Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How NOT to manage a reputation

Binghamton University, once the crown jewel of the SUNY (State University of New York) system has been suffering several body blows to its reputation of late. Long-time President Lois DeFleur has doubtless had some sleepless nights over troubles with the school's basketball team and its athletic department.
Since entering Division I play, the team has had a string of incidents with players involving drugs, assault and other transgressions, that have tarnished the university's academic standing and called into question oversight by the coach and athletic department.
This case is a good example of what NOT to do in these situations.
When an adjunct professor who had taught at BU for many years was part of cutbacks to faculty after she charged the athletic department with pressure to allow athletes to skate through her class (and she refused) and when another woman accused the athletic department of telling her to provide sexual favors for donors, the evidence started mounting.
What's surprising is that despite the fact that an external investigation has been started, BU still insists on releasing its own, internal report on the sexual harassment charges.
An organization investigating itself is always suspect, whether its investigation is above-board or not. BU should step back and allow outside investigators free reign to interview, examine documents and electronic correspondence and form unfiltered and independent conclusions.
Unless that happens, there will remain a cloud of suspicion and the school will have trouble convincing alums, donors, prospective students, and its many other key publics that it has academics--strong academics--as its top priority.
This scandal could mean the end of the DeFleur era. With all that BU has accomplished in establishing itself as a premier state university with a very competitive admissions process and top-notch faculty and programs, it's a shame that poor crisis management (and a lack of recognition on the part of DeFleur that she should have called in crisis management experts to help her) could sink the BU ship.