Pet Peeves in Higher Ed

As winter drags on, I turned to my colleague Dick Jones for a lighter note. Dick is a three-decade veteran of radio, newspaper, higher ed PR and consulting. Here’s a list of his pet peeves. At the bottom there’s a place for “comments” where you need to add your pet peeve. I know folks in PR, publications, admissions and web design have them, as well as faculty. So read Dick’s and share yours.

Jones’ Rule: The more qualifiers placed upon the adjective “unique,” the less likely it is that journalists will care about the noun described. If your institution’s program is the only one in the world it’s unique. If it’s the only one west of the Mississippi it has a bit less luster. If it’s the only one based at a comprehensive university west of the Mississippi, that’s barely better than unusual. If it’s the only one west of the Mississippi, south of the Platte, north of the Rio Grande and east of the Pecos, that’s just sad.


Viewpoints We Hate to Hear From Department Heads: “This story will sell itself.” Then why are you talking to me about it?


Words We Hate To Hear From The Provost: “We want a lot of national attention for this new core curriculum.” Are you the provost at Harvard? Oh, you’re not? Then it’s going to be a slightly harder sell.


Words We Hate To Hear From The Vice President for Development: “If you can get a nice splash for this five-figure gift, then a much bigger gift from the same donor is on the horizon.” Are you going to share the credit if that happens?


Orders We Hate to Hear from The President: “Get a mention in The New York Times about our upward movement in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings.” Yes sir/ma’am. Do you prefer that above or below the fold? And should I place that news in Time and Newsweek, as well?


We Cringe When We Hear From the IFC Advisor: “You know, we need some stories about the good things fraternities do to balance all of this negative news.” Should we start with that festive beer-can Christmas tree in front of the Methodist Church?


We Cringe When We Hear From Any Campus Administrator: “Well yes, we do that, and we’ve always done that, but we sure don’t want it to get out to the general public that we do that.” Here’s an idea: if we’re doing something we’re ashamed of doing, let’s stop doing it and then we won’t have to worry about news of it leaking out.


Thanks, Dick. Here’s mine. We cringe when the VP calls and says academics is never highlighted. “You got great play on the men’s basketball game. I’d like to see some coverage of our biology professor’s latest paper, ‘Measuring the Mucus of Fish in Slow Moving Streams: a Litmus Test for Global Warming’”. The slow stream fish mucus writer at the New York Times was let go, but I’ll forward it to Al Gore. I’m sure he’ll be in touch.

Now, add your pet peeves. Right below. In the comment box. Do it now.


11 responses to “Pet Peeves in Higher Ed

  1. Great post Dennis, the comment board should light up on this post. I’m sure everyone can come up with a whole slew of “peeves”..

    I’ll definitely check back for the sarcasm from readers..

  2. Thanks, Joe. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I need your pet peeves. I know what a photographer puts up with sometimes. Add your peeves to what I hope is a growing list!

  3. Sounds like you’re a bit higher up on the food chain than I am. I’m glad I can usually stick with “fix this” or “make it pretty”.

  4. My favorite working in higher education admissions was “we need more, smart, full pay students”. Who doesn’t?

  5. Yeah I’m going to have to agree with Drew here… Those sorts of issues is when I can throw out the convenient “That’s above my pay scale response”. 🙂

    My pet peeve is probably, “I don’t know how to do that, can you do it for me?”. I get that one at least daily. Maybe one day I’ll just come back with, “I didn’t know how either, but guess what… I figured it out and it wasn’t rocket science”.

  6. My biggest is, “How are the numbers” but especially when its from random people.

    They just don’t have anything to talk to you about and that’s what they go with. They have to know that there is no way I would ever say something like….”BAD!, the numbers are just terrible. You better get your resume together”

  7. Oh!, and they aren’t. The numbers are GREAT….. for the record.

  8. You’ve hit variations on most of mine already. One that’s top-of-mind right now, though, is: from faculty, along the lines of Brian’s contribution, “We need to stop admitting so many provisional students.” But when we host an event that brings academically sharp high schoolers to campus (as we’re doing the next two weekends with a “knowledge bowl”), the complaining faculty can’t be bothered to sign up to help with the event.

  9. Thanks for all the comments! Reading them reminds me of what a small world it is because I’ve experienced everyone of your experiences.

  10. My favorite has to be the “turtle in the shell” approach to crisis comunications.

    “If we respond to the negative press, won’t this just generate more press? We’ve hidden stories like this in the past!”

    The biggest crisis happens when a second similar story comes around… then reporters learn of the first “hidden” story. Can’t you just hear the headline… “This isn’t the first time a tragedy like this has happened…”

    I always believe “truth and trust” go hand in hand. It only takes one mistrust…and people will never believe you again.
    Just my thoughts…

  11. Great comment, Darin. Thanks. It’s not just reporters who can spread the word but a growing number of bloggers. You’re right. It’s suicide to have anything but truth and trust.

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