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Higher Education Public Relations and Branding 243 However, what is important to note is that even if the universities achieve the goals that they set for themselves for excellence (or AAU membership), there is no guaran- tee that club membership or club access will be granted to them. Proponents of such a pursuit might argue that noth- ing is lost because the institution becomes better and more highly ranked. However, the authors pose the critical ques- tion that could guide universities if administrators decide to make this pursuit: What is potentially lost in an institution’s aspirational pursuit regardless of whether membership is granted at the end of the process? On the face of it, which U.S. institution would stand in the face of progress or university advancement? Such efforts to thwart these aims would be considered nonsensical by many. Why would a U.S. institution challenge the notoriety that comes with an AAU affiliation, especially if the pursuit of this membership is considered to be a worthwhile effort? However, in the tradition of critical scholarship it is impor- tant to pause periodically and interrogate the foundation and implications of basic assumptions. This study does just that, and it highlights that when pursuit of notoriety means that an institution has to abandon a core part of its identity (as articulated by Syracuse University) or devalue what it is best known for (acquiring USDA grants for largely agricultural institution such as UNL) it signals to other institutions what is most important and what activities should be privileged over others to earn, potentially, a seat at the table. In the case of UNL, one can see the discursive attempt to redefine and broaden the definition of excellence or at the very least shift the way it is calculated (if AAU membership commit- tees factored in the money generated from the UNL medical school into overall UNL financial calculations—since the state of Nebraska makes the decision to separate the medical school funding from the flagship campus’ funding—then UNL would still be considered among the nation’s elite according to AAU standards). In this study the authors conclude that it is not just rankings that are shaping the higher education landscape as Hazelkorn (2015) suggests; rather, the very existence of the AAU in the United States and Canada serves JSPR 37(2).indb 243 12-09-2017 18:50:08
244 DAMION WAYMER AND SARAH VANSLETTE as a hegemony that is influencing which institutions (along with their media markets) are chosen strategically for confer- ence expansion and multimillion-dollar television contracts (McMurphy & O’Neil, 2012), what areas of research are being strategically invested in at colleges across the country, and what measuring stick and which standards are used to determine the elite. Sadly, the rural agricultural farmer and the urban community, or potential students from those areas, seem to be unintentionally excluded. So in this case, PR can play a role in the marginalization of key publics that might be left out of aspirational promotion discourse.
- Winter '15