On Twitter earlier today I came across a link for a new startup called Brand-Yourself, an online reputation management service, which has recently entered a deal with Syracuse University that will give all graduates a six month free subscription to the service to help give them “an edge in one of the most competitive job markets since the Great Depression.” What it promises to be, in short, is a one-stop-shop for building and managing an online identity for those coming onto the job market. Here is the press release of the deal with Syracuse University, and I’ll quote from it a bit below.
Syracuse, NY, May 5 2010 – Syracuse University has entered into an agreement with Brand-Yourself.com, an online reputation management platform that helps individuals tap the web to maximize job opportunities. Under the initiative, all students graduating in December 2009, May 2010, and August 2010, will have access to a six month free subscription to Brand-Yourself.com – giving them an edge in one of the most competitive job markets since the Great Depression.
“We’re committed to helping students achieve success even after they leave the classroom,” explained Bruce Kingma, SU’s associate provost for entrepreneurship. “This initiative ensures our students maximize their career opportunities after college.”
The deal reflects how the web is fundamentally changing the hiring process, said Mike Cahill, director of Syracuse University Career Services.
“The internet is changing the way that employers are finding and evaluating job candidates. Students should not only be aware of what employers can find out about them on the Internet, they should be actively managing their online profiles.” Cahill explained. ” Through this partnership with Brand-Yourself, Syracuse University is making a commitment to prepare graduates for success in today’s digital environment.”
What strikes me about this whole thing is rather than rethinking or changing the curriculum to deal with how “the internet is changing the way that employers are finding and evaluating job candidates,” Syracuse seems to be tacking on a subscription service on top of the thousands and thousands of dollars their students are already paying for an education. As if shaping a digital identity over the course of four or more years at a university is not something deeply embedded in the teaching, learning, and research process but rather a subscription-based afterthought. The whole thing captures, at least for me, just how idiotically institutions are approaching what they produce as an easily packaged “brand” that students can simply wrap up and take with them on the way out. This development of a digital self should be part and parcel of the very experience of higher ed. How hypocritical for institutions to become sites of privacy-inspired fear mongering around social media more generally, only to be giving students their neat little subscription-based service on their way out with seemingly little or no guidance in what the process really entails. Is Brand-Yourself going to be the difference in getting Syracuse University students the job that so many of them presumably came there for in the first place? If so, then the crisis of the academy has never been clearer. And higher education’s continued refusal to take social media and digital fluency more seriously in the teaching and learning process, while at the same time promoting turnkey branding solutions that belie so much of what is at the heart of the educational process (i.e., a deep, critical engagement with the foundations of identity and communication) demonstrates the deeply schizophrenic, and I would argue outmoded, logic that is so loosely holding together the place of the academy in the 21st century.