published in Marketing Educator, 12 (Spring 1993), p.1,6.
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What Should Marketing Students Learn?
Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Professor, Harbert College of Business
Administrative Fellow, Graduate School
Auburn University, Alabama

A provocative article I wrote a year ago in Marketing News generated dozens of letters, numerous phone calls, and comments in subsequent issues of the publication. And people keep asking for reprints.

A sarcastic course proposal, the article described the training many students believe should form the core of their marketing education.

College should improve a student's communication skills, but students often want social skills to supplant education and become a major portion of course credits toward their degree. The material becomes irrelevant to these students; they just want to know "how" to talk. Their goal is style.

One quarter, a student wrote a not-atypical complaint on the teacher evaluation, "My grade was unfairly hurt by my in ability to write" (sic). [AUTHOR'S NOTE: the original evaluation statement referred to an "in ability to write," but the magazine's copy editor corrected the student's error.] You assign a group project, then later ask who did which work: Lara did the research, Elton wrote the recommendations, Rebecca typed the paper, and Britt catered the meetings.

Worried about style, not substance, they demand that their academic program teach them how to work in groups and how to make a presentation.

To make time for this training, many students insist the university abolish general education requirements that students study philosophy, history or English. "After all," they say, "you only need that stuff if you are going to be a teacher." In business courses, the want less time on how to analyze problems and more on the style of presenting a solution.

The tongue-in-cheek course proposal first appeared in Marketing News' on August 3, 1992. Many educators are on vacation at that time, so maybe you missed it. It was on page 16; reader responses have all been on page 3 or 4.

I have distributed this mock course proposal in my classes since 1978. Invariably, some students will ask (in all earnestness) "Will this course be offered soon?" And once, a colleague asked if I wanted to teach it.

The marketing concept says that we should give the consumers what they want. And maybe you agree with the students.To apply the marketing concept to the education our consumers, the students, think they need, the following course is (once again) proposed:

To: All interested College of Business Faculty
RE: New course for inclusion in business core requirements,

Suggested as part of the business core course requirements, this new course will teach students the nature of group work and preparation for presentations. Using a variety of vapid case problems, "Business Meetings & Presentations" will emphasize the presentations, not the analysis. The nature of the cases is of minor concern. Students' grades will be based on the style of presentations and meetings, not on the substance of the ideas presented.

As a prerequisite for all upper-level business courses, the course will teach skills noted by many faculty as a major importance in the "real world" ("reality," as such, being generally undefined but apparently denoting all activities going on outside the university). Other courses might include these concerns as minor part of the grade, but this course will make it a priority and primary area of interest of the students' education.

Lectures will cover small group politics, construction of slides and transparencies, use of tape recorders and videotapes, style, fashion and wardrobe selection necessary to dress for success. Other topics could include public speaking, audience impact of winter tans, contemporary hair styles and proper use of cosmetics. Jeans will be banned from class meetings; grades will be penalized if business suits are not worn for presentations. Jogging shoes, dogs, bicycles, gym shorts, disheveled hair, backpacks and other articles a business manager might label as "unprofessional" will also have a negative impact on grades.

Students would complete one group mini-project and presentation per week, with group composition altered for each assignment to minimize some students' potential unfair advantage via friendships developed outside class. On one hand, the students with the most friends will do the best work. On the other hand, this does reward students for political ability of being liked by everyone, a true business skill well within the goals of this course. The instructor's evaluation of case presentations will simply seek the minimal level of competence that allows the audience to be swayed by the style of the presentation. The substance only need to be good enough such that a good presentation will mask how it is substantively vapid.

The "ability to work in groups" part grades will be based on peer evaluations. This will include students' ability to avoid arguments, sexual attractiveness and the quality of liquor or drugs served when acting as host or hostess for meetings. Students with busy schedules, unlisted phone numbers, apartments far from campus, as well as those who do not have answering machines or cooperative roommates, will be penalized accordingly.

Throughout the term, style (the "slickness" of presentations) will be the focus for all grades, with points depending on students wearing suits for presentations. The substance and content of ideas and insight of analysis will be irrelevant as long as above discussed minimum conceptual abilities are attained. Some genetic factors relating to physical attractiveness and freedom from speech impediments might influence evaluations, but everyone knows that ugly people who talk with a lisp can't succeed in business anyway.