Volume 11, Number 7 March 2000
Rojstacer on Pepsi Money in Academe
EdNote: Because there were two Academic Council meetings last month, their minutes fill the remaining pages of this month's Faculty Forum.
EdNote: As space permits, we plan to present excerpts from Gone for Good: Tales of University Life After the Golden Age, by Stuart Rojstaczer, copyright 1999 by Oxford University Press. Published by arrangement with Oxford University Press, New York. An Associate Professor of Hydrology and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Science, Rojstaczer can be reached by email at http://www.duke.edu/~stuart
I was having lunch on the campus of a major state university with a university fund-raiser. His specialty was corporate fund-raising. Extremely likeable and unpretentious, he was the kind of person whose company you'd enjoy at the local watering hole for an after-work drink.
While we waited for the waitress, he told me a story of visiting a wealthy executive with a friend who worked for a local charity. While his friend and the executive exchanged information about the charity, he sat silently. Finally, after about twenty minutes, the executive stopped his friend in midsentence. "This is all well and good," the executive said, "but I do have a question. This man you've brought with you. He hasn't said a word. What does he have to do with the charity?"
"I don't work for the charity," he said. "I do, however, think it's a worthy cause."
"So why, exactly, are you here?"
"That's a good question and it deserves a good answer. It's simple. I'm here to ask for the money."
The executive chuckled and ended up writing a nice fat check. Asking for money is a talent. You have to have a unique combination of personality and nerve that makes people feel good about giving money away.
The waitress came to our table and asked for our drinks. I requested a Coke, but she said they didn't have any. "Would you like a Pepsi?" she asked. "Sure," I said. I couldn't tell the difference between the two anyway. Nowadays, I prefer plain water.
"I'll have a Pepsi, too," the fund-raiser said and the waitress went to get our drinks. "That was funny, you ordering Coke, here," he said, smiling. I asked him why. "This campus is 100 percent Pepsi," he said. "You can't find Coke anywhere. We signed a deal with Pepsi for exclusive rights to provide soft drinks." He was proud of this deal and had played a large role in its development and consummation. For a multimillion dollar donation from Pepsi, his university had turned itself into a Coke-free zone for ten years. There were no Coke vending machines. There was no Coke in any of the dormitory, faculty, or staff eateries. The 100,000 plus football fans who came to the home games drank Pepsi unless they brought their own drink from home.
"It's a good deal for both parties," he said. I was inclined to agree. Every year, Pepsi was given a good shot at making 70,000 students (including satellite campuses) Pepsi drinkers for life. In exchange, the university received a nice chunk of money to spend on a variety of items including scholarships and education. Of course, the university was eliminating the possibility of some students and faculty finding the soft drink of their choice. But not providing someone with their first choice of overpriced carbonated sugar water cannot be considered a significant loss of freedom.
Later that same year, back at my university, I was walking toward my office. As with most universities, there are posters stapled on billboards all over campus advertising a variety of items. Included in that week's roster of posters was an eye-catching composition of computer graphics. The Coca-Cola logo was in large print at the bottom. The name Coca-Cola or the corporate logo appeared on the poster four times (and three more times on the flip side for good measure). At first glance you might have assumed that the poster was advertising some product associated with the soft drink manufacturer. But if you stopped to read the text, you would have found out that the poster was promoting the opening of the university's Center for Environmental Education. The center is part of the School of the Environment and is designed to help elementary schools, high schools, and corporations expand their environmental awareness and expertise.
What does this have to do with Coca-Cola? The Coca-Cola Foundation donated one million dollars to help create the center. Coca-Cola, like Pepsi, does not give money away without getting something in return, and what they receive in this case is quite beneficial. In the first place, Coca-Cola gets a little advertising on campus. The advertising benefit is not a one-shot deal related to the opening of the center. Associated with the Center for Environmental Education is a biannual "Coca-Cola Seminar Series." As a result of the donation, twice a year the university will invite a prominent environmental leader to campus to give a lecture. And twice a year, Coca-Cola will have the opportunity to insert corporate advertising onto a poster ostensibly giving information on the time and date for the lecture.
This kind of benefit, however, is small in relation to the size of the gift. There must be something other than a little local advertising that Coca-Cola gains from this money. And there is. When the gift was announced to the press, the administrators of the School of the Environment praised the company for its "long-standing leadership in the environment." By its donation, Coca-Cola has been given an environmental blessing by a respected institution. It's a blessing that Coca-Cola (and Pepsi for that matter) can well use. In the 1970s and 1980s, the soft drink industry collectively spent millions of dollars across the country fighting against "bottle bill" legislation designed to reduce refuse associated with soft drinks. Through its sponsorship of this center and its annual lecture, Coca-Cola is able to partially atone for its past and future environmental misdeeds. It may also have established a nice toehold on my campus for future exclusive soft drink distribution rights. We may not have 70,000 students, but even a market of 10,000 student customers is probably worth chasing after.
The search for donations by universities goes well beyond trying to profit from the cola wars between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. With tuition and federal dollars proving inadequate to cover costs, donations likely represent the only means to maintain the grandeur of the Golden Age, the years from WWII to the end of the Cold War. Most elite universities have endowments in excess of two billion dollars, but even billions aren't enough. Since the end of the Golden Age, universities have dramatically increased their efforts to find nongovernmental sources of funding. Most every adult who graduated from college knows very well that universities in the 1990s are soliciting their alumni more heavily than ever before.
The additional effort requires more labor, and universities have significantly enlarged staffs associated with fund-raising for both private and corporate donations. The increased role of fund-raising has created a need for image enhancement and control of the flow of information to the press. The change probably began at the end of the Golden Age. For example, in 1989, longtime Stanford News Service head, Bob Beyers, resigned because his policy of candor with the media was out of step with changes in public relations at the university. By the mid-1990s the influence of ima ge enhancement and public relations at Stanford was strongly evident. Its 1995 Strategic Communications Plan suggested that employees use words like "boundless, challenging, incomparable, western/pioneering, stunning, and vibrant" to describe their university to the outside world.
The effort to raise money has had an impact beyond the role and size of public relations and fund-raising staff. It has completely transformed the role of administrative leaders on campus. Presidents and deans can no longer concentrate their efforts on running the university. They are increasingly representatives of the university on the fund-raising circuit and travel far and wide seeking donations. In addition to administrative skills, they must now, like the fund-raiser noted above, know how to ask for money.
The modern fund-raising president is entirely unlike the president of yesteryear. Because the president's key role is as a fund-raiser, he or she must delegate responsibility extensively. Presidents are campus leaders largely in a figurative sense. Not only are they disengaged from the workings of the university, they have also dropped their traditional role as commentators on the political, moral, and ethical issues facing society. Nowadays, out of fear of offending potential patrons, they avoid discussing any issues not related directly to higher education. The formerly standard model of the stuffy dean in the ill-fitting tweed sport coat is also becoming a thing of the past. The dean of today needs to possess an easy smile, good clothes, a firm handshake, and good cocktail party smarts.
The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.
Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy), Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymour Mauskopf (History--on leave), and Kathy Rudy (Women's Studies).
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