Crisis Management Demystified: Here's How to Prevent a Crisis from Ruining Your Institution's Reputation. (People & Politics)

Article excerpt

For many Americans, the name "Kent State" evokes images of a nation in conflict. A single crisis decades ago forever defined that institution as a symbol of civil outrage and government run amok. The crises that occur on campuses today are less about changing the world and more about holding our institutions to ever-higher standards of conduct. Yet the stakes remain the same: the reputation of your college or university.

Stakes this high demand the attention of campus leaders, in much the same way investors, employees, and government regulators now demand accountability from corporate CEOs. After all, while good deeds often go unnoticed, crises never do. This is because your stakeholders (tuition-paying parents and major donors, students and faculty, and accrediting bodies and government regulators) are measuring your conduct during the crisis. They know that a crisis does not make character--it reveals character.

The scope of potential crises facing colleges and universities has never been greater, and stakeholders are asking tough questions and demanding accountability as never before. Hot-button issues include but are not limited to:

* Racial, gender, and economic diversity and discrimination (e.g., affirmative action, the impact of Title IX, etc.)

* Ethics and academic integrity

* Academic freedom and expression of controversial opinions

* Budgets and funding crises (e.g., tuition increases, acceptance of gifts from corporations guilty of fiscal malfeasance, etc.)

* Student behavior (e.g., hazing, binge drinking, etc.)

* On-campus safety and security

With so many issues to manage, it is critical that your institution be prepared to prevent crises and mitigate those that do occur. The process involves two primary steps: conducting a crisis vulnerability assessment and developing an actionable crisis response plan.

CRISIS VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT

The crisis vulnerability assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of your institution's operations and policies in areas that directly affect its reputation and should include:

* Institutional policy evaluation, to determine if policies on ethics, admissions, campus life, and similar issues reflect contemporary standards and responsible behavior.

* Government and regulatory compliance, to determine if your institution is operating within the confines of the law and if there are any vulnerabilities.

* Marketing analysis, to determine if claims made in the recruitment process are accurate and if communications are consistent with your institution's reputation.

* Work environment review, to determine if employment practices are in line with the law and societal expectations.

* Citizenship audit, to determine if your institution is fulfilling its obligation to its communities.

* Stakeholder assessment, to determine the perceptions and priorities of key stakeholder groups.

* Allies and adversaries assessment, to determine which credible third parties would stand with or against you, or remain neutral, in a crisis situation.

* Governance review, to underscore the credibility and integrity of leadership and its decision-making process.

* Leadership skills assessment, to determine if your management team has the proper training--including conflict management and media spokesmanship skills--to effectively manage a crisis situation.

The results of this evaluation should point to the strengths and positive image attributes your institution can muster in a crisis situation--as well as clearly identify the weak areas that must be addressed to prevent a crisis from occurring.

Still, leaders often resist crisis planning, for varying reasons. Some fear confronting the reality that something can go wrong. Then there are those who arrogantly believe they can "wing it" and handle the crisis with their natural charm. …