The Evolution of Buzzwords

Sep 16 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday we received a draft academic plan for the next 5 years from the higher administration. It puts forward some good ideas and is fairly ambitious in terms of the implementation of new programs and improving the efficiency of current ones. All in all, it seems like a solid effort towards pushing Employment University in a progressive direction. Whether the people central to the writing of the document will stick around long enough to make it happen or if we will have a new 5 year plan in two years written by a new administration is yet to be determined, but the less cynical side of me thinks the document is a step in the right direction.

In reading The Plan, however, I found the particular wording rather striking - not because it was different but because the wording is so similar to any "Vision" document put out by any administrative group these days. The whole thing is steeped in "integrative approaches" and "interdisciplinary" or "entrepreneurial" solutions to issues of "global change" and "green economy". The document vows to "remove barriers" and "improve efficiency" for the teaching and research missions of the university (with little detail on how that will actually happen, of course). It's almost like administrative Mad Libs, the wording seems so familiar.

How do these buzzwords spread to become so ubiquitous? Who develops new buzzwords to throw out into the administrative soup to see if they become incorporated and spread like an advantageous allele in a population with high turn-over or get weeded out by selection? Is this handled by one of those amorphous "think tanks", or do they arise spontaneously in the wild and spread like wildfire once they are seen as novel? Does it start with funding agencies? Does their wording immediately get reflected by those applying for their money, affecting the way we talk about our teaching and research to satisfy the application requirements? Someone help me out here. Can we get Malcolm Gladwell to look into this? I need more of that guy's hair in my life anyway.

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