June 16, 1992, Tuesday, CITY EDITION


LENGTH: 681 words

HEADLINE: Blackboards To Billboards

BYLINE: By Mitchell Stephens. Mitchell Stephens will become chairman of the New York University Department of Journalism in August. He is the author of "A History of News" (Penguin).


PENN STATE UNIVERSITY'S recent decision to make Pepsi-Cola its official everage in return for $14 million should awaken all of us in academe to a new world of fund-raising opportunities.

Times, of course, are tough on campus. Federal and state aid has been slashed. Endowment income is down. And fewer students can come up with the tuition. University budgets have all suffered substantial cuts. We academics can no longer afford to indulge the old-fashioned notion that a university is above commercialism.

In America today, of course, everything can be sold. At the ballpark they now have sponsors for the out-of-town scores, sponsors for replays; soon they could be selling the innings: "Now batting for the Mets in the Budweiser bottom of the seventh . . . " Rock stars, who used to sing of how money can't buy love, now - intimately aware of what it can buy - perform under huge banners promoting diet sodas. And thousands of high schools, in exchange for free video equipment, make their students sit still for a TV show that mixes news with sneaker commercials.

For classy enterprises like ballet companies or universities, given the high deficits we currently run and the desire the rich have to be associated with us, selling out becomes a particularly attractive proposition. I am proud to report that plaques thanking Sony, Time Inc., Shell Oil, Hoffman LaRouche and Dow Jones now grace the walls of Arthur L. Carter Hall, the home of the NYU Journalism Department. Their money makes some of our programs possible. But after learning of Penn State's windfall from Pepsi, I realize that our efforts to enter the marketplace have been much too timid.

To get the money, Penn State agreed to turn over billboard space, scoreboard advertising, elements of cafeteria design and all soda sales on its 21 campuses to Pepsi for 10 years. I can't offer a whole university, but I can offer some unique opportunities to donors:

Package No. 1. In return for enough funding to restore our department's full office staff, allow freer use of a photocopy machine and permit faculty to attend occasional academic conferences, I will begin and end each of my lectures with the slogan of your choice. I don't have the pipes actually to warble a jingle, but, if you throw in a funded research trip every once in a while, I would agree to play a product theme softly in the background during the lectures.

Package No. 2. In return for increased student aid funding in our department - including, perhaps, a few more graduate assistantships - I will tape to the blackboard behind me during each of my lectures a 3-by-5-foot billboard with the slogan or sponsorship message of your choice. Care will be taken, of course, to provide the proper atmosphere for appreciating the billboard's message; were the sponsor Rupert Murdoch, for example, my discussion of sensationalism and journalism ethics would be modified. To reach students during office visits, the billboard design might be replicated on my tie.

Package No. 3. In return for a supplemental grant that allows us to hire enough faculty to teach all the department's courses for 10 years at salaries approaching, let's say, two-thirds of what we might earn off-campus, I would go considerably beyond the endowed professorships we now routinely offer. I will adopt legally the middle name of your choice. My new name - "Mitchell AT&T The Right Choice Stephens," perhaps - will then appear in all course listings and atop all my books, papers, articles and opinion pieces. In return for a 20-year faculty-hiring grant, I am willing also to change my children's names.

All these deals are open to corporations, advertising and public relations agencies and rich people of every stripe. In the new spirit of plutocrat-scholar cooperation, I will not discriminate on the basis of product safety, worker treatment, environmental responsibility or rapacity.

And these deals will have an added benefit: They will help remind students that in 1992 there is no longer any corner of American life where wealth does not hold sway.

GRAPHIC: Photo- Mitchell Stephens