keep “Santa Fe” in the name of the school in perpetuity, and adding “art and design” makes it all pretty straightforward. No judgment call one way or the other, but the insistence on including “design” in the name lends a distinctly commercial feel that doesn’t obviously embrace the school’s existing foundation in fine art, writing, experimental music, Lasallian community engagement and malleable majors.
The Google justification is naïve on its face. A name change doesn’t fool the crowd-sourced wisdom of the internet. It also doesn’t matter much—it’s a new school with a new direction, and those are the merits on which it’s going to attract (or fail to attract) students. However, it’s a key argument in terms of Laureate’s lease with the city. The lease grants the ability to change the name only in the event that Laureate finds marketing of the school to be hampered by the College of Santa Fe name.
Santa Fe University of Art and Design is actually included in the lease as a possible name configuration. Laureate does not appear to have have formally submitted and justified a name change to the “governing body” as required by the lease, but that will probably be done as a formality between now and the fall term when the name change is scheduled to take effect.
What neither leases nor focus groups can tell us is how are we to pronounce the acronym? I mean, this is important for an art school. Is it sfoo-ad or is it sfwad? I intend to get to the bottom of it during an interview with new President John Gordon later this month. That is, if I’m allowed.
One change in school policy and practice that hasn’t been publicized is SFUAD’s “guidelines for journalists,” which read like boilerplate media standards borrowed from China.
For example: “All members of the news media interested in attending events, capturing images on campus or arranging interviews with students, faculty, or staff must first contact the communications office” for “permission, guidance, and escort requirements.”
Er, to attend an event? Escort requirements? The communications office, by the way, is located in Maryland.
It gets worse. Journalists, even when attending events that are open to the public, “must visibly display valid press credentials” and “we ask that members of the media request the right of our students, faculty, and staff not to be filmed, photographed, or audio taped without first getting their explicit, written permission.”
Mostly, it’s bullying language that is wholly separate from the laws of the State of New Mexico, not to mention to the US Constitution. There’s always the possibility it’s retaliatory language for SFR Staff Writer Corey Pein’s
of the CSF situation, but it’s pretty typical language for a large corporation to use. It’s not, however, the best media approach for an entity with an acknowledged public relations problem.
And that’s the real question in Santa Fe. Maybe the shift to SFUAD helps with marketing and maybe it doesn’t. But what will it do to make the new school an open and real participant in the community?
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