PCC’s New Branding Scheme at Odds With Student-Made Sign

By Juan Lacayo|December 6, 2018Uncategorized|

An announcement and input request were quietly lodged with PCC faculty on the evening of December 2 regarding a new sign to be installed at PCC Rock Creek. An announcement entitled “INPUT NEEDED” was disseminated by Rock Creek Dean of Instruction Cheryl Scott via Rock Creek’s campus ListServ. Most students do not subscribe to this email list, let alone comment, but many faculty and staff members actively engage in meaningful conversations that run from the mundane to the controversial.  This announcement was no different.

Eventually, like many controversial interfaculty conversations (and spammy congratulatory conversations) that start on these campus-specific email lists, the conversation was transferred to PCC Spaces. This is usually done to prevent faculty inboxes from being inundated with emails when conversations go viral. However, in this case, it is another barrier to students who might be interested in the content of an important, faculty-wide conversation but are unfamiliar or unwilling to navigate another communications platform.

It’s important to note when these comments were received, as well as when the comment period began (Dr Scott sent the announcement at 8:20 pm on December 2) because the final day for commentary was today (December 6, 2018). This allowed for just four days of commentary on what has proven to be the controversial installation of a new sign for PCC’s Rock Creek campus. While it isn’t possible to discern exactly when the comments were sent to the discussion moderator Max Macias for upload, the latest comments that made the email list were sent on Tuesday, December 4 at 9:56am. By the time the conversation moved to Spaces, there were only nine comments, not including the initiating comment. As of 4:10pm on December 6, the comment list stands at 35 comments and the latest uploads arrived around 2pm on Dec 6.

Much of the outrage expressed in the comment thread can be demonstrated in the comment left by, arguably the most invested faculty member, Welding Instructor Matt Scott. He described how approximately 10 welding students contributed hundreds of hours designing and building the sign. It was then handed over to the Auto Collision department where students sanded and painted it before its installation. Scott stated:

“To have the signs replaced seems to be counterproductive to the educational process that I am striving to deliver for my students.  If the student-built signs have to be replaced, I would hope that the Bond Committee will have a new area constructed for immediate installation the blue signs.  Anything less would be insulting to me as well as the students I ask to construct these signs.”

Learning Skills Specialist Annette Murphy describes her experience working with welding students and the definite pride they feel having their work displayed so prominently. During information sessions with new and prospective students to the Welding program, she mentions the origin of the sign as a capstone project by a graduate who received help from “a larger contingency, including students from AutoBody.” She notes the enthusiasm that her audience displays for the institutional recognition of students’ hard work and creativity. She signs off by voicing gratitude for being able to share her opinion and emphasizing that she is “strongly in favor of keeping the current signage as the main Rock Creek Campus signage, whatever that takes,” and that “it would be such a shame to lose this part of our heritage.”

However, it would be naïve to think that all contributors to the comment thread espoused the same ideals and opinions as those who uncompromisingly stood by the students’ work. Suggestions to retain the student-made sign and place it in an internal space as part of the PCC new student orientation tour were supported by a few, while another contributor one-upped this suggestion by proposing the addition of “a full RGB spectrum, high definition LED screen along with this new sign to advertise our Rock Creek events and other important information such as registration times, etc.” in addition to the new sign. This idea was proposed as a compromise for continuing to honor student work while forging ahead with PCC’s new branding scheme.

Original Rock Creek Sign
New Sign Mockup
Mockup with LED Screen
RC Student-made Sign

Top Left: Original PCC Sign, 1973. Courtesy of Scott Judy. Middle Top: Mock Up Placement of the New Sign. Found in documentation by Anthony Catalan. Top Right: Mock Up Placement of the New Sign with Proposed LED Screen. Found in documentation by Anthony Catalan. Bottom: Unveiling of the Student-Made Sign at Rock Creek Campus. Photo by James Hill.

Community Relations Manager Alfred Moreno states, “The perspective I want to offer is that our campus already has a lot of really impressive (and yes, much of it of the polished “corporate” variety) signage, branding it as both PCC Rock Creek, but also as an unmistakable part of the greater Portland Community College.”

He claims that the banners and signage on the campus “established instant credibility and probably even played some subtle role in my desire to be a part of what you all do on this campus.” He goes on to cite Oregon State University’s Corvallis and Bend campuses as well as his alma mater, The University of New Mexico and its satellite campuses, as examples of “having a cohesive brand,” something he asserts is “pretty common.” He views this as important in order to “maximize the uniqueness of the people and programs and priorities and physical spaces that collectively create the identity of the individual campuses…but while also leveraging the highly recognizable and trusted brand identity of the flagship campus or college system we’re all a part of.”

A later article will delve into what contributors refer to as “the PCC brand,” but an excerpt from the introduction to the “PCC Brand Book” states:

“Talking about brand is another way of talking about reputation—the feelings people hold in their heads and hearts when they think about our institution. Our brand is a high-level promise about what we stand for and offer. It is the cumulative result of every experience, communication and reference made by or about our college over time. A brand is not something we buy—and it’s not something that an advertising agency figures out for us. It is simply and fundamentally who we are, and how people relate to us.”

It goes on to state that,

“our brand is not simply a summary of themes. Our brand is the unique way our institution owns and expresses those themes. It’s the flag we proudly fly.”

In response to the comment by Moreno, instructor of Art and Painting Mark Andres eloquently rebuts by saying,

“I have a horror of brand aesthetics. They advertise conformity, obedience and shaming the small— the exact opposite of our educational mission, which is to empower the small.  Our campus has always embraced the quirky, the rogue, the doinky and the sweet. Such qualities are increasingly rare in a corporate-conforming, “norming” environment. Let the honor and glory of the fine old sign stand. Let the new branding aesthetic and proposed RGBK LED advertising display remain the realm of a new Rite-Aid branch, not of PCC Rock Creek.  I embrace change, but not at the expense of our ideals: corporate branding has no place in helping the mute raise their voice in song. The mute are eloquent when given space to sing. A brand gives them neither space nor place to sing because the corporate message of ownership drowns them out.”

English instructor Chris Jensen voices the high-level grievance that many of us who flock to Portland and institutions like Portland Community College have with the New Portland that is hell-bent on homogenizing the once-heralded local, quirky, artsy, creative aesthetic and mindset into one that is more compliant with Corporate America:

“I’m struck by the contrast: local-personal-creative vs. centralized-corporate-branded. It calls to mind sociologist George Ritzer’s book The McDonaldization of Society, where he explores Max Weber’s theory about modernization with its four hallmarks: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. According to Ritzer, the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society and the rest of the world. Of course, that includes higher education.

“I recall several years ago a British man named Ken Robinson spoke to the fall PCC in-service about how to create a better climate for fostering student growth, student creativity, and student imagination. He urged the school to allow diverse ways to achieve high standards—he said we should eschew the McDonald’s paradigm in favor of one that would tolerate more freedom and creativity in search of excellence, such as the Michelin Guide to fine restaurants.

The blue student-made sign seems to embody this ideal.”

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Juan Lacayo

About Juan Lacayo

Storytelling is the province of which I am a denizen. Within this realm, in a busy part of town where many pass by and few enter, audiences can find me spinning yarns, weaving tapestries, and stitching together the fabrics of everyday reality. Sometimes those cloths are used for shelter and security, other times they are meant to dazzle and delight those who don them, still other times they are meant for their practical uses in life. However, they are always crafted to specification. Cut to form. Stitched to fit. Carefully considered for the form the fabrics will hug so that each form will glide effortlessly and gracefully, as one. The important thing for those who peruse my collections to remember is that many cuts will fit and complement your form, while others will seem tailored for another figure. You may feel uncomfortable, out of place, yet incongruously drawn to the form that could fill that space. It might be thoughtful consideration of the threads binding together the whole; or how the piece traces the curves a form, leaving room for only a breath of excitement; or possibly the revelation of unconsidered possibilities that coax you into my shop. Whatever your inspiration, know that through these doors lie awesome possibilities that, once beheld, cannot be unseen and should not be forgotten.