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Dozens Protest Methane Gas Storage Project on Seneca Lake

I Cite - 40 min 32 sec ago
This proposed project has faced unparalleled public opposition due to unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, possible salinization of the lake and public health concerns. Even though Capital New York investigation revealed this month that Gov. Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) excised references to the risks of underground gas storage from a 2011 federal report on methane contamination of drinking water and has allowed key data to remain hidden, Crestwood still received federal approval to move forward with the construction of this methane gas storage project. “Crestwood is threatening our water, our local economy and our families,” said Doug Couchon of Elmira, another resident participating in today’s blockade. “We’ve tried everything to stop this disastrous project, and now peaceful civil disobedience is our last resort.” Protestors are outraged that Crestwood was given approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to store two billion cubic feet of methane (natural gas) in the caverns along the western shore of Seneca Lake where the New York State DEC temporarily halted plans to stockpile propane and butane (LPG) due to ongoing concerns for safety, health and the environment. The project is opposed by more than 200 businesses, more than 60 wineries, 11 municipalities (including neighboring Watkins Glen) and thousands and thousands of residents in the Finger Lakes region who are concerned about the threat it poses to human health, drinking water and the local economy, including the tourism industry. A recent report on the state’s grape and wine industry showed that it... Jodi
Categories: Individual Blogs

City Room: New York Today: Favorite New Haunt

Friday: Ghost tourism in Brooklyn, a cloudy day, and it’s Halloween.






Latest News: Jerusalem Protests, Eric Frein, Halloween

Here’s what you need to know to start your day.






Seven Wonders of the Modern World

News: Slate - 3 hours 22 min ago

When the weather is clear and all systems are go, as many as 3,100 flights can take off and land each day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the busiest airport in the world. In recent years, the airport has expanded its flight capacity slightly, but not by increasing the number of runways. Watch the planes take off, and you might see a more subtle innovation.

Categories: News

Burkina Faso Leader Counters Calls for Resignation With Offer of Talks

In a statement, President Blaise Compaoré said he would not heed demonstrators’ demands, instead offering negotiations on “a transitional period.”

Taiwan President Backs Hong Kong Protesters While Courting Beijing

In an interview, President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan said he supported Hong Kong protesters’ democratic ideals, but would still pursue trade agreements with China.

Contested Holy Site in Jerusalem Reopens for Muslim Worship

Police officers were out in force and restricted access to the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, barring men under 50.






Hungary Suspends Internet Tax After Huge Protests

Hungary’s prime minister said the government would suspend a planned tax on Internet use and reconsider the matter next year.






Banking on Influence

News: Slate - 5 hours 22 min ago

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito wants West Virginians to know she’s a defender of community banks. From her seat on the House Financial Services Committee, Capito argues, she has protected small local financial institutions from the overreach of aggressive regulators.

Categories: News

Corrections

News: Slate - 5 hours 56 min ago

In an Oct. 30 Food, Cybele May misstated that candy corn has an orange base and a yellow middle. It is has a yellow base and an orange middle.

Categories: News

The Monkey’s Paw

News: Slate - 6 hours 52 min ago

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

Categories: News

Midterm Calculus: Early Voting Numbers Look Good for Democrats

More than 20 percent of the early votes tabulated in four crucial states have come from people who did not vote in the last midterm.






Brands of Nonsense

Crooked Timber - 8 hours 53 min ago

That’s the title of a piece of mine the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a little while ago. It’s paywalled but they have graciously given me permission to republish it here.

A little while ago, the University of Warwick was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Its longstanding legal firm, SGH Martineau, put up a blog post suggesting that universities should take action against “insubordinate” academics with “outspoken opinions.” The firm stressed the importance of making an example of offenders whose academic work was “brilliant,” lest other employees become tempted to emulate them.

Unfortunately for Warwick, this suggestion was made at precisely the time the university was seeking to remove an insubordinate professor, whose alleged offenses included “sighing” and “irony during job interviews”, though it appears his real offense was criticism of the British government’s higher-education policy.

The law firm’s post was couched in terms of the possibility of damage to the university’s “brand.” Universities have always been rightly concerned about their reputations. But the conversion in recent years to the language of branding has reached a fever pitch. Of course, in Warwick’s case, both the proposal to muzzle academics and the marketing-speak used to justify it did enough damage to offset, for some time, the efforts of its entire central-administration communications team, which employs almost 30 people, not to mention similar personnel in various schools and departments.

In Australia, Monash University proudly announced this year that it was the first organization in the world to acquire a “brand” top-level domain name—that is, an Internet address ending in “.monash” rather than the previous “monash.edu.au.” This trivial change cost $180,000, plus an annual fee of $25,000, and is part of the university’s expensively maintained “brand identity policy.”

In America, the University of Pennsylvania was an early adopter of this approach. In 2002 the Pennsylvania Gazette celebrated its centenary with a history titled “Building Penn’s Brand.” What might Penn’s most eminent sociologist, Erving Goffman (author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life), have made of this adoption of the language of image and “brand”?

Many American universities now have branding policies, and some affirm an unqualified commitment to the associated marketing ideology. The University of Florida, for example states on its website:

“The importance of having a clear, recognizable brand can never be overstated. It defines us, separates us and communicates our relevance and value. It is especially important in an environment as vast and decentralized as the University of Florida. Thousands of messages leave the university every day, and each represents an opportunity to enhance—or fragment—our image. By maintaining consistent standards, we capitalize on the enormous volume of communications we generate and we present an image to the world of a multifaceted, but unified, institution.”

That statement summarizes all the key points of the ideology of branding. First there is the emphasis on image without any reference to an underlying reality. Second there is the assumption that the university should be viewed as a corporate institution rather than as a community. Third there is the desire to subordinate the efforts of individual scholars in research, extension, and community engagement to the enhancement of the corporate image. And finally there is the emphasis on distinctiveness and separateness. The University of Florida does not want to seem part of a global community of higher education, but rather as a competitor in a crowded marketplace.

Before considering this process further, we need some context. The authority on the history of the corporation and of brands is Alfred D. Chandler, whose books Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise (MIT Press, 1962), The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Harvard University Press, 1977), and Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 1990) are the definitive studies of the rise of the managerial corporation.

Chandler emphasizes the emergence of packaged and branded goods. Until the late 19th century, products like foodstuffs were sold in bulk by wholesalers, then measured out by retailers to individual customers. At every stage there were opportunities to increase profits by passing off a cheaper alternative for the good being sold. Shopkeepers’ reputations were the primary warranty. In the increasingly urban and mobile environment of the late 19th century, reputation, never a fully effective seal of quality, became even less so.

Branded products provided a solution. Now it was possible for consumers to repeatedly buy the same brand of product at various stores. The brand was a guarantee of consistent quality, not because of the trustworthiness of the corporation (of which the buyers would typically know nothing), but because its value depended on consistency and quality.

Consistency was the more important of the two. A low-quality product, provided that it was consistently adequate and appropriately priced, could benefit just as much from a brand as a higher-quality, more expensive alternative could. Indeed, the wealthy were the last to embrace branded products, instead patronizing bespoke tailors and personal providers of food and other services long after the middle and working classes were used to doing their shopping at Macy’s and A&P.

The great marketing discovery of the 20th century, pioneered by the advertising titan J. Walter Thompson, was that brands could do much more than guarantee a consistent level of objective quality. With the right advertising, a brand could come to embody connotations of all kinds, unrelated to the qualities of the product to which it was attached. Femininity or masculinity, luxury or solid good sense, excitement or security—all of these and more are part of “image.”

A third form of brand value arises when there are strong forces for customer “loyalty,” amounting, in some cases, to “lock-in.” For example, anyone who wants to use computers of designs descended from the IBM PC has little choice but to buy Microsoft operating systems like Windows.

And now we come to what may be the most striking feature of branding in higher education. Universities are corporate bodies, but they predate commercial corporations by many centuries. Long before the advent of packaged and branded goods, universities were certifying the quality of their students through the awarding of degrees.

Many criticisms of corporate branding apply equally to university degrees, and much of the voluminous literature on “credentialism” could be translated into the language of branding. The aim of degrees is, after all, to certify quality in the sense that a student has completed a course of study and acquired the associated knowledge and reasoning skills. And, as with brands that involve monopoly power, many degrees gain value from the fact that they are required for entry to particular professions. On the other hand, and with notable exceptions like the M.B.A., there has been little consistent effort to promote “brand image” to potential employers. Like a 19th-century brand, the degree has, in large part, gained its value from graduates rather than vice versa.

The rise of corporate-style branding has gone hand in hand with the devaluation of degrees through grade inflation. Grades in the A range have become the norm at leading universities. Reports that Princeton might roll back attempts to cap the proportion of A’s at 35 percent cite administrators’ fears that the policy discourages potential applicants and students’ complaints that it hurts their chances of getting jobs, fellowships, or spots in graduate or professional schools.

The “brand value” or “brand equity” of a company can be estimated as the intangible capital, beyond the company’s actual earnings, that may arise, as Chandler suggests, in three ways:

* The company is known to produce goods and services of a higher quality than competitors of similar cost (or similar quality at lower cost). Remember? That’s the 19th-century notion of brand.

* The brand reflects intangible attributes, through advertising, in the minds of consumers. That’s the early 20th century notion.

* A brand’s component products work best together or with those made by partner brands. That’s the late-20th-century lock-in notion.

It is appropriate, therefore, that the world’s most valuable brand is Apple, because it hits the trifecta. It is widely perceived as the highest-quality and most consistently innovative maker of computing devices. Its products carry a cachet of sophistication emphasized by the famous “I’m a Mac … and I’m a PC” ads. And (except for a brief period in the 1990s when Macintosh “clones” were marketed on a small scale) anyone who wants to use Apple operating systems has to buy an Apple device, and vice versa.

How do those concepts apply to universities and, in particular, to undergraduate education, which remains the core business of most of these institutions?

The 19th-century notion of quality is established in the minds of students, parents, and just about everybody else. In fact, it is so well established that rankings of leading universities have barely changed since the hierarchy was established, in the second half of the 19th century. A blog post by the sociologist Kieran Healy on Crooked Timber compares a ranking produced in 1911 with the most recent U.S. News rankings and finds a close correlation (except that elite private universities, as a group, have improved their status relative to state flagships).

In that sense, then, university brands are strong. But brand relativities that endure regardless of the competence of university leaders, the vagaries of scholars and departments, and the efforts of marketing departments are not really of much interest.

None of this is to say that there are no differences in quality among those captured by these very stable rankings. At any given time, the quality of departments in any university will vary widely. Some will be making great strides in teaching and research. Others will be riven by internal divisions, or wedded to outdated and discredited approaches to pedagogy and research methodology. But there is no way to discover such things from branding exercises at the university level.

Key branding efforts focus on intangibles. In this respect, university branding has been an embarrassing failure both by the industrial standards of the advertising sector and by the intellectual standards that universities are supposed to uphold. For example, virtually every Australian university has adopted (replacing the Latinate motto that used to adorn its crest) a branding slogan: “Know more. Do more.” “Where brilliant begins”. Good luck trying to match a particular slogan with its respective university. (Disclosure: I am, perhaps, bitter that my own proposed branding slogan—”UQ, a university not a brand”—did not find favor with my institution’s marketing department.)

Finally there is the question of lock-in. A university degree is a required ticket for entry to many professions, and where state-level licensing applies, the range of choices may be limited. At the top end, access to various elite jobs is confined largely to the products of Ivy League and similarly elite institutions. That is a form of lock-in that adds to “brand value,” but in a socially unproductive way.

Branding, as applied to higher education, is nonsense. Colleges are disparate communities of scholars (both teachers and students) whose collective identity is largely a fiction, handy during football season but of little relevance to the actual business of teaching and research. The suggestion that a common letterhead and slogan can “present an image to the world of a multifaceted, but unified, institution” is comforting to university managers but bears no correspondence to reality.

The idea of universities as corporate owners of brands is directly at odds with what John Henry Newman called “the Idea of a University.” To be sure, that idea is the subject of contestation and debate, but in all its forms it embodies the ideal of advancing knowledge through free discussion rather than burnishing the image of a corporation. In the end, brands and universities belong to different worlds.


John Quiggin is a fellow in economics at the University of Queensland, in Australia; a columnist for The Australian Financial Review; a blogger for Crooked Timber; and the author of Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us (Princeton University Press, 2010).

Categories: Group Blogs

Play the Slate News Quiz

News: Slate - Thu, 2014-10-30 22:58

Welcome back to Slate’s weekly news quiz. I’m your host, 74-time Jeopardy! winner Ken Jennings.

Categories: News

Eric Frein, Suspect in Pennsylvania Trooper’s Death, Is Captured After 7-Week Manhunt

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Thu, 2014-10-30 22:55
Mr. Frein had eluded capture since one Pennsylvania state trooper was killed and another was wounded on Sept. 12.






Archive Dive: Halloween Candy Has Gotten Cheaper

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Thu, 2014-10-30 22:18
A comparison of prices from a 1964 newspaper ad and from the same supermarket chain today yields some interesting results.






Gibson, Republican Congressman, Finds Bipartisan Support in Race Against Eldridge

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Thu, 2014-10-30 21:56
Representative Chris Gibson, a Republican, has a 41 percent favorability rating among Democrats, and a wide lead over Sean Eldridge, the Democratic candidate.

Sunni Tribesmen Say ISIS Exacts Brutal Revenge

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Thu, 2014-10-30 21:51
Islamic State militants have killed scores of members of an Iraqi Sunni tribe that fought them for months, tribal leaders and officials said.

In New York Attorney General Debate, Cahill and Schneiderman Clash Over Ethics and Integrity

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Thu, 2014-10-30 21:50
Trading insults, invective and the occasional idea, the two major-party candidates met in their only debate.

Liberia’s Ebola Crisis Puts President in Harsh Light

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Thu, 2014-10-30 21:36
As Liberia’s first elected leader after a devastating civil war, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has pushed the country to economic growth, but gains have been halted by the Ebola outbreak.
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