It’s a reasonably common occurrence for academics to diss non-academic professional staff. “They’re taking over”. “They’re not like us”. “They’re ruining the university”. Book-length whinges (not very good ones, mind) have been written about this.
These whinges usually combine two distinct arguments. The first has to do with the mere existence of some non-academic positions, who often act as the interface between the academic institution and the market (think research services, alumni/advancement, recruitment, marketing and – God forbid – branding). That these positions exist at all is often seen as some kind of neo-liberal front to the ideal of a university. The second has to do with the behaviour and attitudes of the people who staff these positions, which are often seen as alien or inimical to academic values. The former view is a noisier and more virulent one among faculty; the latter quieter but more widespread.
The distinction was brought home to me in a recent online conversation I had with a senior faculty member whose university marketing people had just made some howler or other. If I recall correctly, it was a marketing tagline along the lines of “At University of X, we don’t just teach Y, we live it”, with some people wondering why any university would use a phrase that even vaguely sounded like teaching was a second-best activity. The faculty member said to me “obviously, no set of academic eyes ever laid sight upon that before it went out”.
I don’t think there are many profs that genuinely question that there is a need for having masses of non-academic employees doing that interaction-with-the-outside-world stuff and “selling” the institution and its merits. Most people understand that If those people weren’t out there bringing in the money, academics wouldn’t be able to do their thing. And these are in fact professional services: they aren’t jobs academics could do themselves even if they were inclined to do so. So it’s not a matter of “taking back” responsibilities which once were academic and now are not: one might regret the need for quite so many of these positions, but a job’s got to get done, the right people should be hired to do it.
But what is aggravating beyond all get out is when people in these positions don’t get the product they are selling. When, in the process of selling the institution, language is used which actually works at cross-purposes to the values of the institution in question.
So while virtually no one wants to put profs in charge of marketing efforts, institutions should make it a point to ensure everything that goes out bearing your institution’s name has had a set of “academic eyes” on it. Get academic input on marketing campaigns before they start. Not to obtain creative direction or, God forbid, to do wordsmithing (that way madness lies), but simply to ensure that what is said in the institution’s name is said in a tone that doesn’t do violence to the academic mission. It could save everyone a lot of potential embarrassment.