From Gail Baker, writing in Higher Education Today, a quick primer in crisis management, suitable for any organization, company or government agency.
The day starts like any other. Need to handle a complicated personnel issue, post an enrollment update, and answer budget questions. As you prepare to leave for a meeting, there’s a call from university communications. A reporter wants a comment about some “crisis” on campus.
Several familiar scenarios run through your head. Is it a student protest, charges from a disgruntled former employee, the controversial speaker invited to campus?
Your initial thought is “No big deal; just a typical crisis.” After all, universities are more intricate than Fortune 500 companies (and more like 500 smaller companies all working under the same banner). The occasional crisis is inevitable. You can handle this and still make your meeting. That’s just part of the job.
But as the communications team explains what the reporter wants to discuss, you realize something is amiss. This issue is infinitely more troublesome, and delicate. A single misstep could cost the university a price it simply can’t afford. This isn’t a routine collegiate crisis; your previously routine day has come to a screeching halt. You and your institution are in the whirling vortex of a scandal.
There are some key distinctions between a crisis and a scandal that once understood, can help guide your response.
A crisis can befall any university. We have preciously limited control over natural disasters or random acts of violence. With a crisis, you start with public sympathy—or at least, not animosity.
Scandals are different. While they share the same basic DNA, scandals are more treacherous and complex. A wrong move here could forever be etched into the university’s identity. Scandals compromise your institution’s morality and integrity.
Scandals are about your institution’s character. Scandals corrode your institution’s reputation. And they can burn it to the ground.
Scandals are even more insidious because they come with implied intent.
You knew and you ignored.
You knew and covered up.
Oh, you didn’t know? Well, then you should have known.
Why didn’t you know? Isn’t it your job to know?
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