Eminent Domain

Scavenging for funds in the age of for-profit education

Touting its seminars as an "unmatched opportunity to learn how a renowned business leader achieves high performance results," the Institute played host to at least six Binghamton administrators for three-and-a-half days during the summer of 1997 (university officials would not confirm the exact number of attendees). Having coughed up a fee of at least $18,000, school representatives sat through lectures at the Walt Disney World Resort on such topics as "The Magic of Service," "The Magic of Process," and "The Magic of Setting."

Within months, Binghamton unveiled the brainchild of its Mouseketeer mentoring: the Quality Service Project. Relying on TQM- inspired principles, the ultimate goal of the Project is to attract customers— or students— to the campus with expanded service and aesthetic improvements. Incorporating the particular language of Disneyspeak (see below), the project counts as one of its backbones a program titled "Creating the Show." To help set the scene, new easy-to-follow signs have been erected, flower planters dot the grounds, and parking employees don uniforms.

"People apply to schools based on their head. Where they attend is based on their heart," says Sylvia Hall, assistant director of Binghamton's personnel department.

Kaz Ishihara

Furthermore, the Project has been spreading the Disney mantra— which emphasizes open communication with those in the trenches (customers and lower-level employees) to solve problems— through an in-house orientation program. Having instructed more than 300 faculty and staff members, "Quality Service Binghamton Style," also provides training on "How To Anticipate and Exceed Customer Needs in an Academic Setting." According to Hall, 90 percent of the campus staff who participated, faculty, and administrators have found the information from the Project "worthwhile and usable. . . . We have built a program based on Disney concepts."

Although many students and faculty are not yet aware of the university's involvement with the Disney Institute, it does have its critics. "Like it or not, the fact is that the public universities in the U.S.— and SUNY is a telling instance— are being rapidly transformed into agencies of transnational capitalist corporations," says W.V. Spanos, an English professor at Binghamton. Last November, when board members visited Binghamton, students and employees leafletted the campus, carrying a banner inscribed "SUNY Killers Here."

But if Pataki and the board have their way, Mickey is here to stay. This past fall, the governor's office recognized Binghamton as one of six statewide Work Force Champions. As part of the award, Binghamton will be sharing information culled from the Disney Institute with other campuses. Already, SUNY Utica/Rome has taken heed, sending administrators down to the Institute this year.

"I see Binghamton at the forefront," says Hall. "We're the crown jewel of the system."

Mind (Control) Reader

On how SUNY administrators can help build Brave New Worlds:

"The Disney theme show is quite a fragile thing. It just takes one contradiction, one out-of-place stimulus to negate a particular moment's experience."

On the ins and outs of mind control:

Cast members should be trained in the "illusion of spontaneity" to "establish common behaviors that contribute to the culture."

On how to transform campuses into SUNYworlds:

"It was the motels and fast food outlets surrounding Disneyland that motivated [Walt Disney] to purchase enough land so that Guests would stay not only for a day, but for a week, or longer. He wanted the Guest immersed in the total show."

On how to make lines seem shorter:

"Queue areas are broken up into many short lines by an arrangement of railings that neatly divide the Guests into small groups. These groups are kept moving through the maze."

Taken from seminar guides received by SUNY administrators from the Disney Institute

One of six articles in our Education Supplement.

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