Published in Marketing News, 19 (July 19, 1985): 35-6
original manuscript. copyright by author

Marketing Educators Must Become More Scholarly
Herbert Rotfeld
Department of Marketing
Auburn University

Marketing teachers often lament their lack of academic respectability. There are grounds for it, and educators have only themselves to blame.

Marketing is not respected as an academic discipline for the very good reason that it isn't. Merely being taught at a university does not make something an academic discipline. No one would dare assert that typing, swimming, and videotape editing should be so considered. Simply being called "professor" does not make one a scholar.

Most teachers do not even think of themselves as scholars whose subject for study happens to be that phenomenon called marketing. Instead, they think of themselves as marketing professionals who happen to work in a classroom instead of in a business. They do not detach themselves; they empathize.

How many can say they objectively view marketing activities with the same disinterested, scholarly curiosity with which the anthropologist studies a primitive tribe, or with which the biologist watches the microbes squirming under a microscope? More directly, if marketing educators were scholars, they would not discuss the value of their education programs solely in reference to their ability (or inability) to train students for entry-level jobs.

Although the liberal arts form the basis for the vast bulk of our college and high school programs, it is rarely claimed that their importance to education is based on the course materials being necessary for future employment; English literature, Roman mythology, and understanding the 100 Years War are not considered necessary tools for everyday existence. Yet, it is obvious that the "educated people" ought to be able to best understand the world around them and how it exists, how it came to be, and so on.

Education for its own sake is an important ingredient for the working of our popular democracy; the people best able to adapt to the world around them are those with the greatest (and broadest) exposure to variations of that world.  If all that marketing education is capable of accomplishing is training students to be practitioners, there should be serious doubt about its value to the university campus. Yet, to listen to many deans and faculty, one starts to feel that the departments exist with the sole intent of taking over the business' intern and training programs.

The point is that the study of business practices could become an important body of scholarship, and the assistance such programs might provide to people in entry-level should serve a secondary role. However, if all that were offered were job skills and training, such programs would belong in vocational training schools and not in universities that offer baccalaureate or graduate degrees. If an area is an academic discipline, its various facets of study should make a valuable addition to the perspectives, knowledge and insight of the college graduate, regardless of whether that person plans to work in the business area he studied.

It should be intuitively obvious that when a group gathers to discuss how to train people for jobs. They clearly abandon any pretense of scholarship. They confess to being propagandists. Now, there is nothing intrinsically evil about propagandists, but their place is in the public relations office, not in the classroom. And that is the key to what is fundamentally wrong with marketing education; why it lacks an academic discipline and why many of its teachers are not scholars. This problem limits marketing education's social worth as well as its academic respectability.

How many marketing or advertising teachers worry not about improving the reputation of the business, but rather try to provide the detached, penetrating criticism that is needed? How many of our programs require courses on the history of business organizations, ethical issues, or law not in an effort to turn out "better" managers, but rather to criticize common business practices? How many courses on marketing and society are simply case studies of management problems instead of analysis of marketing's dysfunctions as a social force? How often do faculty searches consider professional experience more important than knowledge and insight into business activities?

Although a business executive cannot usually be a scholar of business practices, an executive with a better understanding of the "big picture" in which the organization operates probably does the job better. Much of American history and institutions are closely intertwined with the organizations and institutional structure of the business world, yet such perspectives tend to be totally ignored in education and by the educated.

The important point is that we are talking about a potential academic discipline which studies a pervasive aspect of American society. Its worth should not be gauged solely by whether the student plans to seek employment in that field.

Viewing education as job training, many marketing educators behave as supplicants, not scholars, when dealing with industry groups. Business teachers beg then for advice. Professors betray a feeling of dependence upon them, a sense of inferiority.

This is not suggesting that relations with practitioners be ended. There is no doubt that there is much that can be learned from the best of them. An anthropologist can't study a culture without contact with the natives. But educators must keep constantly in mind that their business is teaching, not business. A scholar cannot share goals, viewpoints, and values with practitioners. An educator should not be the businesses' representatives on campus, nor their recruiting officers or defense counsels.

No doubt many practitioners would be outraged by this, but it is hoped that others would applaud.

Educators should work for society, not industry, based upon the belief that they serve society by serving truth. To the extent that the educators become preoccupied with serving as job trainers, they fail to qualify as scholars.