April 9th, 2013
In July I wrote about Penn State’s reputation-shattering public relations fiasco. The post discussed making hard choices, being honest and having the guts to stand up for something; advice the officials at Rutgers University could have used back in November after learning about a video that compiled the gross misconduct of their men’s basketball coach during practices.
Sunday’s The New York Times article offers a detailed chronology of when Rutgers learned about the questionable coaching practices of recently terminated coach Mike Rice, and outlined an FBI investigation of whistleblower Eric Murdock, the program’s former player development director and source of the video.
While the story continues to unfold, the facts suggest that Rutgers was privy to this situation for quite some time, putting the university’s interests in front of its students. The calculus of the university’s counsel — imposing a fine, suspension and providing sensitivity training — was less conspicuous than a termination. After all, there was (and still is) a lot going on at Rutgers. In November it was accepted into the Big Ten athletic conference, an extremely lucrative deal for the university. In July Rutgers began integrating the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey under its wing, and is currently negotiating a merger of its law schools in Newark and Camden.
It is debatable whether these strategic initiatives would have progressed if Rutgers acted responsibly and swiftly fired Rice in November. If they did, the short-term stain and bad PR would have been neutralized by the university’s proactive stance on righting a wrong and upholding the moral standards higher education institutions are expected to symbolize. Instead, Rutgers took the path of least resistance and its reputation is currently paying the consequences.
In crisis situations, the truth always hurts, but coming clean and staying in front of the story proves to be prudent and the right thing to do. So if you see something, make sure to say something. Otherwise your faux pas may help write another sequel.