Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brand U?

“Did you know that 85% of job success is based on people skills and only 15% based on technical skills?”

This line from a flyer advertizing the first lecture in a series titled “Brand U: Professional Development Series” caught my attention. I read the flyer and large posters spread throughout the CRSU and learned that the College of Business along with Kraft Foods was sponsoring this series. The kickoff event took place on Thursday, March 24, 2011 in the Library Auditorium. It featured image communication specialist, Kali Raoul, of Image Studios delivering a lecture and powerpoint presentation titled, “Image Impact: Your Professional Presence.” I fell victim to the advertising and showed up 30 minutes early to the event.

Ms. Raoul and her presentation were introduced by a faculty member of the College of Business who informed the audience that “it is very important to brand yourself.” “Hum,” I thought. “I can’t wait to see what is next.” I, then, spent the next hour and a half listening to the quite polished and professional Ms. Raoul speak about the centrality of image in seeking success in the business world. Ms. Raoul showed us a number of slides meant to help the audience think about their image or how we would brand ourselves. Memorable nuggets of advice include the following: 1) a slide showing the “Success P.I.E.” chart. P.I.E. stands for performance, image and exposure. Citing some source or other she informed us that performance counts for 10% of success, image, 60% and exposure, 30%; 2) “Once you’re in the door, performance does not earn success.”; 3) “Define your brand!”; 4) Wardrobe is more important than grooming, though you must be well-groomed; 5) Women, always wear makeup.

Now, I realize that this is Ms. Raoul’s business. She is an image consultant and has extensive experience in the corporate world including working for Kraft. In addition, though this was unstated, her husband’s business also lives and dies on image. He is former City College employee, current state Senator Kwame Raoul from Chicago. What would politics be without image? The series continues throughout April. On the 8th, our students will learn how to dress. Their teacher will be an employee of the Image Studios. Apparently, they need to learn how to eat as well. On April 15th, they will learn that the bread plate is on the right and beverage on the left (or vice versa. I was never good at that kind of thing). Modet, Inc. will teach our students “the rules and nuances of proper business behavior.”

I’m not a hater. I know a woman’s gotta make a living. Moreover, Ms. Raoul is probably genuinely concerned about the people she consults with. She wants them to do well. So, it is not so much Ms. Raoul’s anti-intellectual, anti-substance message that bothered me but that our university is promoting this to our students.

At the same time that the President and Provost’s office is attempting to eliminate the Economics major on campus, they are promoting branding oneself. This is corporate speak and corporate think at its most crass. Without an intellectual and critical foundation in economics and other social sciences and humanities, students are at the mercy of the business world where they will be told how to speak, think, dress, shave, and talk by people who will make enormous profits off of their labor. The anti-intellectual climate being fostered by the current powers that be on campus is alarming and offensive. It is an affront to the very ideals of higher education. THIS IS NOT A BUSINESS!! Moreover, why do we want to make it one? Why do we want to instill in our students capitalist and business ethics that continue to undermine the livelihoods of humanity and the environment worldwide and specifically the lives of the people in the very communities from which the vast majority of our students come?

Do the powers that be need to be reminded that it was the branding of Black people that kicked off capitalist transformation in this country? Maybe the College of Business needs to be reminded that theft, violence and rape of native people and Mexicanos cleared the West for business expansion. It is for these exact reasons that we need to expand the centrality of social sciences and the humanities to the overall mission of the university. Perhaps it is due to an inadequate history, economics and social science education that they are asking our BLACK students to brand themselves. Throughout the first centuries of the existence of the United States of America, masters burned the flesh of Black people as a means to accumulate wealth and establish their dominance. Today, this Black-run institution encourages a new branding through clothes, makeup, facial hair and manners that will further the misery of most people on the planet and increase the profits of the children of slaveowners.

This is an affront to our university and especially our students. Any effort to encourage dumbing down and increasing focus on image should be resisted by all of us. All efforts toward anti-intellectualism, attacks on critical thinking and the corporatization of our campus should be resisted. It is imperative in this day and age that we teach students critical thinking and creativity and develop their agency. We need leaders who can change the course of history not acquiesce to the very values and behaviors that have brought us to this moment in history when we now have the greatest wealth gap known. It is because of capitalist and business values that our Black and Brown children lack health care, lack adequate education, are overrepresented in prisons, live in food deserts, and struggle to define themselves. Why are we encouraging this? As thoughtful and concerned faculty we are obligated to fulfill our mission of educating people. We must not fall victim to the marketing of the business model as the direction in which our university needs to go. We must become more vigilant in the defense of our educational principles and mission. We must hold ourselves and our students to higher standards. These standards must go beyond selling ourselves to the highest bidder.


  1. Thank you, Pancho, for writing this. It is to your credit that you did not ignore these posters, as I did, but looked into it further.

    Pointing out the racist association with branding is not a "cheap shot" on your part. As you explain, stereotyping (branding) has been and continues to be central to racist exploitation and oppression.

    I also agree with your point about the need to study history and to understand exploitation in a deeper way.

    This is an excellent short essay. We should think about how to circulate it more widely--perhaps a shorter version as a flier to be handed out on campus? I would certainly be glad to help with reproducing and distributing such a flier.

  2. I'm also going to thank Pancho for posting this and I'd encourage everyone who reads it to circulate it to their CSU colleagues and students via email. Our "new" mission, supposedly approved by the majority of the campus, is going to do just what Pancho says-turn us uncritically toward "entrepreneurship." I've been asking the question since I first came to CSU--what does it want to be--a university, a technical school or a community college? And who gets to decide this?