Excellence in Action? Fugitaboutit!
Kent State has a new branding statement for 2008: “Show us the money — and we’ll spend it!” At least that’s the message I get from this morning’s Akron Beacon Journal editorial page. KSU’s lavish spending made the ABJ’s Top Five “most galling” decisions of 2007. The complete text of the commentary appears at the end of this post.
The headline, “King Lester doles out our treasury,” positions Kent State as some sort of fiefdom. Management behavior supports that impression and the ABJ’s editorial (and previous coverage) reinforces the “brand.”
I loathe the term “branding,” as it’s one more result of allowing our “evil twins” in marketing to hijack PR’s most important cargo. Back in the day, we simply called it “reputation,” and the savvy PR professional knew that reputation grew not from our client’s advertising or marketing strategies but from the client’s performance and its character.
Perhaps KSU’s administration should revisit that lesson.
If you follow this blog, you know I’ve criticized the Kent State brass in the past (here and here). But don’t misread my motives. While I’m a member of the AAUP, I’m not some union rabble-rouser. I’m a team guy — really I am.
But I’m also a guy who teaches the theory and the practice of public relations, and I’m weary of using my own employer as a “how-not-to” case study. But you can’t ignore the headlines, can you? What you need to do is stop making those headlines and correct the errant policies that lead to them.
My friend and colleague, Rob Jewell, has already posted his thoughts on this matter. But if you read only one post on Rob’s fine new blog, read the one he wrote last week — the one that captures the essence of the PR business. Rob titled the post: Public relations and character, and while he never mentions Kent State in that post, the lesson sure applies.
Since the Beacon Journal hasn’t yet posted its editorials for 12/28/07 (go figure), I’ve transcribed the text for you here:
King Lester doles out our treasury
Lester Lefton hasn’t quite figured out that he is not the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, or even a private university. The president of Kent State ran into turbulence when word surfaced of travel bills exceeding $40,000 during a European excursion. (Kent has programs abroad.)
Did Lefton learn his lesson about taking care of public money, not to mention avoiding messes that diminish the profile of higher education in the Statehouse? Evidently not.
If the travel bill didn’t stick in the public throat, Lefton later agreed to pay $88,000 in tuition for a Kent administrator (no pauper, on a salary of $206,140) seeking a doctoral degree at Case Western Reserve University. All those students accumulating substantial debt to get their diplomas had reason to wonder: If the administrator lacks available cash, why not advise him to borrow the money?
They may even draw the connection: Gee, $88,000? That equivalent to the annual tuition for 11 students.
(From the Akron Beacon Journal, 12/28/2007)