Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, is a new book that says the cost of college has skyrocketed while the actual learning taking place has plummeted.

“Students are hitting the books less and partying more,” is the way Bob Herbert of the New York Times summed up this book in a column March 6.

Authors are Profs. Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia.

Students are looking for a good time in college and a credential that will open doors at employers, say the authors. Lack of writing and failure to take difficult courses that develop powers of critical thinking characterize the college experience today, they say.

I looked at some of the 50 courses in “Communication Sciences” at the University of Connecticut, where I graduated in 1956, and found that only two have “PR” in their titles. Quite a few sound pretty soft to me.

Course 4035 is “Advanced Study of Media Effects: Sex, Drugs and Rock N Roll.” Topics include sexual content on TV, pornography, alcohol on TV, video games, and media impact on body image.”

Asst. Prof. in residence Alice Veksler focuses on “various aspects of romantic relationships” and is currently doing an analysis of “unrequited attraction, the effects of breakups on stress hormones in the body, the role of romantic attraction in a classroom setting, relational maintenance, and how expressive writing can be used to reduce stress in college students.”

The department is headed by Carl Coelho, Ph.D., whose interests are aphasia rehabilitation, traumatic brain injury, language functions of the prefrontal cortex, and discourse analysis. Other faculty and their interests are here.

PR and communications have been merged with public speaking, TV production, and nonverbal communications courses, a common money-saving practice in colleges these days. This is the list of undergraduate courses offered by the department.

Tuition, room & board cost $24K for an in-state resident and $38K for out-of-state (vs. about $1,000 when I went to UCONN).

UCONN Wants Our $$; Period

UCONN would like the O’Dwyer Co. to make a hefty contribution to it and I’m considering it.

Several years ago I had a lengthy visit from two men whose job is to look up grads from long ago and suggest that dear old UCONN could benefit from a donation and perhaps a good slice of their estates. I took them to lunch and where they pulled out a laptop and played a video about the school.

Until a 250-word article on me appeared in the Daily Campus March 21, through the intercession of a grad, the O’Dwyer Co. and I were effectively banned at the school. The last time it bought anything was in 2001 (an O’Dwyer’s Directory of PR Firms).

The Daily Campus interview with us was assigned to a freshman journalism major not even listed on the masthead. She had a tight deadline and didn’t touch any of the issues I raised. I asked editor-in-chief John Kennedy for deeper coverage but he said via e-mail that his writers are “stretched thin.” He said he would listen to us in the future to “determine whether there’s a story on it or not.” The paper’s masthead lists 14 editorial staffers.

Previously, all attempts to reach the PR or journalism depts., or the school library or even attempts to advertise in the Daily Campus went nowhere. I had asked the gift-seekers to have someone in PR or journalism contact me but never heard from them again.

The school paper should have done an article on the O’Dwyer Co. many years ago, telling the students and professors about the vast amount of news, databases and features available in the five O’Dwyer products that are highly relevant to PR, communication, English and other majors. The students are being short-changed by politics.

Why the cold shoulder?

I’m now also trying to get Journalism dept. head Maureen Croteau interested in why there has been a decades-long blockade against a lifelong journalist who may be UCONN’s best known journalist graduate.

Nearly 200 colleges subscribe to O’Dwyer materials and I speak to college classes regularly either in person or via a teleconference.

The O’Dwyer Co. and its products are well known to Karen Grava, the former manager of media communications who was with UCONN 30 years until 2009 when she took retirement.

She is now at Item, a creative firm in Wallingford, but continues at UCONN as an adjunct in Communication Sciences.

PRSA Leader Was PR Vet at UCONN

Photo: Facebook
Grava is an active member of the PR Society of America, having served on the nominating committee in 2004.

The 2003 nomcom was accused of numerous abuses (link, sub req'd; use march/wind as username/pass) in a three-page letter by the Ethics Board including allowing candidates to file after the deadline; helping candidates with their filings; seeking and nominating an ineligible candidate, and allowing heavy lobbying by directors for candidates despite a ban on such activities by a 2000 governance task force.

It said directors were not to be involved in picking fellow board members—that was the job of members themselves as represented by the nomcom.

Complaints about board interference with the nomcom were also made in 2004 plus a complaint that the votes were counted in secret.
Whether Grava will speak to us remains to be seen. PRSA has a policy against members speaking to the press without the permission of paid staffers Bill Murray, president and CEO, or Arthur Yann, VP-PR. Unsolicited press inquiries must be reported to either Murray or Yann.

I would ask Grava if she approves of such a policy.

Hatfields & McCoys: PRSA & O’Dwyer

UCONN professors and students should look into why a state of war exists between the O’Dwyer Co. and the PR Society. It has reached such a fever pitch that this reporter was subjected to a string of obscenities and threats of physical harm by a PRSA Assembly delegate on Oct. 16, 2010 while standing in front of the Washington Hilton.

The assailant, who later repeated the obscenities and threats to me in an anonymous letter, was observed doing this by Yann.

My requests for an investigation have been ignored as are about 99% of my requests for action or information from the Society. The D.C. police were told of the attack but said I had to be touched in order for an assault charge to be made.

The Society barred me from recording or taking pictures of the Assembly under pain of being permanently banned from it.

While other PR trade reporters were allowed to attend without charge the annual conference that started the next day, the Society demanded I pay $1,275 to attend.

Illogically, the Society credentialed me for the Assembly but not the conference.

O’Dwyer staffers cannot join the Society and O’Dwyer ads are not allowed in Society media.

Our offense? More than 50,000 copies of O’Dwyer articles were sold without permission via the Society’s info pack service from 1980-1994 (link, PDF). The Society can’t tolerate being reminded of this massive theft of intellectual property which was halted as soon as the O’Dwyer Co. exposed it.

It is the O’Dwyer Co. that should be angry at the Society rather than vice versa. If anyone wonders what “spin” is, this is a good example.

Sex Scandal Erupted in 2006

Another possible reason for UCONN keeping its distance from the O’Dwyer Co. is a sexual scandal that took place on campus in 2005 that resulted in new law being created to handle a sexual practice called “bukkake.” The practice, in which men ejaculate on a woman, originated in Japan and was often performed by 50-60 men.

One of the three UCONN students charged with this was Zak Allan Brohinsky, 20 at the time and a student at UCONN. He is the son of Scott Brohinsky, longtime director of University relations and the boss of Grava.


Brohinsky, second from right
Photo: UConn
Scott Brohinsky, a 1976 graduate of UCONN’s law school, and Grava retired in 2009 under an early retirement plan.

I never heard of the incident but it got wide coverage in Connecticut papers. One of several websites covering the incident attracted 62 posts.

Reporting of Incident Delayed

The sexual assault took place in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, 2005 but did not hit print until Feb. 3, 2006 after the Hartford Courant got a tip. It appears that attempts were made to keep this as quiet as possible.

UCONN police, informed of incident by the victim on Sept. 27, decided no sexual assault took place because none of the males had actually touched the victim. They pursued disorderly conduct charges, said the Daily Campus Feb. 6, 2006.

A question is why it took the school paper so long to catch up with this incident. A controversial policy instituted in 2009 took the police blotter section off the website after 18 months. Previously, stories were archived indefinitely.

Former managing editor Andrew Porter, in a blog, said the blotter was “extremely popular and very well read” and had been available for five years. The apparent motive for removing the blotter was to protect students whose background might be checked by potential employers in future years.

Potter said, “Opponents would say that the blotter is simply a factual record of an arrest and it is not a newspaper’s responsibility to babysit people’s reputations.”

Brohinsky and two other male students had been drinking with the woman who went back with them to one of their rooms. She kissed one of the students but rejected further activity and fell asleep. The male students, after watching porn, ejaculated on her face.

Assistant State Attorney Elizabeth Learning spearheaded a drive to amend state law to include contact with bodily fluids.

Zak Allan Brohinsky pleaded guilty in July 2006 to first-degree reckless endangerment and was sentenced to 75 days in prison.

James Walter currently heads PR at UCONN with the title of associate VP for communications.

Susan Herbst, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, University System of Georgia, will join UCONN in July as the 15th and first woman president of the school which was founded in 1881.

UCONN Merged Marketing & PR

The school in 1998 embarked on a major reconstruction of its communications—combining PR with marketing. Scott Brohinsky made the announcement.

Input was obtained from M Booth & Assocs., New York, and a “wide variety of individuals including trustees, the administration, the deans, the regional campuses and Health Center,” he said. “It represents a sea change in the way the institution thinks about communications and markets itself to its constituencies.”

One apparent aspect of this program is that UCONN set out to become a sports powerhouse. Its men’s basketball team is a “Final Four” contender in the 2011 NCAA tournament and its women’s team is a finalist for the NCAA championship March 29. Its football team made its first journey to a post-season bowl last year.

The combination of marketing and PR can result in a surplus of hype and a deficit of facts. It’s a dangerous combination that leads to all sorts of communications abuses.

One example is what happened at Virginia Tech in 2007 where “development” and “university relations” had been combined.

Two student murders were discovered in a dorm at 7:15 a.m. on April 16. Instead of immediately alerting the campus that a murderer was on the loose, eight VT officials met at about 8:30 a.m. and decided to sit on this negative news while police sought a possible suspect (link, sub req'd).

Marketing triumphed over information and resulted in 30 more deaths. Parents of the deceased, media, students and the public were outraged at this failure to communicate. PR at one time had a large “public information” element but it’s been a long time since I heard such words in connection with PR.