Preston Pennypacker on Coca Cola University

We’ve heard from our old friend Preston Pennypacker, Rutgers ‘32, who reports that he is “in as good health as can be expected, given the horrible news that keeps coming  in about the collapse of our beloved Rutgers.”

Mr. Pennypacker is deeply upset, it turns out, by the current talk about selling “naming rights” to the Rutgers football stadium. “It strikes me,” he writes, “as obscene. This business of making an old university over into a cheap shill for some brand name. It’s intolerable. My generation of undergraduates would have been over there throwing our bodies in front of Mulcahy’s bulldozers. What’s wrong with kids today? How can they let Rutgers—our Rutgers—be turned into a marketing vehicle?”

 Mr. Pennypacker reminded us that the story of Rutgers’ downward spiral into what he calls the “cesspool of commercialization” is chronicled in William C. Dowling’s Confessions of a Spoilsport. “The pertinent chapter,” he writes, “is chapter six, ‘The Coca Cola University.’ It tells how, just a few years ago, an admirable group of Rutgers undergraduates defeated the Lawrence administration’s marketing deal with the Coca Cola Corporation. Tee shirts. Demonstrations. Petitions. Personal confrontations with Francis Lawrence in Old Queens. Aren’t there any students like that left at the university?”

 We hadn’t looked at Confessions of a Spoilsport since it came out a year or so ago. Our interest piqued by Mr. Pennypacker’s comments, we went and reread “The Coca Cola University” chapter. As he says, it gives the full story of the successful student campaign against the Coca Cola contract. For those of you thinking of voting in the “Rutgers damage poll,” it usefully pinpoints Robert E. Mulcahy as the source of commercial contagion at Rutgers. It also mentions, interestingly enough, the episode of “naming rights” at another state university. By way of historical perspective, we reprint those paragraphs here:

  “In Universities in the Marketplace, former Harvard president Derek Bok describes how corporate marketing has undermined the university as an institution whose essential forms and values go back to the early Middle Ages.

 Yet Harvard and private schools like it, blessed with substantial endowments and a long tradition of academic distinction, are not the best places to look for signs of commercial penetration. For various reasons, public institutions have proved to be most vulnerable to the contagion of corporate marketing. Consider, for instance, the case of Boise State University in Idaho.

 Boise State’s basketball games were once played in an arena called the Pavillion. Then the university was approached by representatives of Taco Bell, the national fast food chain. All Boise State had to do was agree to rename the Pavilion the “Taco Bell Arena,” and the company would make a sizeable contribution to university coffers. It was a win-win proposition. Tac Bell would write off the cost as an advertising expense, and Boise State would have money it would never otherwise see.

 Faced with so blatant a move to commercialize their university, professors at Boise State mounted a short-lived protest. After some debate, the faculty senate was persuaded to pass a resolution opposing the Taco Bell deal. Boise State’s president struck back immediately. The faculty, he declared, were harming their own university. If Boise State wasn’t permitted to sell the name of the Pavilion to Taco Bell, other corporate donors might be discouraged from making similar offers.

 An anthropology professor named Robert McCarl answered the president in the student newspaper. “If students, faculty, and community members cannot protest a significant decision like this without ‘harming the university’ then Boise State is well on its way to becoming a corporate-controlled university.

 The very purpose of a university, Professor McCarl declared, “is to open up debate and create discourse about the issues of the day,” placing them in a “wider intellectual and cultural context.” Then, having flickered for a moment, the faculty protest at Boise State died out.”


    — Confessions of a Spoilsport, Ch. 6, “The Coca-Cola University”


12 Responses to Preston Pennypacker on Coca Cola University

  1. Tim says:

    In an age when college students think corporations like Apple are the cutting edge of “cool,” is it any wonder they’re such docile sheep when their lives are sold out from under them?

  2. RUSupporter says:

    Are you serious with this garbage? You b*tch and moan to no end about football spending, yet you oppose a revenue stream that would help offset those expenditures?

  3. Diogenes says:

    RUSupporter : with all due respect, you are being a bit of a doodlehead here. Suppose somebody who owned a local business — “Joe’s Sewer-Cleaning Service,” let us say — were to offer you $100 to have the name of his outfit tattooed on your forehead. You accept. Now you’re walking around with “Joe’s Sewer-Cleaning Service” tattooed on your forehead. People are looking at you and shaking their heads. Your mother freaks out. She thinks it is tasteless. Crude. Vulgar. Moronic, even. She is not real proud of having you as a son. And you say, “Hey, Ma, it’s just a revenue stream. It helps offset my expenditures on beer and nachos.” I don’t know this Pennypacker, but it seems to me his point is that Mulcahy’s “naming rights” project is the exact equivalent, for a self-respecting university, of your “Joe’s Sewer-Cleaning Service” deal. (Just out of curiosity, WOULD you take $100 to tattoo yourself for Joe’s Sewer Service? $1000? More? Less? You know the old saying: “When it comes to ‘revenue streams,’ every booster has his price, and it’s never all that high.”)

  4. carmine says:

    There would be nary a peep if Johnson and Johnson put its name on a pharmaceutical building, Goldman puts it name on the business school or Google put its name on the computer center. That would be philanthropy, eh? No one squawks when professors do research funded by corporations or unions or the government. Wealthy people contribute to universities for a variety of reasons — ego, loyalty and, perhaps most of all, a nice tax deduction. Companies do the same.

  5. Alum From the Banks says:

    There is a difference between Philanthropy and Advertising. If a wealthy person wants to donate say the interest on a savings bond and maybe a bell he has hanging around, perhaps the college, in gratitude would name a building or institution after him (this should sound familiar).

    Philanthropy and Donations are transactions where little or no services are to be rendered in return. Naming a building or program after a donor is simply a gesture of gratitude (look at the Aresty Research Center or the $13 million anonymously donated to the revitalization of Livingston, that is obviously a different gesture than the money given for the Taco Bell Stadium). And I doubt that $2 million for a chair in Neuroscience by a Rutgers Alum was done for a tax break.

    “Naming Rights” equals advertising, paying so much money for the “right” to plaster your name where you want. But, what else would you expect? Take a look at right now. On the homepage for the football team right now, I see the following advertisements: SNY, Amerihealth, Shop Rite, St. Peter’s Hospital, Snickers, Daily News, Audi, Bank of America, Lackland Self Storage, Cure Auto Insurance, the Hyatt, Panasonic, Oasis Car Dealership, PNC Bank, Liberty Charter Helicopters, Robert Wood Johnson, Pinnacle Mortgage, Stub Hub, STS, Acme Nissan, and AT&T.

  6. ferdek says:

    The only reason RU is even considering the sale of “advertising rights” to the highest bidder(you would think) is the dire financial condition of the Athletic Department/football team. They are a bit desperate to get the money now before the season tanks even further and forces the value down even lower. What will Mulcahy do with the $2+million? Want to bet on the % that goes to Schiano? With pending audits and investigations is this the time to allow the AD to do this? Awful timing and poor PR for sure.

  7. Diogenes says:

    Alum from the Banks: a brilliant point, cogently put. Yes, older universities do have endowed chairs and buildings named for donors who wanted their gifts to go down through time as a witness of their reverence for learning. Sometimes donors give in memory of a teacher or administrator whom they consider to have made a valuable contribution to the institution. Harvard, Amherst, Dartmouth, Yale, and other such institutions have “named” endowments based on this principle. So, when it was still an honorable institution, did Rutgers. To anyone who knows Rutgers history, the names of Milldoler Hall, Van Dyke, the Mason Gross School of the Arts, and the like are self-explanatory. They are scarcely “advertising.”

    Sports factories and open-admissions diploma mills like Boise State have “Taco Bell Arenas.” I think that was Mr. Pennypacker’s point. A further point is that is this practice isn’t just crass beyond belief, but announces that an institution that permits it has abandoned one world — that of genuine institutions of higher learning — and entered another (the Boise State world of commercial hype, inferior faculty, low-level students, used-car-dealer administrators, and “top 25” football rankings).

    The sad thing here is that “carmine” honestly can’t tell the difference. Look at his reasoning: “people do this, companies do the same.” The implicit equation of “people” and “companies” says, more vividly than anything he could come up with, how he sees the world. The problem of Div IA athletics is that it draws hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people like this into an association with a university. If Rutgers ever rids itself of McCormick, Mulcahy, Schiano, and the Scarlet R coterie on the BOG, restores the lost Olympic sports, and resumes playing against its traditional rivals, the “carmines” will vanish like mildew in the sunshine. What a day that will be!

    Meanwhile — this, still, to Alum from the Banks — your post here should be published as an op ed in a NJ newspaper. It’s the sort of thing that makes the scales drop from people’s eyes.

  8. John Lister says:

    Personally I’m quite enjoying the irony. We could have had a Nicholas boat house to go with the Nicholas Music Center and Nicholas Residence Hall, not to mention other philanthropic donations if only the three stooges hadn’t cut the Olympic sports.

    And now we’re begging naming rights!

    Does anyone else see what is wrong with this picture?

  9. ferdek says:

    54-34! Build the stadium! Give GS a $400K bonus!Canonize Mulcahy! Or just relax and wait till the season is over. Or just wait until the audits/investigations are complete. Whatever you do don’t bet the ranch.

  10. carmine says:

    Diogenese, while I respect your right to disagree with me, I take enormous offense at your characterization of me — or “the hundreds or thousands of people” — as someone not worthy of access to a public university. Nice way to close off the academy from the real world.

    Just so you know, my spouse and I are alumns and significant contributors to the academic programs of the university. We are also football fans. Your elitism is such that I wonder whether it makes any sense for me or anyone else to contribute money we have earned from Business to the university. Based on your post, only money from the government or inherited wealth will meet your standard. So far, that’s worked out well for Rutgers.

  11. Jeff Ulrich says:

    Once again, Carmine, you have mistaken individuals for corporations and conflated the two. This was precisely the argument you were criticized for in previous posts of this strand. Money you make from your work is a wonderful contribution to the university. It is a way for you to support your roots, the institution that brought you to your current status and place in life. However, you are not a corporation.

    The complaint here is specifically regarding corporate advertisements admitted into the institution. The fact that our culture is so saturated with advertising that many people cannot tell the difference between advertising disguised as giving and individual giving is one of the most pertinent arguments against Div IA athletics. An institution of higher learning serves the life of the mind. When it is usurped by corporate investments, when it names its buildings after corporations and not after great thinkers or successful alumni, it has ceased functioning as a university, and acts as a mere billboard.

    “Diogenes” was not asking that Rutgers be funded solely by the government or inherited wealth. He was making an argument against selling the university to the highest bidder as if it were another product to be consumed.

  12. Alum From the Banks says:

    Carmine, I don’t want to put words in Diogenes’ mouth, but I think I might be able to clarify what was meant (and add a little of my own).

    If Google gave $2 million dollars no strings attached to RU and we renamed the Records Hall Computer Lab to the Google Lab, there might be some debate about a corporate donation, but a gift like that would seem genuine. It’s not so much as where the money is coming from, but the intention for which it is given. Personally, I think a corporate donation in some cases is alright, but whoring the naming rights to the stadium is completely different and here is why:

    “Nelligan [Rutgers Athletics’ Marketing Firm] said a naming-rights deal would include tickets, year-round advertising and rights to sell products and services to the university.”- Star Ledger 10/21/08

    That is in no way, shape or form philanthropy. It is without a question an advertising and marketing agreement. It is a contract exchange for goods and services. Diogenes seems to take issue with the fact that many students, alumni, and football fans–in my own opinion, many like yourself who are thoughtful people who just haven’t examined it with enough skeptic scrutiny–cannot tell the difference.

    Please continue to donate money, public higher education is running on life-support right now, but consider this: you don’t see the math department seeking endorsements from Texas Instrument Calculators nor the Chem Labs looking to sell ads for Pyrex in the schedule of classes. Academics survives through the authentic generosity of donors and recognized state and alumni support. Big-Time Athletics leeches onto the corporate world of Pontiac Trucks and .com-bowl-games. They are based upon opposite economic models that are all too often (and in the case of the stadium naming rights) confused.

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