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Letter to Editor: NYCU could have avoided the AI branding blunder

Instead artificial intelligence was used as a sop to silence criticism and make decisions behind closed doors

National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University.

National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Although likely well-intentioned, like many marketing decisions of the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University (NYCU) merger, the latest gambit is yet another branding blunder.

In an apparent attempt to gain positive headlines through fad interest, the newly merged university created another tone-deaf initiative (similar to its LINE stickers) entitled, "Creating a vision, mission, and core values for NYCU with participative democracy and AI technologies."

Delegating responsibility to negotiate and communicate actual plans and analysis of the merged university and its mission and values, the university seeks to replace actual intelligence, which exists on campus and within the alumni base through the use of artificial intelligence, in order to mitigate and silence any criticism.

While creative, the ploy will not be successful at overcoming the anger at backroom deals and the silent, hidden decision-making process of the merger by creating an anonymous survey, with the results sent to an unelected and unaccountable group, which then utilizes AI. At the same time, it does nothing to address the real concerns of faculty, staff, students, and alumni of both institutions.

Past concerns regarding a lack of input by all stakeholders in the decision-making processes will not be overcome by giving an appearance of valuing opinions. What is required is actual, open discussions that treat both institutions with respect instead of ignoring them both and taking the road least difficult.

This is not an argument or complaint regarding the results of this process (I am sure there will be plenty of time for that). Rather, this points out that every problem and blunder so far regarding branding and marketing could have been avoided by involvement and communication, seeking to utilize the existent intelligence within the campus community instead of making decisions and then seeking to silence opposition through bullying and public shaming.

The result of past methods has been confusion, mockery, and a loss of pride both within the university community and the community-at-large. This is devastating, as the merger could have been a positive contribution to the educational system and should have been one of the most significant university mergers in Taiwan's history.

Instead of appearing hip and innovative, this appears to be merely another delegation of the responsibility for marketing one of Taiwan's flagship educational institutions. The worrying lack of cohesive and competent marketing expertise within the university has become a liability. Here are four recent examples to highlight this point:

  1. The university design decisions are delegated, which has resulted in the student ambassador group logo having controversial symbolism that could be perceived as Marxist.
  2. Departments are allowed to create department and event brand materials without any insight from a central university marketing team, which has resulted in a recent example of one department’s students naming an event with knowing intention to mock and bully a specific student demographic (in this case, Chinese students), which puts the university’s reputation and the mental health of students at risk.
  3. The university’s chosen English letters have created confusion regarding the location of the university, with concern being negated as just anti-merger instead of addressing the concerns or adjusting the letters to align with global university ties (one suggestion was NYJU).
  4. Emblem creation has been done in back rooms with "choices" declared but redesign actions continuing in secret.

When these marketing and branding issues arise, how are concerns and questions handled? With diligent professionalism and open communication befitting a university attempting to become a top-ranked institution? Not so much.

If it is any indication, most opinions can only be expressed online, where both Taiwanese and foreigners have vented their concerns on various domestic and international social forums and platforms since to do so publicly could result in the loss of a job, lower grades, or even psychological bullying, with the opportunistic taking full advantage to cozy up to the establishment in an attempt at self-benefit.

With a new and competent president, many hoped the process would be different and would work to fix the errors made during the merger. While some aspects have arguably improved, one area of great concern that remains problematic is the lack of attention and focus on marketing management and branding.

NYCU does not need to utilize AI for its decisions regarding the merger. Instead, it needs to actively, openly, and without information siloing, engage with the stakeholders (alumni and current) and trust they are capable and intelligent enough to have open and frank conversations and progress this institution to its rightful place as a preeminent globally recognized and respected educational institution.

We do not need artificial intelligence, but the empowerment of existent intelligence and experience within the campus and alumni circles to collaborate and collectively participate in a new open family conversation. Through this discussion, hopefully the value of marketing and branding will become apparent, and a marketing management strategy can become a contributive and positive asset to the university as it strives to recreate itself.

Joseph Iesue is currently in Taiwan focused on research, self-development, and charity work, having spent 12 years in industry and eight years lecturing management in university (seven within Asia), having created policy and program initiatives at a societal and institutional level.

Updated : 2022-05-20 13:05 GMT+08:00