Alan Moore

Alan Moore

The art of spin seeks to take a half-truth or downright fabrication and translate it into a better image through skillful public relations.

Here at George Mason University there is no better example of spin than the university’s recent classification as a residential campus by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Excessive promotion of this is premature and potentially harmful.

Determining the classification as a primarily residential campus is based on “the proportion of degree-seeking undergraduates who attend full-time and the proportion living in institutionally-owned, -operated or -affiliated housing.”

Additionally, 25 to 49 percent of degree-seeking undergraduates at a four-year institution must live on campus. Mason barely achieves that at 26 percent.

By the Carnegie Foundation’s own admonition, their classification system is meant for research purposes only stating further that “it is so highly institutionalized that it is often invoked without explanation or rationale” by college administrators.

They go on to describe conflict between classification and identity, cautioning colleges and universities from reading too much into their classification and attempting to use it to their advantage. Carnegie spokeswoman Gay Clyburn recently went on record stating that the emphasis of the school’s reclassification as a residential campus is unusual.

In other words, Mason is taking a research classification and spinning it in order to misrepresent its identity for recruiting purposes.

Nothing is a better example of this spin than the “news article” on Mason’s website, written by the Office of Media and Public Relations Associate Manager Dave Andrews.

This glorified press release reads more like an advertisement for a resort than a news report, using buzz words and catch phrases like “robust campus life programming,” “vibrant campus life,” “dazzling array of new buildings” and a “neighborhood atmosphere.” Does that sound like an accurate portrayal of Mason? The reality is that Mason is a big, ugly construction site and a ghost town on the weekends.

So why should anyone care about this issue? Admittedly, there are much more pressing problems facing this campus. However, this boils down to an identity crisis. If Mason administrators and staff recruit students under false pretenses, we have a problem.

Truth in advertising is important because deceptive marketing techniques are unfair to the consumer and they ultimately come back to bite you.

If students looking for a neighborhood atmosphere come to Mason and are disappointed, then the reputation of the institute suffers, recruiting falters, faculty attrition increases and alumni are ashamed.

Lord knows the school has milked the 2006 Final Four run for all its worth. Anyone who enrolled here based on the assumption that our men’s basketball team is a perennial Division I championship-caliber team must be sorely disappointed.

There is no doubt that attempting to move Mason to be a residential campus has many benefits, but we shouldn’t jump the gun and promote something that isn’t what it seems. The consequences of spin might be more than we can bear.


1 Comment

  1. C says:

    As an alum of Mason, I always love to read well thought out critiques by students – it shows some intellectual rigor and makes me proud to see our students question things they see around them. However, I think this issue is a bit well, trivial. Compared to in-state rivals like JMU, ODU, VCU, and even Virginia Tech – Mason has invested the required capital to become a residential campus. As someone who lived in the Commons when they were new, I am amazed at the housing options provided on campus. As this article was written – there is a new housing complex going up that will add 600 new beds. We have more on campus beds than JMU – who is also listed as a residential campus with about equal percentage of undergrad students living on campus. The plan is to add even more along with the additional classroom. lab, and library space. Is there work still to be done? Of course. I am sure the Administration knows it and we all realize this is an evolving process. As someone who remembers a lack of on campus housing and too little parking space – it seems the opposite is now the case and it has been changed in a short amount of time. Sometimes lightening up a bit is a good thing.