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January 21st, 2005:

“Bright college days, oh carefree days that fly”

One of the things that attracted me to Trinity University while I was going through the college applications process was getting personal letters from the chairs of the math and music departments telling me about their programs. Now that I see what colleges are doing these days, it all seems kind of quaint.

Forget course catalogs and colorful pamphlets. Think sex, skiing and rock ‘n’ roll.

When it comes to recruiting students for college, admissions officials are turning to increasingly outlandish stunts to get the attention of high schoolers. Colleges and universities are using birthday cards, ski weekends and even reality TV shows to get an edge.

Personal contact with students is in. Indiscriminate mass mailings are out.

“Everybody’s trying to do something that isn’t the mundane,” said Dan Kunzman, vice president of admissions at Doane College in Crete in southeast Nebraska.


But not all of the gimmicks are received with open arms.

After the University of Nebraska-Lincoln agreed to let Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee film his reality show, Tommy Lee Goes to College, on campus, some faculty members protested. Local domestic violence and family groups also expressed concern that having the rock star representing the university may not be the best image to project. Lee spent about four months in jail after pleading no contest to kicking his then-wife, Pamela Anderson, in February 1998.

The show is tentatively scheduled to air this summer.

At Doane College, school officials apologized after receiving complaints about recruiting postcards sent to 13,500 prospective students that showed a male student surrounded by women, encouraging students to “play the field.”

Meanwhile, Saint Vincent College, in Latrobe, Pa., is planning a ski trip for potential students. Between snowboarding and skiing, students will be given information about financial aid, academic programs and life at the college.

Gaudeamus igitur, indeed. And that doesn’t even take into account the U of H hot tubs. Kids today, I swear.

More Trans Texas Corridor stories

I’m glad to see stories skeptical of the Trans Texas Corridor being run, especially on the TV news. There’s quite a bit that’s good in this KHOU piece from earlier this week, but before I get to that, I need to getan annoyance off my chest first.

It’s no secret that Texas is in a jam — a traffic jam.

Freeways are overcrowded and the state can’t afford to build new ones. It can barely maintain the ones we have.

One might get the impression from this that the reason the state can’t afford to build more roads or maintain the existing ones is something beyond its control. Which is bollocks – the Legislature and the Governor have made a choice, and that choice is to not raise the gas tax, which is where road funding comes from. The state of Washington made the opposite choice, but Texas did not, and so here we are with the $175 billion pie in the sky toll road plan. Does KHOU not have an economist in their Rolodex who could give them a sound-bite-friendly opinion as to how much we’d have to raise the gas tax to deal with our highway congestion problems?

Having gotten that off my chest, I’ll say that the rest of the story did a good job hitting on the main points of contention with the TTC. More like that would be nice.

Elsewhere, the NBC affiliate in Waco has a piece on the skeptical response that the TTC got from McLennan County commissioners.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is one of the boldest highways ever proposed, but what will be the economic impact be on McLennan County? That’s what commissioners tried to figure out from state transportation officials at their weekly meeting.

Many of the concerns surrounded the county’s tax base because as much as 4,000 acres of rural land would be taken to build the highway. That’s tax money the county would lose.

Commissioners are also concerned the county and the state may not have the final say because a private company is building the highway and development of I-35 could be slowed if the focus shifts to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

County Commissioner Wendall Crunk says, “Just about everything I’ve looked at has been negative for McLennan County.”


TxDOT officials and county commissioners talked for about two hours, but in the end, some commissioners were still not convinced the Trans-Texas Corridor is the best thing.

Commissioner Lester Gibson says, “I did not get any specific answers. The gentleman tried to answer, but it was still vague.”

I’ll say it again: The TTC is a big, fat opportunity for whoever carries the Democratic banner in the 2006 gubernatorial election. The more we talk about it, the better.

Welcome to Your-Name-Here Stadium

This was bound to happen sooner or later: HISD ponders selling naming rights to high school football stadia.

If HISD goes forward with the proposal, Houston would join a small but growing list of Texas school districts to plaster corporate names on their stadium facades.

“These things are worth discussing,” said HISD trustee Greg Meyers. “It’s probably a fine idea.”

Businesses have paid more than $1 million each to put their names on at least three Texas high school football stadiums, in Midland, Forney and Tyler.

HISD’s three sports complexes — Barnett, Butler and Delmar-Dyer — would be enticing advertising venues to many companies, said Dave Stephenson, president of Titus Sports Marketing in Dallas.

“With so many campuses and students tied into their facilities, if they look at an umbrella proposal, there’s tremendous prospects for that,” Stephenson said of HISD. Last year, his company negotiated a 12-year, $1.9 million deal with a hospital system that changed the Tyler stadium name to Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.

Although most naming deals have involved advertisers seeking suburban and rural audiences, Stephenson said he believes urban school districts will attract interest as well.

“There’s a lot of companies that want to get involved with inner-city students,” he said. “They may like HISD because they want to give back to the community and see their name put into helping disadvantaged kids.”

Honestly, I’m surprised it hadn’t already happened in Houston. Of course, maybe it’s just as well that nobody thought of it while Enron was still throwing money around. And let’s face it, I don’t think “Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium” would inspire much trembling from one’s opponents.

There are those, however, who believe public school facilities should be commercial-free zones.

“What schools have to understand is that naming a stadium after a corporation is basically saying to the kids, ‘Buy this. These are the good guys.’ And should a school be doing that?” said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and founding member of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “We used to name buildings after heroes, and now what we’re doing is naming buildings after the highest bidder.”

Eh, I don’t know. Are all high school stadia completely advertising-free to begin with? I mean, no signs, banners, anything with a logo on it? If not, why is this any more pernicious? I understand the point, I just don’t think it’s a big deal in this case.

UPDATE: KPRC did a story on this during the 5 PM news tonight. In one shot, they showed the scoreboard at some named-for-a-person stadium. In each of the corners of the scoreboard was a big red Coca Cola logo. Yeah, changing the name from Obscure Rich Guy Who Once Gave The School A Pile Of Money Stadium to Three Initial Corporation Stadium is really gonna send a message to the kids.

In the comments, Dru Stevenson mentions an interesting possibility, which is that one of the Houston megachurches, who already do a lot of advertising, might be in the market for a stadium name. It could happen. Lakewood Church already owns the Compaq CenterSummit, so adding an Oasis Of Love Stadium to their portfolio might make sense. I’d love to hear the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on that one if they try.

The perils of pop culture deprivation

I thought that James Dobson’s bizarre obsession with SpongeBob’s sexuality would easily be the dumbest thing I’d read this week, but damn if Jim Henley didn’t find something even dumber. Do we need to start putting warning labels that read “This is fiction. That means it’s not real.” on all pop-culture products for the benefit of clueless conservative commentators?