If you pay attention to the news then you may be shocked to realize how often you are exposed to public relations, particularly crisis communications. This year, we’ve been inundated with headlines like “Carnival Cruise Stranded Five Days at Sea”. “Target’s Credit Card Debacle Robs Thousands of Customers”. “The NFL Deals with Another Domestic Violence Dispute”. Crisis Communications are an unfortunate entity in the corporate world, but this year we saw something unlike anything prior. More and more colleges and universities around the nation are dealing with their own PR troubles.
On Dec. 17 an unfortunate incident happened out of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Hundreds of applicants had been falsely told they had been accepted to the class of 2019, only to be sent a follow up email that they in fact were not. This happened to 294 students and on top of multiple dreams being shattered the school is continuing to deal with the backlash. What a terrible ordeal for these students, as Johns Hopkins is one of the most prestigious schools in the country. This collegiate crisis was just one of a number of incidents from the past year and the problems are closer than you think.
I attend Central Michigan University, a school that has been implementing their best strategies to alter its image from a school known for partying to a credible, academic institution. President George Ross has done a great job on this mission as the school is garnering more attention for its programs relating to a number of fields. As a Chippewa, I take pride in this. We’ve had our string of crises, however, as kidnappings, stabbings, robberies, sexual assaults and couch burnings have set back the progress the school has made over the past few years.
It was Oct. 5, the day after Homecoming, and my Twitter stream was full of reports of a missing student on campus. After valiant efforts to find him, he was found dead in a pond next to the library. All the progress we had made, all the steps we had taken, all the fun that went in to Homecoming was instantly insignificant. We had to face this issue and find a path back to normalcy. It is a simple reminder that the world as you know can be altered, just like that.
The list of college PR troubles continued through the year. The University of Virginia’s backlash over the handling of sexual assault cases. The suicide of Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge. The shootings in the Florida State library. The shootings at Cal-Santa Barbara that killed six people. The multiple academic violations at the University of North Carolina. These all happened in 2014 alone, and some of these crises are still being managed today.
So what does that say about collegiate crisis communications? Is there enough of an emphasis on planning for the worst? Are we paying enough attention to everything that can go wrong? How can we assure that the future won’t repeat itself? I believe that we need a system that can incorporate this branch of PR in to the tree that is college education. Every major can use PR in its field of study, let alone crisis communications. What happens when the chemist mixes together the wrong chemicals and blows up the plant? Students should be educated in what can go wrong in their field of study.
Additionally, educating college professors and administrators may seem unnecessary or redundant, but the students at Johns Hopkins, Virginia and Cal-Santa Barbara probably don’t think so. The administrators at these schools can’t force their students to partake in something that they wouldn’t participate in. They may have expertise in education but further learning about crisis management and PR in general can go a long way in reducing the risk of crisis in 2015. With real time media and social media, everything is out there for everyone to see immediately and often it’s multiplied beyond what would have been the impact just a few years ago.
Not everything will go according to plan and not every day will be filled with rainbows and sunshine. The best thing to do is plan for the rain clouds, even in places you would least expect it. A little pre-planning for a crisis and how to handle it now, can save a lot of headaches in the long run.