Syracuse University's Bad PR
As a student at Syracuse University, I have had the opportunity to witness up close some of the things that have given the school some not-so-good press these past two semesters. It seems that as soon as one issue dies down, another pops up to refuel the conversation, and the university has done a less-than-stellar job handling these issues from a public relations point-of-view.
This past summer Syracuse University received the number one spot on the Princeton Review’s party school rankings. The university issued a brief statement and began what would be the first of SU’s favorite internal PR tactics – the mass email sent out to students and faculty at the school. The email contained the statement that discredited the Princeton Review’s ranking procedure and then went on to scold students for earning the ranking in the first place. New policies were implemented on campus to follow up what the statement promised. However, SU’s perhaps over-the-top reaction to the ranking may have made it a bigger deal in the news than it would have been and effectually contradicted itself by giving so much weight to an issue it was attempting to discredit.
Also in the summer of 2014, Syracuse University announced the closing of the campus’ Advocacy Center. In less than a week from the announcement the center was completely shut down. Students, faculty and staff were given no prior notice or warning to the closing announcement, and the university did not provide a reason why it was shut down until they received a heavy backlash from members of the university community, including students, faculty and staff, and alumni. In an effort to appease those attacking the decision, the university held “listening meetings” on campus to hear the thoughts of the community, however, these meetings were held in the summer months right after the closing when the majority of students were not on campus to attend. Even when a statement was released, it gave a round-about reasoning as to why university administration thought this was a good idea and failed to mention any of the fiscal considerations that the university community has no doubt played a role. If SU had handled this with greater transparency and communication to their audiences, this could have been executed in a much less controversial manner with much less backlash.
The General Body
Partially in response to the Advocacy Center closing and partially in response to issues of diversity and discrimination on campus, including the Hannah Strong video, a group of students known as The General Body formed on campus and conducted a sit-in protest in the university’s admissions office for weeks. While university administration did attempt to work with the students on their demands for a more inclusive campus, they moved slowly and were unable to come to a consensus and end the protest in a clean and timely manner. The story made national headlines and trended on social media, giving SU a lot of bad press.
Most recently their has been the story of hazing in a frat on campus that sent one student to the hospital with the possibility of losing up to four of his fingers. While the university has done a good job dealing with this incident by enforcing SU’s hazing policy, suspending the frat and charging two of the members, it was way to slow to give a statement to the national news outlets that were running the story immediately after it happened.
There hasn’t been much to give SU some good press in the past few months. With theNCAA basketball sanctions that were just released earlier this week, we will get to see how the university responds to this as well. What I find hard to understand is that Syracuse University has one of the best public relations programs in the country right in its backyard, but doesn’t seem to used it. Why wouldn’t the university consult the acclaimed faculty in Newhouse’s PR department to create better communications plans for when incidents like those listed above occur? It seems like a no-brainer to me.