A Major Waste

On Monday April 5, 2004, George Mason University announced that it had come up with a new logo. Hoorah.

Now I don’t really care that my soon-to-be alma mater is coming out with a new logo next year. Heck, I don’t even care much that the school will finally be introducing online class registration for the first time (after promising it would happen in Fall 2001—way to keep to schedule, guys).

I do, however, care about this: According to the school’s announcement in the Mason Gazette, the logo was designed by an outside marketing communication company called Grafik.

In other words, our good tuition money—not to mention our good tax money—paid for this logo. I’d be willing to venture a guess that they paid quite a lot of money for it too (probably enough for a regular shmuck like me to live on for a few months).

Like I said, that’s just a guess. In the announcement, they don’t bother to admit how much they paid. But judging by how much GMU pays their professors, I’m sure my guess isn’t too far off.

Now some of you are probably thinking to yourselves, “Of course they had to pay for a logo design! That’s what every company, institution, school, etc., has to do!” Perhaps. But it seems to me that the university missed out on a perfect opportunity to teach—and wasted a bunch of our hard earned money in the process.

George Mason University has a bunch of marketing majors. It has a bunch of graphic design majors. It has a bunch of communication majors. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The school expects these people to be able to graduate with their respective degrees and get jobs in their respective fields, right? So why doesn’t the school trust them to do thinks like logo design during their senior year? Students would get real-world experience—more important than any lecture—and George Mason University would get things for free that they would otherwise have to pay for.

Sorry, strike that, they wouldn’t get the labor for free—the labor would actually have to pay tuition. It sounds to me like the school could effectively make a profit from getting a logo designed.

I don’t really blame GMU for this weirdness—I think most schools operate the same way. But my philosophy is that much of what a university needs to do can and should be done by the students. It’s really a fundamental concept: the best way to teach somebody how to do something is to actually have them do it.

Logo design is a no-brainer (which leads me to wonder how many brains are functioning in the administration of George Mason University). Graphic design majors—with input from marketing majors and guidance from their professors—should be designing the school’s logo. (I think a vacuum sucking up wads of cash might’ve been more appropriate than what Grafik came up with, but I’ve become a certified cynic about these things.)

There are plenty of other things that students should be doing too. The George Mason University website should be maintained by upper-level information technology majors. The online registration system should not have been purchased from an outside firm (as it was), but should have been designed and programmed by computer science majors. At minimum, the CS and IT majors should be installing and maintaining the outside product!

What about admission and advertising materials? Well that’s what we have marketing majors for! If the school wants to put together a promotional video, the script should be written by English majors, it should feature theater majors, should be edited by communication majors with a broadcast concentration, and the scored music should be written and performed by music majors.

If the school needs a new building, the preliminary designs should be worked up by architecture majors. When it comes time to wire the building with electricity, the project should be handled by electrical engineering majors. The computer engineering majors can set up the necessary networking technologies.

When George Mason University works up its annual legislative package—a big request for money and policy changes that gets sent to the Virginia legislature—it should be written by government majors and public administration majors.

Are you getting the idea?

Heck, the accounting, economics, and finance majors could probably teach the school administration a few things about supply and demand, price gouging, monopoly abuse, fiscal management, budgeting, and balance sheets. You want the money-out to be smaller than the money-in! Who would’ve guessed!?

Now in each of these cases, the school officials would be the ones who make the final call. Software and web designs would be supervised by professors in the CS and IT departments, as well as by the registrar’s office and any other relevant university offices. Admissions materials would be looked over by marketing professors and the admissions office. The legislative package document would have to meet the requirements of whatever school officials usually develop it.

But these are all perfect opportunities for students to gain experience in their chosen fields. They are all perfect opportunities for schools to improve the quality of their product and simultaneously lower the cost of operation. There is a huge, free, untapped labor market at colleges and universities in this country—and, perhaps more importantly, a lot of people being lectured at when they could actually be learning and experiencing.

Helen Ackerman is the George Mason University vice president for university relations. In her interview with the Mason Gazette about the new logo, she explained why the university went with an outside company:

“Designing a university logo is a real challenge. The result has to appeal to a wide variety of audiences—students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and the general public. We learned from other universities that had done this that designing a logo can be somewhat contentious. If it is done internally, the perception can be, rightly or wrongly, that the artist is not impartial.”

Ackerman, by the way, is among the more-than-233 GMU employees who make six figure salaries.

Well, I’m sorry Ms. Ackerman, but life is often “somewhat contentious” and it is often a “real challenge.” That’s no reason to exclude the students from a valuable learning experience. Further, Grafik was hired by GMU to make the school look good—in what universe does that qualify them as “impartial?” If impartiality were really a criterion for good logo design, then leaving it up to the student body would have been a much smarter choice.

I still vote for the vacuum cleaner.

Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.