Public spat erupts among NEOhio university bosses

We learn this morning – courtesy of our local newspaper — that one public university president here in Northeast Ohio isn’t playing nice with his partners in the higher-ed sandbox. Tut, tut, Scott Scarborough.

Last week, the University of Akron president announced plans to rebrand UA as “Ohio’s Polytechnic University.” It’s a bold idea and it makes sense from a marketing perspective, since Akron is best known for science and engineering, including the finest polymer engineering program anywhere. So why not play to those strengths rather than remain a second-tier state school with declining enrollment?

The presidents of the four other state schools in the region, Cleveland State, Kent State, Youngstown State, and the Northeast Ohio Medical College, are taking issue with Scarborough’s plan — or at least the way it was presented. Their co-authored op-ed appears in today’s Beacon Journal.

UA’s rebranding plan itself doesn’t appear to threaten cooperation between the schools, but the doomsday rationale on which Scarborough bases that plan is what rankles the other presidents. Here’s what the Beacon Journal’s Rick Armon reported last week:

UA must reposition itself in a competitive industry, especially when research predicts that half of all colleges and universities won’t exist in the next 50 years, Scarborough told an audience of about 230 people…

It is a risky strategy, Scarborough admitted, but so is doing nothing.

“The greater risk for universities like us … is to be perceived as a generic public university, with a limited reach, no clear identity, struggling to survive, and likely to fail,” he said. “Now that’s a risky strategy. And that’s the current path most regional state universities are on.”

Scarborough’s counterparts say their view of higher ed’s future is more optimistic and “based on the remarkable contributions of all of our region’s public universities.” Their op-ed cites wonderful examples of those contributions, but to be fair, it also ignores the long-range forecasts that predict that 50-year shakeout Scarborough refers to.

I don’t see how a powerful polytechnic university is a threat to other schools in the region or how such an entity threatens cooperation and collaboration. But as country crooner Charlie Rich once said, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

Is Scarborough the bad boy in this Gang of Five? Does he try to hoard all the marbles or push the other kids off the swings? No one is talking publicly about the dynamics of this group – nor should they. But today’s public commentary in the Beacon is probably not the best way to get Scarborough back to the sandbox.

If you hang around higher ed long enough, you learn to recognize the sound of saber rattling. It seldom changes anything, but it’s always there. I don’t write this piece to defend Scarborough or criticize his counterparts. Their positions both have merit. But you know that old saw about airing one’s dirty laundry? It’s not the best way to mend a relationship — nor is it a sound PR strategy. Because you seldom get the results you seek.

Another lesson on secrecy from Kent State

When you earn front-page coverage 4 times for one story — and all within a 2-week period — it’s usually bad news. Such is the case with Kent State, and I can’t let it pass without comment.

The story that keeps on giving.

The story that keeps on giving.

It began with this story on March 10. Internally, KSU announced plans to hire East Coast marketing firm 160over90 to help redirect the university’s brand. The cost, just north of $100K, is small change in the scheme of things.

Nothing was released to the media, but emails sent to 4,000 employees tend to get around. Continue reading

Kent State president faces first big leadership/PR challenge

Beverly Warren

Beverly Warren

Update, March 13, 2015. KSU Board of Trustees voted, in executive session this past Wednesday, to extend benefits to dependents of domestic partners, retroactive to January. Hat tip to Bev Warren for doing the right thing. Raspberries to the administrators who fought for discrimination and the status quo for the last 6 months. 

Kent State’s Beverly Warren faces the first major leadership challenge of her 8-month presidency this Wednesday. But you probably haven’t heard about it. Continue reading

PR debacle: Not-so-secret report topples local police chief

A scandalous story unfolded in my neighborhood in recent weeks. It has all the elements of a made-for-TV movie, which may explain why the rise and fall of Chief David Oliver remained a Page 1 story — and a PR nightmare — for a fortnight.

Chief David Oliver's celebrity included a popular Facebook page and this book, "No Mopes Allowed."

Chief David Oliver’s celebrity included a popular Facebook page and this book.

It’s the story of a man once dubbed “the most popular cop on the Internet.” Oliver, from tiny Brimfield Township, Ohio, used social media and an affable personality to become bigger than life. At one point he had 80,000 followers on Facebook and a hot-selling book. He’d also been the focus of dozens of national media stories, most praising his sense of humor and no-nonsense approach to crime. Continue reading

Career Destination 2020

Most PR guys don’t have the luxury of recalibrating their careers at age 60. Most have been put out to pasture — victims of our youth-driven culture. I’m fortunate to have some control over my career exit, thanks to academic tenure and a union contract. So I’ve made some decisions.

1) I will retire from teaching in 2020, at the end of my 28th year — barring unforeseen variables such as untimely death or another Bush-like presidency that crashes my investments. It breaks my heart to think about leaving this incredible… wait, wait. That’s total bullshit. I can’t freakin’ can’t wait to retire, and with the right incentive I’ll exit long before 2020. Send Powerball tickets. Continue reading

That ‘secret search’ is in the headlines. Again.

When a certain Midwestern state university conducted a presidential search in relative secrecy last year, it rightfully drew criticism from news media and public records advocates everywhere (my summary here). And though none of these media outlets challenged the secret search in court, the university suffered great losses in the court of public opinion.

It was a PR disaster. But on the bright side, it’s one that a new president can use to guide future decisions. Continue reading

NFL’s Snyder fumbles the perfect opportunity

77531-nfl-washington-redskins-helmet-balloonDisagree if you’d like, but using the NFL team name “Redskins” is akin to using the N-word. It’s a racial epithet used only to disparage. It’s not a label that civil and thinking people ever apply to Native Americans.

But Washington team owner Dan Snyder sees it differently. In fact, he even used another N-word to make this point last year: “We will NEVER change the name of the team.” Continue reading