At first blush, it seems the University of Missouri today and Penn State in 2013 were using the same playbook: Clean house.
The circumstances differed, of course.
At Penn State, it was a sex-with-boys scandal. Trustees fired everyone from football coaches to the university president. The rationale: If they knew, they were culpable. If they didn’t know, they should have.
At Missouri, it’s more complicated. The headline issue was the sluggish response to racist acts on campus. Behind the scenes, there also were feuds with faculty, students and politicians ranging from its relationship with Planned Parenthood to slashing funds for core academic programs.
So when push came to shove, the president of the university system and the chancellor of its flagship campus in Columbia had few if any allies. Neither survived.
There’s much to be said for acting fast. The quicker you mop up a mess, the less it negatively impacts your reputation.
This doesn’t mean you should simply offer up a sacrificial lamb for the sake of putting a problem behind you. Certainly don’t use a situation as an excuse to fulfill a not-necessarily-related agenda of your own or someone else. That rarely works.
Take Missouri. Protesters initially demanded that the president go. They got that, and a few hours later they got a bonus — the chancellor stepped down. Did this sate their appetite? No. It whetted it, and their demands morphed larger.
What it does mean, from a damage-control perspective, is that once you’ve determined who’s at fault, you need to excise that person promptly. This can turn what would be a long and painful process of ugly disclosures into a short-lived news event.
The worst thing you could do is to try to protect those at fault — or even to be perceived that you are protecting them. That makes you look complicit.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
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