A different take on the BS degree (or degrees of BS)

Chronicle Review Illustration by Scott Seymour

Given our U.S. president’s alleged recent use of a vulgar term to describe much of the world outside of the United States, and the resulting, um, feces storm the allegation has unleashed in the social media sphere, I suppose it’s no surprise that higher education has also given in to the use of coarsening language to make a point. In this case, however, sociology professor Christian Smith of Notre Dame University out-Trumped Trump’s (again alleged) euphemism by a few days with this jeremiad published a week ago by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Trigger warning: crude language ahead.

Smith wasn’t talking about “shithole countries” in his opinion piece. No, the potty-mouthed prof’s essay — published in The Chronicle Review under the title “Higher Education Is Drowning in BS” — addresses what he describes as a steaming pile of bullshit that is turning academia into … well, let’s just call it a cesspool.

I won’t repeat all of Smith’s charges here. For they are legion. They include most of the usual suspects: the corporatizing of the academy, including the incessant requirement to quantify faculty work via metrics, politically correct speech, the victim culture, the self-aggrandizement by “third-tier universities offering mediocre graduate programs to train second-rate Ph.D. students for jobs that do not exist,” “hypercommercialized college athletics,” etc.

Suffice it to say that Smith paints practically every corner of higher education with broad strokes — except, interestingly, a sector that is tainted with the BS label much more than any other: marketing.

I don’t know how we escaped the attack with nary a splatter. Perhaps I should just breathe a sigh of relief and just whistle my way on past the graveyard.

But I can’t.

Even if Smith’s criticisms aren’t aimed directly at us, we should take the time to read his litany of complaints, and consider whether we are culpable. (Spoiler alert: We are.) And whether we have any role in making things better.

There’s a saying in public relations work that we often have to “clean up after the elephants.” But as the more traditional public information, PR and media relations activities are subsumed by newer organizational structures that emphasize marketing, we may be donning metaphorical manure spreaders more than pooper scoopers.

P.S. — Credit to the Chronicle or Smith or both for using “bullshit” only once in the article, substituting “BS” on all subsequent references. I wonder if that usage is in accordance with the Chronicle‘s stylebook?


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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