Are Penn State and other Schools like Teflon when it Comes to Crises?

In the Jewish religion, there is a saying we keep in mind to help us stay strong during tough times: "this too  Teflon pan shall pass."

A story in the New York Times sports section yesterday – Some Lessons in Damage Control – reminded me of this. The main message of that article is that there often is not much long term impact of crises on universities.

Times writer Tamar Lewin took a look at possible long term effects of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal on the school within the context of how others fared, using Texas A & M, Virginia Tech, Duke and Indiana Universities as examples (which involved a bonfire collapse, shooting rampage, false rape accusations, and firing of Coach Bob Knight, respectively).

Lewin writes:

While the turmoil at Penn State has been the academic equivalent of a Category 5 storm, it will probably not have much long-term impact on the university, experts say…. Certainly, it will take years, perhaps a decade, to resolve the fallout from the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the football program…. But citing other universities’ experiences with crises, many higher education officials and crisis-management specialists predict that the effects will not last a year.

The statements in the above paragraph sound contradictory, don't they?  If it is true that the effects will not last a year despite the "years, perhaps a decade to resolve the fallout" what could be the reason for this?

Perhaps the answers can be found in the following quotes from the article regarding crises at Virgina Tech and Penn State:

“It might sound trite, but prospective students and their families saw on TV a united student body and incredibly supportive alumni population working together with strong university leadership,” said Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech. “It was painful and stressful, but the institution kept moving in the right directions, dealt openly with problems and shared our experiences with others…"

Hartle [of] the American Council on Education, said he thought it was a matter of time before Penn State again deserved its nickname, Happy Valley.

“With some deft outreach and some hard work, even the angry students on the streets this week are likely to become, like their predecessors, happy and loyal supporters,” he said. “Colleges and universities are much bigger than any one individual or scandal. Their crises become part of their history.

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2 Responses to Are Penn State and other Schools like Teflon when it Comes to Crises?

  1. Judy Gombita says:

    Bob, I know this isn’t really a comment, but I want to point you to the two Canadian newspaper articles that resonated the most with me last week.
    Note that the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente is American born. (I saw her speak about a year ago; her family moved to Canada when she was in her late teens or early 20s.)
    College football is America’s true religion (Globe and Mail)
    Penn State scandal ‘opportunity’ to create awareness, Kennedy says (Toronto Star)–penn-state-scandal-opportunity-to-create-awareness-kennedy-says
    I hope you also find them of interest and use in thinking about a (PR/communications) crisis like the one Penn State is experiencing, from a “moving forward” point of view.

  2. Bob Geller says:

    Judy, thanks for reading, and sharing the above articles.

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