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Campus sign policy: No commercial messages

March 16, 2012

Established policies are rarely perfect, but they do allow people to avoid reinventing the wheel every time a new controversy arises. I recently discovered that Sacramento State has established Digital Signs Guidelines and Policies. The policies distinguish between “internal” and “external” digital signs, and I suppose people might disagree about whether the new digital signs in Tahoe Hall should be considered internal or external. They are in a covered breezeway, doors on one side, open to the elements on the other. But the differences in the policies for internal and external signs don’t seem relevant here. (It also seems that these signs are not part of the “SacConnect” campus digital sign network, but the policy apparently applies to all digital signs on campus.) Here are some key passages:

The digital signs on campus will provide the campus community with:

  • Emergency messaging
  • Information about campus events, activities and services.

The new digital signs in Tahoe Hall are broadcasting “corporate messages,” and so they apparently do not meet these Core Requirements.

Approval process for external signage messages

Public Affairs will review and approve or deny all exterior digital sign purchase, placement and message requests. Decisions should be made on the basis of compliance with the core requirements of campus electronic signage and content submission policy.  The understanding is that messages should be limited to avoid digital “pollution.” All Public Affairs decisions are final.

This sounds like the Public Affairs office would need to approve the new signs in Tahoe Hall. I don’t know whether it did. The website does not specify a separate approval process for internal signs.

Most importantly, the content policy for both internal and external digital signs clearly states:

No commercial or other for-profit messages.

As I mentioned before, Dean Varshney said that the videos in question are “corporate messages” and not commercial messages. I’ve stood there and watched the videos (a good way to harvest strange looks from students), and I think many of them are definitely commercial messages. In any case, it seems clear that the new digital signs in Tahoe Hall violate the spirit, and probably the letter, of the campus policy on digital signs.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ben Hoyt permalink
    March 19, 2012 2:52 PM

    Leaving aside the fact that corporate and commercial have become virtually synonymous, how exactly does Dean Varshney distinguish his “corporate” messages from the “commercial” messages the content policy outlaws? Is it corporate in the legal sense of the word, that it is a message from a group of people authorized to act as one? Is a commercial message one that explicitly states the price of a good or service and provides the recipient with knowledge of how to act on the offer? At any rate, it does seem to violate the spirit of this policy.

    As for the letter, though, an irreverent–and probably irrelevant–hypothetical occurred to me: If the third floor departments got together and purchased a rival video monitor, which instead gave bios of the faculty and listed their academic accomplishments, would that be corporate? Certainly it would provide messages authorized by a group. If our hypothetical video screen discussed any books that the individual faculty members have published, would that make it commercial? If it listed their current price on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Beer’s–or perhaps that should be the job of a rival “book price ticker”–would THAT make it commercial? If the line between corporate (which may just be a nice rhetorical distinction business school dean’s can hang their policies on) and commercial hinges on the expressed advertisement of price and location to purchase, does the policy need an addendum listing these sorts of things? Since I ran and hid when offered the chance to go to law school, I might be creating a false distinction between the two, but if I am, I would love to know what does distinguish them.

    All this may lead us to the process of wheel re-inventing you mentioned at the beginning. I would be curious what the Dean would say, though.

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