The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy recently announced a series of marketing changes, including renaming the school to “Fletcher, The Graduate School of Global Affairs,” adopting a new seal and tagline and creating a part-time degree. This decision, made public on Nov. 16, was understandably met with widespread anger and concern from a number of alumni and current students. Although Fletcher reverted some of these changes last week and opened channels for community input, the university’s handling of the decision both before and after its announcement demonstrated a disregard for transparency and collaboration with community members. In its current reevaluation of the rebranding and future marketing decisions, the university must strive to conduct a collaborative, transparent decision-making process that incorporates student, alumni and faculty perspectives.
In response to the sudden rebranding changes, many students and alumni have expressed disappointment and concerns. Some felt that the new tagline, “Awakening Courage,” did not represent the goals of the student body at Fletcher and that the new Master in Global Affairs degree was a step backward. Some students, including Fletcher alumna Aziza Mohammed (F’12), started petitions to demand change from the administration. After Mohammed shared her Change.org petition on LinkedIn to represent student concerns and call for the changes to be reverted, Liz Musch, at the time a member of the Board of Advisors at Fletcher, said Mohammed was “behaving like a terrorist,” and demanded she remove the petition.
In light of community backlash, Fletcher announced that it would revert to its previous branding and solicit community feedback via an online submission form. Although Fletcher halted all further marketing changes, the school’s social media platforms continue to harbor its new name. While the current pause in the rebranding process is a step in the right direction, it does not fix the communication issues that prevented extensive community review from happening in the first place.
The core of this crisis stems from a lack of input and transparency about the decision-making process. Institutions of higher education should be encouraged to change their branding as their values and academic operations evolve. However, the university’s one-sided approach to this issue neglected the perspectives of those who embody Fletcher’s values. Branding should not only be about profit making; it should aim to craft an accurate representation of the core values that an organization’s members stand for. Fletcher’s failure to include all community perspectives contradicted the collaborative framework the school emphasizes.
Furthermore, the decision to embark on this rebranding project amid a pandemic demonstrated a lack of consideration of the variety of challenges presented to both current and prospective students. Especially given the precarious job market, the rebranding and the subsequent leadership crisis that has ensued could potentially harm the reputation of the school, and thus affect future job and internship opportunities for students.
But perhaps more troubling than Fletcher’s abrupt restructuring efforts were Musch’s hateful and racially charged remarks. This response from a member of the Fletcher Board of Advisors was not only an unprofessional way to respond to the well-intentioned concerns of a community member, but was also incredibly harmful and antithetical to the school’s “global” educational philosophy. Ultimately, the rebrand divided the Tufts community rather than uniting it.
In this transitional period and beyond, Fletcher and Tufts must learn from the lessons of this crisis and reevaluate their approach to making schoolwide marketing changes. Moving forward, it is imperative that Fletcher be entirely transparent about marketing changes and involve community members in all phases of the decision-making process. Not only should criticism be invited, but it should be listened to. Further, Fletcher must ensure, both in the hiring process and afterward, that leadership and faculty are committed to representing the school’s mission and nondiscriminatory principles at all times, including on social media platforms.
While we commend Fletcher for promptly listening to community concerns and reverting some of the changes instituted by the rebrand, there is still much work to be done. Student and alumni perspectives are vital components to successfully upholding the mission, values and reputation of any school, and Fletcher must work harder to include them more in their decision-making processes.
Clarification: Liz Musch has now resigned from her position as a member of the Board of Advisors at Fletcher.