Another presidential departure, another PR controversy for UC System
- University of California-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced his resignation Tuesday, following campus-wide scrutiny over Dirks' handling of sexual assault cases and finances, among other issues.
- Reports the school paid more than $200,000 to create media-friendly opportunities for him over the last 12 months closely mirror actions of recently departed UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who spent $175,000 to remove references to a campus police incident from Internet searches.
- The news of both resignations force system officials to respond to charges about frivolous executive spending in the wake of state budget reductions, and in Katehi's case, helped to create new policy about executive employment beyond the campus.
The UC System has a legitimate leadership crisis on its hands, with media reaction on a multitude of high-level campus controversies stemming from public safety, financial management and public trust. Leaders outside of California should note that external crisis communications don't always yield the desired effect of positive media coverage or more favorable public reaction. In fact, in lean economic times, most non-essential communication spending is seen as excessive and an abuse of public funds.
In crisis management, boards and presidents should work together with campus PR officials to offer facts, truth and plans to improve performance and structure which can ensure that breakdowns are not a sign of future liability. Finances and public safety are things which can change in a moment, especially with thousands of people in the condensed area of a campus; but infrastructure and awareness building always give leadership the benefit of the doubt when systems break down.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education Berkeley paid to improve image of soon-to-be-ex chancellor