Yesterday an article appeared on Huffington Post that featured NCBA’s Master of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program. The six-module MBA online program supplies positive descriptions of how cattle are typically raised, beef safety information, best-practices for environmental stewardship and more, all interspersed with various beef marketing messages. In many ways, it is a marketing tool (to give people the tools they might need to market beef as a “safe, wholesome, and nutritious” protein option). As a result, those who complete the program are supplied with information and tools that they can use, if they choose, to tell a “beef story.” In the Huffington Post article, it was mentioned by a critic of the program that college classrooms are an inappropriate “dumping ground” for industry propaganda campaigns. I have a problem with that statement because I have also required students to complete this program as part of their coursework — a key point is why I do this.
How such a “grassroots” (that descriptor is debatable) effort is incorporated into higher education curricula can vary. If required with an intended outcome of students becoming “agvocates” for the beef cause, then that is probably inappropriate. Yet, this can also be presented as a learning opportunity for students become aware of issues in the industry (internal and external), to expose them to the information being conveyed, and that’s how I handle it. It is also how the professor quoted in the article seems to handle it. Students complete the program on their own time — it’s like a semester-long homework assignment. It is up to the student to decide what he or she does with what they were exposed to as part of the MBA program. We also have excellent discussions about what this type of program may mean (both positive and negative) to the overall beef industry, an industry to which they are already connected or plan to enter. Some have become ardent beef proponents, utilizing information snippets and strategies presented to them in MBA modules, and others have simply been exposed to it and have opted out of being vocal about it. It is their prerogative, and making those decisions independently, objectively, is precisely something that college students need to do.