Penn State should be deliberate with response to child sex scandal, not just swift, suggests crisis PR expert

Firing a university president and a very popular coach with what appears to be a rush to judgment and devoid of due diligence could backfire on the university.
(PR NewsChannel) / November 12, 2011 / STATE COLLEGE, Penn. 

The child sex scandal at Penn State dominates local, national headlines.

Because the allegations involve a severe lack of action, the Penn State Board of Trustees appear to be trying to control the uproar stemming from the sex abuse scandal by quickly firing the university president and Penn State’s longtime coach Joe Paterno. But that strategy could backfire, says a crisis management PR expert, because it appears the action was taken devoid of any investigation and is a clear rush to judgement.

“If you are going to fire a coach who is akin to god on campus, then you need to be able to help people understand why he deserves to be fired,” says Glenn Selig, a crisis management PR expert and founder of The Publicity Agency. “Once you help people understand the scope of why someone needs to be fired and explain to people what didn’t happen, but should’ve happened, students, alumni and others will rally behind the trustees. But simply making the decision without a proper explanation, you get great pushback.”

Selig applauds the Penn State University Board of Trustees for showing leadership. But making apparent knee-jerk, quick decisions with the hope that things will get better by cleaning house, prior to a truth-seeking process, often leads to matters getting worse, not better.

“Doing something just to do something is almost always the wrong something to do,” says Selig (Twitter: @glennselig). “This whole mess began because university officials failed to handle this effectively and did not thoroughly investigate what had happened. But you don’t make things right by cleaning house before knowing the full story and the events that unfolded. Due diligence and an investigation seems to be missing in the swift action university trustees took. Investigate. Then clean house if that is what is appropriate and then the students, faculty and alumni will stand with you.

“The university is badly damaged and it won’t get better simply by taking any action. What’s needed is the right action. There is too much disarray and you don’t bring calm by firing the university president and an incredibly popular football coach without a careful internal investigation, which clearly did not yet take place.

“You don’t make things right by making more mistakes and it seems abundantly clear that the university is in panic mode and it needs to begin functioning amid the crisis.”

Selig believes the Penn State University Board of Trustees may be trying to do what is in the best interest of the university.

“Perhaps Joe Paterno deserves to be fired. But the trustees did not do a good job of making that case to the university community and to the public. They probably can’t make that case because they don’t have all the information. The firing may have been premature or it may simply have been a mistake so the university is still reeling.”

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SOURCE:  The Publicity Agency

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