From the spring 2012 Oregon Stater
Degree equity. Surveys of alumni from universities around the nation reveal that it’s one of the things we care a lot about, even if we don’t call it that.
It has to do with the current “market value” of one’s degree. It’s heavily rooted in our personal experience while at college and in the long-term traditional perception we carry into our lives as alumni. It’s also greatly affected, it turns out, by the ever-changing reputation of our alma mater as determined by media accounts and personal experiences.
If you’re an OSU-trained engineer, your degree equity is based on your own professional reputation and the reputations of other OSU engineers people have worked with, but it’s also based on a more ephemeral sense people have about the university. Are we talented? Friendly? Cooperative? Innovative? Effective?
Athletics can have a lot to do with shaping those impressions. That’s part of why I think Beaver Athletics’ new “WeCare – create a remarkable experience” campaign is important and worth considering, regardless of whether you’re an alum who cheers for every first down or an alum who doesn’t know – and doesn’t care – what a first down is.
(Don’t worry; I’m not going to lecture about first downs except to note that back in the 1970s when I was a student here, they were somewhat rare.)
The WeCare campaign, say senior associate athletic directors Shawn Heilbron and Marianne Vydra, is aimed at everything from making sure ticket sales are more efficient and friendly, to quickly solving problems that might adversely affect spectators’ experience, to trying to make sure that – whenever people come to Corvallis to see a game – they find a whole town full of hosts who want them to have a great time, even as we hope their team loses to the Beavers.
In designing the campaign, the folks over in Gill sought advice from customer care experts at places like the tire dealer Les Schwab, where technicians literally run up to your car to ask how they can help when you arrive at a store.
In the athletic department from the top down, the staff is being reminded that everyone they encounter in the name of OSU might decide whether they ever buy another ticket – or they might judge the entire university – based on how they are treated in that moment.
Heilbron and Vydra convinced me that OSU Athletics is serious about this. As the new Pac-12 media contract takes effect, OSU sports will get more media attention – even in sports that usually get little attention. Meanwhile, conference expansion is bringing to campus opponents’ fans who have seldom, if ever, been to OSU.
It’s already true that nothing about OSU gets more consistent media attention than do our athletic contests and the young people in them.
Today’s extremely low threshold for celebrity status can make for a harsh environment for young people whose every foible might be held up as being representative of a giant institution. I don’t know about you, but I and a lot of the people I attended OSU with (you know who you are) are pretty lucky that no one was following us around with camera phones and posting our dumb stunts on a hyper-public media platform.
That wouldn’t have improved anyone’s equity.
These days it seems like everyone can see anything, and I’ve winced a few times over the years when an incident has brought shame to Beaver Nation. More personally, I remember being embarrassed after one Civil War game when I was walking up the ramp in Reser behind a quietly victorious Duck player and I saw and heard an OSU “fan” my age (I hope he was just a fan and not an alum) lean over a rail and taunt the player with vile slurs. (I was going to tell the guy to zip it, but an acquaintance of his interceded and got him under control. I did apologize to the player, who wearily nodded and smiled.)
At least at first, the WeCare campaign will be mostly an in-house thing in OSU Athletics. But it’s easy to see why anyone whose education is branded with “Oregon State University” should support the effort and try to help.
Each morning as I head out to walk my loyal old black Labrador – her vet says she’s “a sweet dog but not a problem-solver” – I’m proud to grab the jacket emblazoned with the OSU Alumni Association logo. Even where I live, in Eugene, my OSU degree has a lot of equity, and I’d like to help keep it that way.
- Kevin Miller, ’78
Editor, Oregon Stater