Lesley University rebrands with creativity, but not much responsibility for its workers

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Lesley University marketing has gone in a strange direction. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Lesley University marketing has gone in a strange direction. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Lesley University is rebranding! It has a new logo and advertising campaign and an exciting new reputation for paying slave wages.

Last month in was adjunct professors who came before the City Council seeking support for unionization efforts. The university’s full-time faculty makes up as little as 37 percent of its actual teaching staff, with adjuncts making up the rest for just a few thousand dollars per class – and, as teachers testified – subject to last-minute cancellations that can waste hours of preparation and leave them scrambling.

On Monday, the complaints were coming from workers for Bon Appetit, which does food services for Lesley, who spoke of earning as little as $9 per hour, resulting in the need for second jobs and 80-hour workweeks.

“This is the first job I’ve taken where I feel they don’t care about the workers,” said Randy Wright, 53, who testified to earning less than $20,000 per year and having no option but to live in a rooming house in the worst part of Dorchester. “I don’t feel safe, but I can’t afford to live anywhere else. I would love to live in Cambridge, but I can’t afford it. I love cooking, I love my job, but I need to be able to support myself and live in dignity.”

No comment …

While talks between Bon Appetit and the workers’ union drag on into their 11th month, Lesley takes a hands-off approach. John Sullivan, director of communications for the university, said Tuesday, Lesley had no comment “out of deference to the collective-bargaining process.”

“Lesley University respects the collective-bargaining process between the two parties, and any comment about that process and the status of those negotiations should come from either or both of those two parties,” he said.

That approach isn’t pleasing Lesley professors such as Eleanor Roffman. “To be a silent witness to damage to people who provide our food for us every day is really an injustice,” Roffman said, even more bluntly calling it “remaining silent in the face of injustice.”

It’s also not working for students such as senior Theresa Powers, who noted:

It’s really difficulty to be proud of a school whose actions don’t line up with the values that they preach. I think that it’s absolutely ridiculous and appalling that these workers are suffering and are feeding me every day but can’t afford to put food on the table for their own families.

Tuesday brought the announcement that adjunct professors voted 359-67 to unionize, following part-timers at Tufts. They could soon see a serious boost to their bargaining power if faculty follow their example at enough other institutions throughout Greater Boston, where adjunct faculty makes up 67 percent of teachers, according to the Service Employees International Union.

Sullivan has said Lesley supports adjunct faculty’s right to union representation in their working relationship with the university. That non-position is essentially the same as Lesley’s non-answer about Bon Appetit, in that both distance Lesley from the struggle of workers on its campuses as though the school was powerless. This is nonsense, and city councillor Marc McGovern – who also spoke an a campus rally for the workers Feb. 13 – was absolutely right to call the university on the offensiveness of this line of reasoning, which he said he’d heard straight from two Lesley officials even before Sullivan’s statement:

Lesley’s position is that ‘We subcontract to Bon Appetit, and these workers work for Bon Appetit, so it’s not our problem.’ Well, if you hire someone to do a job for you and that person that you hire is mistreating their employees, you absolutely have a responsibility to get involved. You are paying that contractor with university funds, and they are blatantly mistreating their workers. So Lesley hiding behind collectively bargaining … is absolutely an incomprehensible position, and I find it very frustrating they’re not willing to step up to the plate on this.

… but new marketing

Can marketing make up for this?

022514i-Lesley-logos-new-and-oldLesley’s new logo (see it below the old, at left) is a simple pair of tilted, three-dimensional “L” for “Lesley” shapes formed into mirrored less-than and more-than symbols suggesting a cube and unfortunately reminiscent of an optical illusion. (There’s also a new typeface.) In the weird, effortful language of marketing, this is described in a press release this month as “the culmination of months of research and conversations with thousands of of university stakeholders [into an] eye-catching logo [that] captures the creative, collaborative community of freethinkers, educators, artists and counselors who make up our alumni, students, faculty and staff. It is designed to communicate Lesley’s commitment to creativity and interdisciplinary instruction.”

Bizarrely, nowhere in the 500-plus words it takes to explain the sheer excitement one should feel looking at this logo does it mention that the symbols making it up are also arrows, even though that’s blatantly their use in the video that introduces the concept:

The university also makes it weird when it comes to moving the marketing into the real world in giant signs at the Harvard T stop on the red line.

The idea is to take immediately identifiable phrases and replace a key word in it with the word “creativity,” which Lesley says it’s now all about.

This may be okay when a sign urges you to “Commit random acts of creativity” but gets awkward fast when you see that “We hold creativity to be self-evident” and that “Creativity is worth a thousand words.” (Also: “Nobody puts creativity in a corner”? Why not “Creativity, James Creativity,” or “I love the smell of creativity in the morning”?)

Cowardice and complicity in human misery is probably not what President Joseph Moore was thinking of for a rebranding. But the university’s name is getting increasingly dirtied by its inaction, and new font and some curious slogans aren’t going to correct that in the long run – especially when the amount of thought going into a logo and font choice doesn’t match up with the thoughtlessness of Lesley’s approach to its workers.

How about a little less creativity and a little more responsibility?

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One Response to Lesley University rebrands with creativity, but not much responsibility for its workers

  1. RainbowSlice

    Sunday, March 16, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    I don’t have an opinion on Lesley University as an educational institution but I definitely liked their old logo better. It is simple yet more visually impactful with the contrasting green background.

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