The countdown to Ludacris has officially begun. And if the two-hour wait at the Michigan Union Ticket Office last Friday was any indication, the rapper’s Nov. 3 performance is eagerly anticipated.

Sowmya Krishnamurthy

And it is long overdue. This concert is the first mainstream musical act to hit Hill Auditorium in recent memory, minus the clamor over Kanye West’s pseudo appearance a few weeks ago. It is puzzling and somewhat offensive that a school with the size and caliber of the University cannot – or does not, it is hard to say – draw guests comparable to our counterparts. Michigan State University’s Breslin Center just brought Jay Leno to its stage last week and ironically, Kanye will be there next month.

There is no reason that we cannot bring equal or better performers to campus. A sizeable audience and ample facilities already exist, and from a financial standpoint, big names yield enough ticket sales to cover most booking expenses. It has been theorized that the University has thwart inter-student conflicts by avoiding ostensibly provocative acts in the past, but college is not meant to be a diluted experience! Furthermore, students must be given some credit for their behavior; political firebrand Michael Moore’s visit last year went on without a hitch and if anything, injected a healthy debate between sides of opposition.

The problem of lackluster personalities extends beyond student entertainment and into commencement services too. Commencement marks the pinnacle of a student’s tenure in college, and much of the fondness graduates and families have for this last hurrah is based on the commencement speaker – not so much what he says, but who he is. We are all familiar with the bewilderment and snickering generated from obscure speakers like David Davis Jr., the founder and editor emeritus of Automobile Magazine, or John Seely Brown, a former Xerox scientist better known as “the spell-check guy.”

In all fairness, the performers are in no way at fault for the disappointment. Audiences – me included – are more easily snared with glamour than substance. Bottom line: We love celebrities. We love to escape the mundane by living vicariously through them, even if it’s through a brief encounter. No matter how devoid of academic relevance or even talent, A-listers fill seats and earn a school bragging rights.

Pandering to the masses might not seem to align with campus values, but it is becoming increasingly necessary. Along with any other institution of higher learning, the University is a business and like any business, we want to increase our brand power in the marketplace. Success is measured not by revenues per se, but by the amount of research funding, average standardized test scores of incoming students and national rankings. Additionally, the “Michigan” brand is reinforced by connections to luminaries, like successful alumni or the number of Nobel laureates in residence. When the University can boast that an alum has donated $100 million to its business school for instance, it is a boon to the school’s name and reputation; obviously, the campus must be worthy to receive such a generous donation over its competitors.

As competition becomes increasingly stiff among top colleges, the University needs to continue to differentiate itself. Attracting better speakers and performers gives students a sense of pride and in the grander scheme of things, adds to the bottom line.

 

Krishnamurthy can be reached at sowmyak@umich.edu.

 

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