Students: Broadband, Not Books

I recently had a brief conversation with a senior administrator I respect a lot.  He cares deeply about the university and the students.  He’d just came out of a cabinet meeting which was dominated by a discussion about how our students want more broadband.  “They’re upset about not having enough,” he said. “They’re really upset.  It’s going to cost a lot to give them what they want.”
“They need it to download music, movies and do gaming,” I said.
He nodded  his head slowly in dismay,” mumbling something about it being “sad.”
A hour later I read  the student newspaper editor’s editorial.  It was an angry piece about the fact that the student newspaper was read  faithfully by faculty, staff and administration but not by students.  This is a  girl who last year was very upbeat, positive and proactive.  Why don’t students read  and get involved?  She asked.  She wanted feedback, even if it was not positive.  It was a desperate plea by a committed student who can’t understand why others don’t share her enthusiasm.
I thought a  lot about these two people and their feelings.  The administrator is recognized and respected nationally in his field.  I can understand his feelings of dismay but I don’t agree with them.  To have those feelings at all is to cling to a way of life that’s history.  As a PR person I need to say to him — and I will — “forget the days when people read and made little notes and wrote long term papers in a achingly boring passive voice about something they didn’t care about.  That’s gone.  Better understand who our audience is and how they live and communicate.  Find the money for the broadband because students our customers and if they’re unhappy, they’ll find other colleges to attend.
It’s expensive?  Well, if we invest in it and retain a few more students, it pays for itself.
The tension here is that we’re a university and should instill good study and research habits.  At the same time we have to understand our customers.  Clinging too much to the past doesn’t pay the bills.
I’m going to call the student newspaper editor and ask her to lunch.  I’ll tell her I have a lot of respect for her passion and to keep doing  it with a passion because if she pursues her beliefs with that kind of commitment, she will succeed. Maybe not with the newspaper, but in life.  I’ll tell her to not be negative but to accept the fact that her audience is the faculty, staff and administration.  It’s a solid and appreciative audience.  Her readers remain steady and consistent, which is more than The New York Times can say.
I’ll tell both these persons, separated by two generations and frustrated by the same thing, that we’re in a huge time of transition.  It’s exciting.
Listen to the audience.
Learn how the new conversation is being conducted.
Embrace  it and move forward.


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