Academic Gobbledygook

Recently we heard President Obama and others criticize higher education. We heard about academic accountability and the growing problem of student debt. What has been the response from leaders in higher education? University of Washington President Mike Young says he’s annoyed with President Obama. Obama said last Friday that if universities don’t give students a break (on their tuition costs and growing debt), the federal government is going to start taking money away.

President Young called Obama’s threat “nonsense on stilts.”

He and his colleagues at Western Washington and Washington State say the actual total cost of educating college students has gone down in that state, when the dollars from parents and the state are combined. But as policy makers and legislators cut the dollars it sends to Washington’s colleges and universities, lawmakers have told them to go ahead and raise tuition to make up for the loss. So tuition has steadily grown in the same way all over the country.

Many students protest their lack of educational options. They point to the growing cost of higher education. Most are skeptical about their potential to dramactically increase their future earnings from an average of $14 per hour to jobs that pay over $30. The occupy movement has featured the false promises of a prosperous life after completing a bachelor’s degree.

The general consensus from employers and the public is that few undergraduate majors are “worth the investment” with the exception of certain hard sciences, engineering, math, business, and computer science. Most academics in other disciplines would be opposed to this verdict and provide anecdotal evidence to support their area of expertise. Two problems with a general defense of further investments in higher education are:

1. The lack of eloquent spokespeople for the value of general education

2. The proliferation and use of terms only academics understand. Academic gobbledygook such as immersion, experiential or deep learning, and integrated learning become academic gobbledygook to most parents and propspective college students

The pundits speaking on behalf of the liberal arts often use the concept of building ideal citizens and service-leaders. They claim a $150,000 investment returns a life-long learner who can solve community problems and build bridges. Detractors claim that academics are idealistic and live in an ivory tower. They claim that academics study arcane subjects to be the expert for an audience of five colleagues, in areas few people outside the discipline ever care to explore or even investigate. Academics defend their importance with lofty terms and claims, their language is filled with platitudes and three syllable words few others understand. This manner of speech is negitavely characterized as academic gobbledygook.

Rather than explaining their theories in plain and straight-forward language, the academic model is to make others believe the speaker is much more knowledgable than the audience by delving into details and complicated theorems. Accusations against higher education include the general lack of concern for the value of a dollar, and an “unrealistic or Utopian view of return on investment for the average college student’s tuition dollar.

Gobbledygook is also the language spoken by the goblins in Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Maybe that should be a sign to academics to forgo the gobbledygook and get to the point.

According to my former instructor Len Rogers, Gobbledygook is overly wordy writing which is filled with passive voice constructions, weak noun forms instead of strong verbs, and deadwood which gets in the way of clear communication. Gobbledygook, sometimes shortened to gobbledygoo, is a modern word compiled by Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who was at various times a Democratic Congressman and mayor of San Antonio. Writing as chairman of the US Smaller War Plants Committee in Congress, in the New York Times Magazine 21st May 1944, as part of a complaint against the obscure language used by his colleagues he used the word gobbledygook. He was inspired, he said, by the turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity”. Below are some of Len’s suggestions to minimize the gobbleygook:

Instead of                                                      Use

give consideration to                                     consider

make inquiry regarding                                  inquire

is of the opinion                                             believes

comes into conflict with                                conflicts

confidential nature                               confidential information

of an indefinite nature                                   indefinite

in order to                                                      to

in this day and age                                         today (or) now

with reference to                                            concerning

at this point in time                                        now

has the ability to                                            because (or) since

take the place of                                            substitute

utilize                                                             use

to be cognisant of                                          to know

to endeavour                                                  to try

terminate                                                        end (or) fire

effectuate                                                       do

Maybe its time to bring parents, students, and policy makers together without the gobbledygook and discuss how college is not right for everyone, but can be the catalyst for achievement and excellence in many others.

Vanessa Wetterling ’95 Can Play

As the GM of Prairie Communication stations Sunny 97.7, WAIK-Galesburg, and WRAM 1330, Vanessa Wetterling starts her days early, on the air or out with local farmers as their local media contact. She loves her involvement with sports broadcasting. Vanessa’s job allows her to remain committed to two of the loves in her life: sports and Monmouth College.

Vanessa was the first Spring 2012 speaker in our Midwest Entrepreneur speaker series. She graduated in 1995 from Monmouth College in Speech/Communication Arts. She was the star guard on the Fighting Scots Basketball Team from 1993-1996. A few years ago she moved positions from a similar post in Macomb into her current post as General Manager of the three local stations. She loves her job because “I get to do something different and work with different people every week.”

As a personal note, Vanessa continues to shine on the basketball court, and she competes well during noon ball as the only female participant. More importantly for our students, she loves MC and was willing to share her experiences and knowledge in the ever-changing area of media sales and digital media.

“Local news and sports will never be replaced by large media outlets or technology as long as we can stay economically viable ourselves. It is a battle for the confidence of retailers and service providers in our area.” Vanessa has followed the success of Groupon and developed her own gift certificate business called Big Deals. Big Deals work as a coupon or gift certificate for buyers, but for Vanessa it is “the proceeds from these sales that become the media budget for local advertisers. The business model is evolving but it is keeping us in the black.”

Vanessa has been very successful in running all three stations back into profitability and garnering financial rewards. From what we heard in class yesterday, she can manage as well as she can play.

Current Market

What is your product or service? 

Our product is our audience (on-air and on-line) – our service is communication to that audience through local programming such as News, Agriculture, Weather, Sports, Commercial Advertising Campaigns, Big Deals Online Store, SMS, Website, and various other activities that serve the community as a whole.

What’s your competitive advantage over your competition?

Our audience is our competitive advantage through our programs both on-air and on-line.  We target listeners with disposable incomes now and over the next twenty or more years.

Has your competitive advantage changed over time?

Increased 5 to 1 over the past two years through relationship with the audience, customers, advertisers, partners, legislators, city officials, national agricultural officials and more.

How big is your business today?  (Sales?  Number of employees?)

                50 Employees –PRC

                10 Employees – Locally

                4 Interns and 15 volunteers


What is your hometown and family background?  Were they factors in the decision to start a business? 

My hometown background was a growing bedroom community for families who commuted to Little Rock, Arkansas on a daily basis.  Every year there was new growth in the education, retail, housing and the private sector section of our community.  Many locally owned business are succeeding throughout the community with fewer box stores inside the city limits but on the way to Little Rock.   


What is your education?  Was it a factor?  Did you have the right education?

Bachelor Communications Monmouth College

Yes it was a factor and yes it was the right education

What prior jobs did you have?  Were they a factor?

Retail clerk in London, England in the summers (NEXT stores)  Taco Bell Closing Manager in Arkansas

No, they were not a factor.

Did you start or own any other businesses?


Were you able to support yourself immediately or did have another job while you started? 

I was able to support myself immediately


Founding the Business

How did you start the business?  When, where?

The business began in 1998 in Monmouth, Illinois and it was bought by an attorney in Chicago and the rest of us were hired to lead each individual radio group operation

Did you have a “formal” business plan before starting your business?  Did you have a mentor?

Yes, a 5-year strategic plan involving sales increases in specific categories such as financial, agriculture, sports, automotive, on-line retail and many others. No I did not have a mentor on a local basis.

What was your “innovation” or market niche?

  1. Is it good for the customer?  2.  Is it good for the audience?  3. Is it good for our corporation?  If all three = yes, then it’s implemented even if it is not a traditional radio design.


Legal Form – was the business a sole proprietorship or partnership or a corporation?



What accounting did you use?  Who did it? 

At first, a local accountant and by two years we use Peachtree and employed a Senior Accountant.

What marketing did you use?  Who did it? 

Our radio stations were our biggest marketing tool and each employee contributed to the marketing on-air, on-line and business to business.

How much start-up capital did you have?  Where did you get it?  What physical assets did you have? 

$2 million – our owner and he has multiple physical assets

How much risk were you taking?  Did you realize how much risk you were taking?

Enormous amount of risk and no we did not realize the magnitude until 2005

Did you have legal advice? 

FCC attorneys

Did you have a bail-out plan?


Employment Issues

 How long before you hired your first employee?  What function did they perform?

Day one- they kept a lot of the original employees

How do you search for employees?  What do you look for when hiring employees?

Websites, Networking, Facebook, Career Fairs, On-air recruitment ads

Now -we look for responsible and common sense driven employees who can and will participate in all functions of the radio station-we used to look for job specific duties but no longer


What is your attitude toward compensation?

Employees should be rewarded in multiple ways such as monetary incentives as well as flexibility

Do you hire the job or hire the person?



Management & Planning

Do you make formal plans and growth strategies?


Do you have stated monthly or annual goals or targets?  If so, what are they (sales revenue, output, profits)?   

Monthly,  Quarterly, and Annual goals in multiple categories – sales revenue- profits must be at 30% per market- 0-2% bad debt ratio – and 10% cost per sale on all expenses

                How do you measure quality?  Customer satisfaction?

                Relationship with listeners for on-air

                Customer satisfaction with our Big Deals store – purchase/interaction

                Relationship with our clients both in person and digital

Growth of client’s annual investment in our product minimum of 5% increase year to year without a rate increase per commercial




                What forms of marketing do you use?   Who is in charge of your marketing? 

                Social Media, On-air, banners, references, website, events, sports – I am in charge of our marketing

                Do you have any trademarked items or intellectual property? 

Freezing For Food, Ag Roundtable, Monmouth-Roseville/United/West Central and Monmouth College sports/Big Deals Store/ News/Ag/Sports reports


How do you determine your marketing budget?

10% cost per sale of each promotion and overall line item versus revenue

                Do you have a specific marketing message that you try to get out? 

                We have many satisfied advertisers and thousands of listeners

Do you have specific marketing goals? 

Yes – specific to each category of news, sports, weather, agriculture, big deals store, website, facebook, auction, etc.

Banks & Financing

How much do you use banks?  For what functions?   Do you use other financial institutions?

Banks for financing, daily deposits, transfers – others for 401K plans

How did you finance your business as it grew?  Did you consider alternatives?

Did you have major investments or did you just grow gradually? 

Major investments $1.7 million per market (had 17)

Do you actively use credit today or is cash flow sufficient to meet expenses?

                Cash Flow today / credit in the past


Do you use professional legal advice regularly?  How often?


Have you sued people?  Have people sued you?   Is the threat of lawsuit a major issue in your business?

                We have not sued anyone but we have been sued by people.  Yes it is a major issue


                How big an issue is insurance in your business?                  Any thoughts or advice? 

                Extremely big both to take care of equipment purchases such as a $75,000 claim due to lightning damage

                Do you provide health insurance for your employees?  Any comments? 

                Yes, our most expensive line item on the spreadsheet.


Contracts and Negotiations

Do you have to regularly negotiate with suppliers and/or buyers? 

No, mainly barter

Is it a formal process with written documents or word of mouth? 

                Written contracts


                Who is your main competition?  Do you monitor the competition?

                Radio Stations/Newspaper/TV

                Do you have a strategy to deal with competition? 

                Yes – Positive remarks and pre-sell their objection as a relates to us

Government Rules and Regulations

Are there special government regulations that you deal with?

Yes- every aspect of our business has a regulation from commercial writing, news delivery to beacon lights on the tower

What type – licenses, safety, environmental, food, hazards?

  License, Environment, Safety, OSHA, Hazards – burns, EEO, Issues and Programs, Meter Readings, etc…

Do government regulations present any special considerations or problems or opportunities?

Not enough people to take care of these regulations so we miss out on other revenue specific areas weekly and monthly because we do not have an on-site engineer or IT director.  Expensive fees to the government, free political advertising, and artist fees create problems. 

Comments about taxes and/or U.S. tax code?


Macroeconomics & Globalization

     Are interest rates and inflation a major consideration in your business?  If so, how do you deal with it? 

Does the value of the dollar and international trade issues impact your business?  How?

International trade impacts our business through advertising dollars from energy and agriculture clients. 


How much technology do you use in your business?  How is it used?  Every minute of every day is technology driven in our business

 Service, Charity and Community

                As a business, do you participate in service, charity and community activities? 

                All 3 are a part of our daily process

Future, Reflection & Advice

What issues for the future concern you?

Increased expenses, Economy, Compensation, Taxes, Technology, Corporate Business versus locally owned businesses, Gas Prices, School Consolidation, Insurance Premiums, Energy prices, Retention, New Owner, etc.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it? 

Waiting too long to make a change when you realize an employee is ill-suited for the job

What would you do differently if you could?

Make the change immediately or take proper steps to document activity

What do you wish that you would have known that did not know? 

That they were going to sell a profitable market versus an unprofitable one

What has been the biggest surprise in your years in business?                 The amount of work has increased dramatically but you are doing it with nearly half the staff of a decade ago.

What was your most satisfying accomplishment?   Why?

Rebuilding two markets both with on-air delivery and profitability.

What is your best advice to someone who wants to run their own business? 

Pick the RIGHT partners, employees, and mentors.  Stick to a budget and a plan at all times.  Be cautious and make changes ahead of time to your plans.  Always be looking around the corner.

Familiar Old Movies

One of the great things about familiar old movies is that it doesn’t matter if the movie is just starting or half over.   Even more important, it doesn’t matter if I fall asleep watching it.  I can enjoy each brief segment, knowing what has come before and what happens after.

The Accidental Tourist is one of those movies. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner star in this movie about an unhappy couple on the brink of a divorce. I have seen it several times and in segments too.  I came across it a few days ago after reading a 2010 blog entry from Mauri Ditzler, President of Monmouth College . I remembered many of my own trips abroad and related to the characters to former students and faculty who, like those created by Anne Tyler, “comfort us by demonstrating that eccentricities are often the norm”.

The premise of Accidental Tourist is that while traveling in a foreign country for the first time we experience inconvenience and new challenges at every turn. Unless we embrace the challenge and opportunity to learn something new, we fall back to that which is familiar within a foreign culture.  I have shuttled hundreds of Monmouth students and ACM /GLCA faculty through Asia and Europe and experienced this phenomenon first hand.

The main character in Accidental Tourist, played by William Hurt, creates guide books that allow the traveler to successfully navigate exotic and famous locales. One example is finding a hotel where English is spoken, calling a car service for a ride to the airport, or even finding a McDonald’s restaurant when you become tired of the locale fare.

The Accidental Tourist approach to travel is a constant search for the familiar with a touch of local culture. While you are thousands of miles from home, the idea is to find some comfortable. The Accidental Tourist is satisfied when they can touch and feel another culture without jumping in all of the way. An Accidental Tourist experiences the pool with only their toes instead of swimming.

The happiness experienced when seeing something familiar overshadows the discovering a new culture, or mingling with the locals. For me it is just the opposite, I relish the new and unfamiliar. It is a journey I have come to love. But for many of my students, the familiarity of McDonalds in an unfamiliar place is happiness. It may be the central premise of the Accidental Tourist.

This approach is antithetical to what I teach my international business students.  When they traveling or studying abroad, I instruct them to jump in, and experience and enjoy the local culture, food, and cultural events. It is particularly helpful when they experience the culture with someone living there about their same age. I encourage them to immerse themselves in all that is new and different. 

Don’t search out the McDonald’s in Paris or Tokyo.  Don’t be an accidental tourist.

But, in my three years of working closely with Mauri Ditzler, I learned another aspect of the Accidental Tourist principle. He taught me to always be true to our roots.  From his own blog entry on the Accidental Tourist, President Ditzler said “Often college students and their professors forget to immerse themselves in the most important culture they encounter — the culture of the town and region that is their host.  Many of us spend ten years or even an entire career in towns like Monmouth without enjoying what our hosts have to offer”.

He related the following story: “Some years ago a professor told me how much he enjoyed taking groups of students on study trips to distant city where he had grown up.  What a joy it was to introduce them to the restaurants and plays and the hustle and bustle of his childhood neighborhood.  I asked him if, in thirty years of teaching in a small Midwestern town, he had ever been to the local county fair or to the banjo festival fifty miles down the road, or the various small town celebrations in the surrounding community.  He hadn’t and didn’t seem to see the irony of not allowing his friends or even his students to enjoy introducing him to the culture they had experienced as a child.

Colleges and universities work to provide a self-contained community.  Our students eat, sleep, study, and play with little need to leave campus.  Professors and presidents can and should return to campus for concerts, lectures, sports, and meals.  But, if we are not careful we spend four important years or even an entire career living in a region without experiencing what that community has to offer.  And, when we don’t experience a community we can’t truly be a part of that community.  We observe but don’t enjoy.  We take services but give little in return”.

Confessions of a Successful Job Seeker

It makes sense to share the failures and successes, right? Well, I began searching almost six months ago for a new position in academia. I was eventually successful in finding a position I am very excited about.

I found the following fourteen things to be important in almost any search:

1. Your network of references, friends, recruiters, and confidants are your most valuable asset.

2. You must gain credibility with colleagues and be seen as someone that your employer would “hate to see go”.

3. Be prepared to tell stories of the challenges and lessons you learned that prepared you for the position you want. Show them you have had an increasing amount of responsibility and have been promoted.

4. Don’t leave a job until you determine there is no way to move up or you have spent at least three years trying to make a difference.

5. Get the most/best education you can possibly afford and document the experiences on the job with an electronic portfolio. Lead with your education if you are new to the industry or lead with your experience when you have many successful years under your belt.

6. Return phone calls and emails promptly, but don’t be afraid to say no thank you.

7. Tell the recruiter what is important to you and ask for feedback on your initial letter of interest.

8. Ask anyone connected with the target organization for help and feedback in effectively competing for the position.

9. Study the target company and its key players, especially those that will decide the winning candidate. Be friendly and outgoing without appearing “fake”. Remember names of those you meet.

10. Listen more than you talk.

11. Don’t expect web sites like The Ladders, Green Ivy, Monster, or Career Builder to be much help. The industry specific verticals and word of mouth are likely to be the best leads.

12. Edit and refine your LinkedIn profile and be circumspect in your Facebook postings about the ups and downs in the job search. Ask for advice from the people who have the job you want.

13. Be patient. Don’t leave the day job until you have something solid lined up. Don’t burn bridges while giving notice.

14. Learn from Tim Tibow–be humble when accepting compliments and praise. Thank your teammates, mentor, and colleagues for helping you be successful.

Ending Conflicts Between Sales and Marketing Before They Start

Why is there so much conflict between marketing and sales personnel? Many start-ups begin with the premise that marketing is tied closely to sales and neither is paramount. Sometimes marketing drives the product. This atmosphere of mutual respect and deference is healthy, but never seems to last last long as the venture grows or envolves.

Eventually sales targets fall short of expectations. The knives and politics begin between those responible for marketing and those selling the product or service.

If you want to drive Sales & Marketing alignment, shared ownership of the desired outcome (revenue) should be a required element of the measurement objectives.

In doing so, one shifts the culture from one of blame & finger-pointing to one of joint-solution discovery when goals are not being reached. The degree to which you tie revenue versus other goals can be managed through the allocation of incentive and/or compensation dollars attached to each goal.

Sales and Marketing managers need to recognize that the traditional separation of sales and marketing is an artificial division of labor. With the growing influence of the web, e-commerce, CRM, and social media more buying decisions are made based on information gathered prior to a sales meeting. According to many C level sales and marketing executives the fact that more companies are combining the functions at the SVP or VP level is evidence things are changing.

Within the information-gathering and decision-making process for buyers and the overall customer experience, there is no room for a wall between Sales & Marketing. If you want the Sales & Marketing functions to be working together to deliver the best product and service, having certain shared goals is strategically mandatory. Yes, each contributor does different things to achieve the best end results, but those different elements must all work together seamlessly to deliver the experience and revenue results the owners and investors desire

Entreprenuers Coming to Campus

Next month begins an exciting time for business students at Monmouth College when 20 + entrepreneurs from all major industries travel to campus to speak about how they began their careers and businesses. Chris Byers, Owner of Advanced Rehab in Bloomington will speak on February 2nd and Mike Luna, a very successful McDonald’s franchise owner will be on campus on February 7th. See you then!

Free Trade Benefits All Americans

The benefits of free trade and globalization have been a mystery to most Americans. Last spring, Monmouth College polled 500 registered voters in 8 Midwestern states and found a widespread antipathy towards globalization:

  • 64% of Midwesterners feel the region has lost more than its gained from globalization while just 20% feels it has gained more than its lost,
  • 66% feels that globalization is bad for the Midwest because it subjected American companies and workers to unfair competition and cheap labor while 22% feels globalization is good because it opened up new markets for American products and resulted in more jobs,
  • 72% feels globalization has harmed manufacturing in the Midwest,
  • 65% believes U.S. trade with other countries has reduced jobs in the Midwest while 19% believes global trade has led to job creation in the Midwest,
  • 61% sees China as a threat to jobs and economic security in the Midwest while 22% sees China as an opportunity for new markets and investment,

But, the economic debate among presidential hopefuls often centers around the benefits of global trade and protectionism to save jobs. Protectionism to save jobs can only work in the short-run and makes America less competitive. We cannot hold back globalization with undermining America’s role in the world economy.

Obviously, those of us who see government interfering and inhibiting business expansion play a vital role in convincing the doubters of benefits of greater free trade policy.

The job is difficult but doable.  The argument centers on what drives job creation. When a plant closes in Illinois the average citizen blames global trade. The results of the Monmouth poll confirm this hypothesis. Midwesterners have an immediate and visceral reaction to a company’s drive to cut costs.  Yet all Americans enjoy the benefits of globalization in the form of lower prices and job growth when companies expand their business and export activity. We forget the average American enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. Middle class Americans are part of the top 1% when you consider standard of living in the rest of the world. The problem is the benefits of globalization are not immediate and less visible to the average US citizen.

Leaders of business, education, government and other key stakeholders need to be more proactive in pointing out these benefits.  I encourage policy makers and business leaders to share the promise of future global opportunities and highlight our competitiveness rather than focus on areas where we are less competitive.

For example, US technology and life science companies lead the world. Four of the top ten agricultural exporting regions are located in the US.  We have the best foundation for commercial activity in the world with intellectual property protection, bankruptcy laws, and transparent political system of rules and regulations. As a result, Americans can monetize their assets to a greater extent than almost any other people.

Our system is not perfect, but much of the imperfection comes from over regulation and demands for fairness, not flaws in our systems supporting free trade. Much of the fault for the mortgage crisis came from policy makers arguing for more government support of home ownership for those not financially qualified to obtain mortgage loans.

Globalization has other benefits. We must expand educational and cultural exchanges. Why? These educational opportunities enhance our understanding of those we sell to and encourage the free movement of people as an entrepreneurial force for growth.  We can’t be competitive unless we “stay in the game”.

Union leaders and many liberal policy makers argue the US has lost more than other countries since the advent of more open trade and globalization.  But, our nation possesses some of the most valuable resources in the world: an industrious people, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and the world’s leading institutions of higher learning.

Let’s redefine the term globalization and free trade as “positives”, the critical ingredients to remaining the best economy in the world.