Can PR fix the scandal at Scripps? I doubt it

Update: Seems that U.S. News reporter Jeff Greer has published a blog post (at the U.S. News site) about the Scripps/Reader dust-up. I suppose this raises the PR stakes a bit, since the story now has a broader potential audience. Unfortunately, the reporter relies entirely on the Ohio University Post (the student newspaper) for his information. In that sense, it’s pretty shoddy journalism. But then again, my own post here also relies on secondary sources. So I’d best not throw stones.

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If you don’t live and work in academe, the scandal brewing at Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School is inside baseball. And because it centers on universities granting lifetime job security (aka, tenure), it’s sure to piss people off even more. No one likes tenure except for those of us who have it.

Background. Last semester, the powers that be at Scripps recommended denying tenure to Bill Reader, a faculty member since 2002. The s#&* has now hit the fan, and the pro- and anti-Reader forces have gone to war.

As always, there are two sided to every story. If you want details, check the account in Inside Higher Ed. For the lazy among us, here’s my summary:

The Scripps administration says Assistant Professor Reader was denied tenure for reasons of collegiality. Seems he doesn’t play well with others on the faculty, and — following a 7-5 faculty vote IN FAVOR if granting him tenure — Reader allegedly directed stern warnings (in person and via email) to those who opposed him. Three of the colleagues who received those messages have filed formal harassment complaints. (Update: Be sure to read Bill Reader’s comment that explains the outcome of these complaints.)

Reader didn’t help himself when, during the “I have bad news” meeting with School Director Tom Hodson, he tearfully rolled up his sleeve to reveal evidence of self-mutilation, the results, he said, of a painful divorce brought on by his stressful job environment.

Reader isn’t denying his harsh words to colleagues and claims he has apologized for them. He makes a good case for his tenure, pointing to 6 years of positive reappointment reviews, none of which carried any hint of problems in teaching, research OR collegiality. (Update: I should qualify. This is what the press accounts lead us to believe. I don’t have immediate access to his letters of reappointment, but they are open for review thanks to public records laws.)

From what we know, on-the-record accounts kept by the school show Reader was doing great work. Judging from the public outcry from students, he’s also a popular teacher.

What’s now clear to the world is that Scripps has serious internal problems. And because Reader presented his appeal in a public meeting (his right under Ohio law), those problems are out there for all to see.

Most telling were the remarks of Associate Dean and Reader supporter Eddith Dashiell, who said the Scripps School has a long history of bullying and has been a hostile work environment since 1997. Dashiell makes these statements at some risk to her career, since Scripps Director Hodson and Dean Greg Sheppard (her boss) have both recommended denying Reader’s tenure bid.

What the hell happened? We can’t know all the details, but it appears to be a case of really, really bad management. If Reader was, in fact, the loose cannon some colleagues portray, he should have been sent packing years ago, not at the end of the tenure process.

At the same time, Reader’s more recent behaviors are bizarre, and do raise questions as to his fitness for the job.

What’s next? Were I a betting man, I’d say Reader will NOT return to Scripps next fall, as it would create an ugly situation. But I’m betting he gets a sizable payoff from the school’s endowment to “go quietly.” It beats a costly lawsuit and the extended reputation damage that comes with it.

But no matter the outcome, the reputation of a top-flight journalism school has been sullied. And there’s no spin machine to change that. Bad decisions bring bad PR.

Will the effect be lasting? I doubt it. Tenure-track jobs in J-Schools are as rare as hens’ teeth. So even if Scripps’ hostile environment persists, it isn’t likely to dissuade candidates from applying for jobs.

Will the scandal prompt alumni to discontinue contributions? Maybe. Will it affect the decision of prospective students or their parents? That’s the one I’d worry about. Ohio U’s “party school” brand already gives parents pause. A “hostile environment” in your school of choice adds one more obstacle.

I’ve always been a little envious of Scripps. After all, I work for “the other” J-School in Ohio — the one that most everyone views as the “runner-up.” But like the rest of the Scripps alumni, I’m taking no pleasure in the debacle in Athens. It hurts all of us — even those who graduated 35 years ago.

Oh, yeah. Maybe I forgot to mention I’m a Scripps grad. Whether I remain proud of my affiliation depends upon how Ohio University President Rod McDavis handles the case. I don’t envy him.

Update (2/5/10): From the AP wire: OSU President Gordon Gee says tenure is antiquated.

42 Responses to Can PR fix the scandal at Scripps? I doubt it

  1. Bill Huey says:

    Pardon, but isn’t the guy’s name Bill Reader? This sort of thing is typical in tenure hearings, where it becomes abundantly clear that universities can do whatever they want, without accountability to anyone.
    Tenure is one of the most anachronistic practices still alive in American society, and it should be abolished and prohibited by law, especially at state universities.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Bill: His name is, indeed, Bill. Best regards, Bill.
    I fixed that oversight thanks to a tweet from @smaloy.

    Tenure is an anachronism, for sure. But it’s so firmly entrenched and, along with the concept of “shared governance,” it’s gonna be tough to get rid of it.

    Tenure came about for good reason — to protect faculty from persecution for their ideas. It helps ensure academic freedom, which can be good or bad depending on one’s point of view.

    Just as often, however, tenure protects incompetence and fosters laziness. We’ve all seen it.

  3. Bill Huey says:

    Tenure does litte to ensure academic freedom. It only ensures academic orthodoxy. As one experienced academic put it during a seminar for assistant professors: “Tenure committees will tolerate almost any kind of personal eccentricity, but they won’t tolerate academic unorthodoxy.”
    That’s why all the papers presented at AEJMC look and sound the same.

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    I can’t disagree with much of that, Bill. Most of the refereed journal research out there is simply part of the “tenure mill,” and most of it adds little if anything to the advancement of the discipline.

    But I do see value in academic freedom. I have more than once criticized my own university’s administration for its management of the PR function. Tenure made possible those teachable moments chronicled on this blog.

  5. Bill Reader says:

    Bill (and Bill) — As the “Bill” in question, I do want to point you and your readers to an important fact in this case. The Office of Institutional Equity here at Ohio University conducted an investigation of what happened after the close tenure vote, and found that the “threats” attributed to me were nothing more than rumors and hearsay — nobody interviewed by OIE (20-plus people, including my accusers) said they had heard me make any direct threats. The two people identified as having heard my original “threats” said they did not consider my statements threatening in any way and also that they did not tell any other people that they thought I had made or would carry out threats. The “threats” argument is pure mythology — it was a fabrication by a few people who got outvoted via the tenure process.

    I’d be happy to share the entire OIE report with anybody, as it makes it pretty clear that the renewed myth that somehow I’m “dangerous” and went around “threatening” people is patently false.

    All best,

    Bill Reader

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by BillSledzik: Can PR fix the scandal at the Scripps school? And will anyone really care? http://bit.ly/ai9Urd New post at ToughSledding…

  7. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hi, Bill. Thanks for chiming in here. And sorry about my initial error on the name.

    We all know one person’s “stern comment” can easily be another’s “harassment.” And if those persons were already your opposition. Well, that’s part of the reason I applaud you for putting the appeal process into the public spotlight.

    What I didn’t know (or didn’t recall) was that the report had dismissed these claims. Thanks for clarifying.

    What troubles me most is this: If there were problems associated with your continuted employment at OU, those problems should have surfaced in your reappointment reviews. This is precisely why the tenure process takes 6 painful years: So everyone can judge your performance in the long run. For the admin to make a case based on collegiality — at the very last moment — raises red flags all over the place.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  8. Bill Reader says:

    S’cool, Bill. Having my name misspelled is not a problem; having my reputation misrepresented is.

    In a lot of ways, this case is complicated, but if simplicity is being sought, the term “witch trial” is actually not an overstatement.

    The scars on my arms were well-healed and more than a year old when I showed them to Hodson. Stewart knew about them for a year. My doctors all said it was no big deal — a tattoo would have been worse (they were more concerned about the vodka than the branding). The scars were so superficial that you can barely see them. Hodson’s “fears” are so much hyperbole, and suspiciously last-minute, at that.

  9. Jackie Lloyd says:

    “After all, I work for ‘the other’ J-School in Ohio — the one that most everyone views as the ‘runner-up.'”

    First, I adamantly disagree with the “runner-up” title that Kent so frequently gets. But for the sake of brevity let’s say that Kent and OU are tied.

    Second, I agree that this is a case of piss poor management. IF Mr. Reader didn’t play well with others, Scripps should have let him go long ago. Letting the tenure process continue for so long wasn’t fair to either party.

    And what’s with the hostile and bullying work environment? For God’s sake you’re university professors. Act like professionals. Kent PR and journalism students had rivalry, but I’d never describe it as “hostile.” Cripes.

    Bill I agree–I think prospective Scripps students might be turned off by the actions of the faculty and staff. If professors and deans can’t show each other respect, how are they going to treat lowly freshmen?

  10. Jackie Lloyd says:

    On second thought, this could be good for Kent JMC. Keep it up Bobcats!🙂

  11. Bill Reader says:

    Jackie — Your comments gave me a much-needed laugh. Kent has been doing a great job — new facility, great faculty, students cleaning up in Mark of Excellence, the whole spiel.

    Um … you hiring?

    Bill ‘Dead Professor Walking’ Reader

  12. Bill Sledzik says:

    @ Bill Reader: Several folks made a big deal about my inserting the wrong first name to my initial post. And I was horrified, a recurring anxiety attack from my reporting class in 1973 — the one where Don Lambert told us misspelled names or errors in fact resulted in automatic Fs. I never earned one of those Fs, but I would have today.

    @Jackie: When I list Kent State as “runner up,” I’m referring to its overall reputation as J-School and how we finish in all the student preference research on JMC in Ohio. Scripps remains the king. However, I think I’m deep enough in this thread to throw our a boast: I’ll put our PR curriculum up against anyone in the country. Now, what do I owe you for that plug?🙂

  13. Barb Hipsman says:

    All – here’s a p.r. question. If you were recruiting students to the J-School at Kent State, would you send out an e-mail that said “Heh, we’re one big happy family here at Kent – and we’d love to make you part of it.”

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      I wouldn’t address this issue at all if I were trying to recruit for Kent State, Barb. If it’s an important story in a student’s decisionmaking process, the story will speak for itself.

      Having spent my career in the cutthroat business world, I can tell you that the thought crossed my mind. But one thing I like about the academic world is the level of cooperation we seem to enjoy, even with our biggest recruiting rivals.

      I’d like to say that OU’s “party” brand is a big problem for my alma mater. But as you know, we have our own issues with such things here at Kent State. I’m reminded of it as I write this while looking down College Ave.

  14. Jackie Lloyd says:

    Bill R.- Glad I could bring you a laugh. Sounds like you need it.

    Bill S.- Course I’m going to defend my alma mater against its wacky J-School second cousin to the south. I’d like to see these student preference surveys. What do they entail?

    Oh and consider that plug a freebie. Next time I’ll bill my time to Lester.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      One of the surveys I refer to was conducted by our own people. It showed OU, Miami and Ohio State ranking higher as a student’s “first choice.” Kent State was considered a “fall back.” And naturally, we came up with a rather lame campaign that said, “Kent State: Your First Choice,” or some such thing. It was more than awful.

      We know from recruiting and talking with top journalism students that Ohio U is a formidable competitor with a great story to tell and lots of scholarship cash to spread around. OU also has a significantly higher admission standard, and that adds to the school’s prestige.

      We don’t sense the same level of competition on the PR side, and stand by my earlier comment. We can compete with anyone in the country when it comes to preparing students for jobs in public relations. Hey, it’s my blog. I’m allowed a boast now and then!

  15. Rich Becker says:

    Bill,

    It might be inside baseball, but it’s a fun read all the same.

    I agree with you that short-term public relations probably cannot salvage the school from a short-term crisis, but it seems short-term. The real public relations outcome won’t be decided today. It will likely be decided sometime tomorrow, maybe next week or next year from now or in the Fall, all depending on what all the parties do or do not do.

    To an outsider, it still seems to be very much in the live-fire stage. Will it tarnish the school? Maybe, but mostly that depends on what happens next and if it’s confined to mini bubble on the school’s total timeline or if it represents the continuation of credibility erosion now and into the future.

    Look forward to reading how it turns out.

    All my best,
    Rich

  16. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks, Rich. It’s funny you would show up just as a colleague admonished me for not answering the question posed in the headline. Can PR fix this?

    It’s a classic lose-lose for the short-term. If Reader stays, OU risks the potential for a serious unrest among faculty — at least those who voted against him. But let’s not forget, the no votes were in the minority. If Reader leaves, some faculty — along with those who might someday apply to work at Scripps — may ask whether it’s worth the risk.

    (I should note that a 7-5 vote from the faculty isn’t a ringing endorsement. Most of the favorable tenure votes I’ve seen in my 20 years at Kent were unanimous. That Reader’s application raised eyebrows with administration isn’t a big surprise given the margin of “victory.”)

    Long term? You’ve pretty much answered that question in your comment. The long-term impact of this story will depend what happens next. And that will be up to President McDavis.

    I’ve received a handful of messages and tweets from comm pros/Scripps alums who express respect for Reader as a teacher and a person. But that’s hardly a scientific poll. Still, if I’m Rod McDavis, I’d want to gauge alumni opinion and the perceived value Reader brought to their Scripps experience. I don’t want to toss him under the bus just because he pissed a few people off. Good teachers are too rare.

    • Colin Morris says:

      ‘Sides, isn’t “piss[ing] a few people off” now and then part of a good professor’s job, anyway?

      Thanks for hashing this out, Sledz. I’m not as regular a reader as I’d like to be, but this came up in Idsvoog’s CAR class today and I’m glad to have you and this post as a source of clarity.

      Thanks also to Bill Reader himself for joining the conversation. Given the portion of his first comment devoted to his “threats,” I would have appreciated seeing them. They were e-mailed, right? How hard could that have been to paste in? I’m not asking for the whole OIE report, just the offending statements.

      Asking for the OIE report probably wouldn’t hurt my standing with Idsvoog in CAR, though… hmm.

  17. Bill Reader says:

    Colin — Here is the section from the OIE report, pages 6-7 (I also posted this to the IHE comments, and e-mailed Idsvoog the entire copy of the report, per his request for his CAR class):

    “In an attempt to discern what role, if any, perceptions of a ‘dangerous’ disability tainted Reader’s promotion and tenure process, this Office considered the stated reasons for feeling threatened or intimidated by Reader, as expressed by a few faculty members. The reasons given by these witnesses as to why Reader was perceived of as threatening, intimidating, or retaliatory were vague and appeared to be themselves based in hearsay. No witness stated that Reader made direct threatening statements to them. One witness stated that she heard Reader say that he felt he had been “stabbed in the back” by his colleagues who voted against him and that this statement made her feel threatened. The other faculty member who heard the remark at the same time did not describe Reader’s voice, demeanor, or body language as threatening. This office interviewed the only two individuals who were identified as having heard Reader’s original threats and as having communicated those threats to others. Neither individual described Readers statements, demeanor, body language, or other actions as threatening. Both emphatically denied having repeated to any other person that they believed Reader to be a threat to his colleagues.” (Office of Institutional Equity report, July 30, 2009, page 6):

  18. Bill Huey says:

    This report is a prime example of what happens when the neurotoxic effects of estrogen poisoning make their way into official documents. Ohio taxpayers should be absolutely outraged that stuff like this is going on in their public universities, “as expressed by a few faculty members.”

  19. Michelle Honald says:

    Bill S., I’ll take that PR bet. I produce top-notch PR students, who I’ve been told by PR professionals across the state of OH, are leagues above in terms of preparedness over grads from any other OH university.

    Jackie L., deserved or not, Scripps is, on any list, a top ten journalism school. No disrespect at all, I’ve heard great things about Kent, but I think there is a legitimate reason for the disparity in perception.

    Bill H., please do not be so offensive as to blame Bill R.’s predicament on female colleagues, or as you put it “estrogen poisoning.” Though his three accusers were all women, I can guarantee that even more women (including myself in what was probably a suicidal move as a junior faculty member) wrote letters in support of Reader.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks for the comments, Michelle. We both know that Scripps has earned it place as a top journalism school that attracts the very best students. But I am happy to have grads like Jackie who feel so passionately about the PR program here at Kent State.

      As for your support of Bill Reader, I applaud your convictions. It could not have been an easy thing to do for a junior faculty member, especially if the atmosphere at Scripps is anything like the one Dr. Dashiell described in the hearing. I haven’t faced a hostile environment since I left the real world of public relations, where cutthroat politics had much higher stakes🙂

      Were I teaching a Case Studies or Campaigns class at Scripps this week, I’d consider using this as a teachable moment. Students: How would you counsel President McDavis? The case offers a complex mix of reputation management, crisis response and ethics.

  20. April says:

    To Jackie’s chunk of the discussion: could it be that the Scripps school is viewed more favorably by students because it has the Scripps name? I remember one of the Cleveland news stations would end each night with “a Scripps broadcasting network.” OU’s J school benefits from being associated with a ridiculously strong brand in journalism.

    Mind you, I was not even vaguely aware of PR or thinking about journalism schools when I was looking at colleges, so I can’t speak on that experience (I was pulled in by Kent’s fashion school). To a student where this is his/her dream, the Scripps name makes the school sound serious, important and like it will be respected upon graduation. Kent JMC only has Kent’s name to fall back on.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Hello, April. No question that the Scripps name helps Ohio U. But more important is the Scripps money — lots of it. And that money helped the school bring in top practitioners and scholars, along with the best in equipment.

      Am I envious of that? You bet! Why did that money end up in Athens? Lots of hard work by lots of dedicated people who maintained relationships with OU alumni in the news business. It’s a case study in how to do it right. And here’s what really hurts: While Scripps leadership began building its endowment (in the 70s and 80), the fundraisers at Kent State were sitting on their hands. Things have changed, but we’re still in catch-up mode.

      Bottom line, Scripps’ success in turning out top grads is pretty simple: High admission standards (25 ACT/1140 SAT and top 15% of high school class).

      Scripps wasn’t Scripps when I went there — probably a good thing, too. While I would have cleared the SAT hurdle with plenty of room to spare, I’m lucky if I was in the top 50% of my high school class. I was a real goofball back then, which means I fit nicely into the culture of Athens, Ohio, in 1971! I miss it.

  21. Bill Sledzik says:

    It’s Day 2, which means comments on this post will fizzle out unless I promote it shamelessly on Twitter. And I’m not gonna do that.

    Thanks to Bill Huey (via comment) and Mark Stoneman (via Twitter) for pointing out the many typos in my original post. It’s what happens when you post on the fly, as I did yesterday. I didn’t do much editing or proofreading, instead following the modern approach: post and modify. Normally I spend 2-3 days formulating posts, going back to them 4 or 5 times to revise and tweak. (I know, Fred, I’m a writer, not a blogger.)

    I did not indicate my changes if they were simple typos. I marked other changes as “updates.”

    Yesterday (2/2/2010) ranks among the Top 5 readership days on this blog. Not sure what that says about this topic, though I think my pal Chuck Hemann (@chuckhemann) may have nailed it in this tweet:

    …you’ve found another way that traditional and social media are alike: salacious content sells.

    The post earned a lot of pass around on Twitter yesterday, especially in NEOhio, home to so many Scripps grads. I wish those grads would weigh in on the PR question posed in the headline, and maybe offer OU’s leadership a little guidance.

    But it’s so much easier to just tweet the link. Will Twitter kill critical thinking? In some ways, it already has.

  22. mikeboehmer57 says:

    Thanks for the analysis. Haven’t been following this too closely. Guess I should? I’m a 1980 OU journalism grad. I’m always singing the praises of the place. OU prepared me well for a career in print journalism and then PR that has stretched for (can’t believe this) 30 years! Hope they get their act together.

  23. Chuck Hemann says:

    Bill –

    One of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog is you never shy away from the tackling the difficult/controversial subjects. This post being no exception to that rule.

    I tweeted that because I firmly believe that pithy headlines, and salacious content “sell” more easily in the blogosphere then the well-reasoned post. There are a large number of bloggers, some of them my friends, who sacrifice a well-developed POV just for brevity. They claim that they are just trying to start a conversation. I happen to think it’s just because they couldn’t find anything else to say and felt the need to post, but what do I know. Give me Rich Becker, Olivier Blanchard and Bill Sledzik any day of the week.

    Anyway, back to this post and whether or not PR can fix the problem at Scripps. I genuinely feel for Bill as this seems like a very difficult situation for him. That being said, I consider the tenure fight between faculty members and the administration to be 100% inside baseball. Who are the key stakeholders (or publics if you will) for a university? Yes, government officials and parents are definitely two key groups, but the primary public (it seems to me) are students. Do enrolling students really give a damn who has tenure and who doesn’t? As someone who’s been out of school for close to 10 years (Yikes), I only care about tenured professors because I want enrolling students to have the opportunity to learn from the sample people I did when I started. Enrolling students care about parties, who the “easiest” professors are and have I mentioned parties? Will some of the best and brightest high school seniors hear about this story and reconsider Scripps? I suppose it’s possible, but I highly doubt it. The tenure (or not) of a professor isn’t something they are focusing on.

    That’s a long way of saying I’m not sure what good PR would do to solve an issue that I see as inside baseball.

  24. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for the props, Chuck. We’re gonna miss you here in NEOhio as you head for Austin. We just may have to come down and haunt you during SXSW.

    But you’re right. Student’s don’t give a rat’s ass about who has tenure and who doesn’t. But if you don’t earn tenure, you’re out. And if you happen to be a really effective teacher, that hurts the students in the short- and the long-run. But if parties and social life are what appeal to many students (and we’d be foolish to say that’s not a significant factor), then Ohio U is without peer, at least in this state.

    Like you, I have developed some empathy for Bill Reader as this discussion unfolds. But for most folks in this world, it’s a speech from “Meatballs.” It just doesn’t matter:

    • Chuck Hemann says:

      Bill – It’d be great to see you down at SXSW. Agree with your point that losing effective teachers is bad for the students in the short- and long-run. However, I still don’t think that is something students care a lot about. They may look back on their education and wish they’d had “Professor X” in class, but I don’t think it’s something top of mind while they are in school.

      If Professor Reader and the school decide to go separate ways then I don’t think it does lasting damage to the school’s reputation. Forgive me if that sounds insensitive as I don’t mean it to be.

  25. Bill Reader says:

    Hi all — I wanted to thank Michelle Honald for challenging the “gender” issue so well and for also being one of a few untenured colleagues who have stood by me in this matter. Dr. Dashiell (note the proper spelling) and Prof. Mary Rogus also have been strong advocates for me from the tenured-associate-professor side. And I should point out that a few of my detractors are male, tenured faculty members who assured me that they supported me, even after the 7-5 vote.

    Quite a few good colleagues here at OU have stuck their necks out for me, including some who could be targeted next by those in power who say “good work” to your face and then spread vile and untrue rumors about you behind the scenes.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks, again, for your continued participation in the discussion, Bill. Not sure why I’m spelling-challenged this week. As for Bill H’s comment, the gender issue never entered my mind, but I don’t censor comments.

      It intrigues me that so many people are draw to your case, and to this post. This sort of political infighting is pretty much a given in the business world. And in most cases, there is NO avenue for appeal. I was just telling my PR students yesterday (unrelated to this post) that people as well as media are drawn to stories that feature villains and victims. Your story has those elements.

      People also like stories with heroes. We’ll see if one emerges.

  26. Bill Reader says:

    Bill — I guess the big elephant in this room is whether a Faculty Handbook is, indeed, an employment contract at a non-unionized campus. It’s bitterly ironic that some of my detractors in the College are big-wigs in the campus AAUP chapter, and have for years argued strongly for faculty rights under the Handbook. Their support for the Handbook seems to dissipate when they don’t like somebody personally, and that’s a scary thing for all faculty — tenured and untenured — at OU, not just in Scripps.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Speaking as one who is covered by collective bargaining, I will tell you that the handbook is a primary guideline for interpreting the variables that go into tenure and promotion decisions. If it isn’t, then what’s the point of having the thing?

      Of equal power are the letters of reappointment, since they lay out your accomplishments and your shortcomings, while also providing the employer’s expectations for the coming year. For you folks in the real world, this would be your “annual performance review.” There should be no surprises in decisions to grant or not grant tenure. The evidence should be in the file, which is 5 or 6 years in the making.

      Without union intervention, the candidate has no leverage short of litigation. And courts have been mighty hesitant to wade into academic politics.

  27. BillH says:

    I can see that, like most academics, the Scripps faculty has a stunted sense of humor, especially about themselves.
    But of course gender is an issue here, as it is in every workplace in America–particularly in universities.
    As I’ve said before, PR is one of the most
    gender-imbalanced professional services businesses
    in America. Universities are contributing substantially to this situation and ignoring the consequences because PR programs are cheap to run and cash cows.

  28. Bill Sledzik says:

    We discussed this case yesterday in the PR Case Studies class. Consensus among students: The dust-up won’t have any long-term impact on recruiting, since it is “inside baseball. From my perspective, same is true about the alumni group (of which I’m a constituent). But we all seemed to agree with Rich Becker’s comment — that what administration does next will determine the story’s impact.

    Several students said the case will likely stir a lot of interest in certifying a union for Ohio University faculty.

    Whether or not you support Reader’s position, it remains a David-and-Goliath story. A collective bargaining agreement would level the field. A union would benefit faculty and students, but I doubt President McDavis will see it that way.

  29. Andy Curran says:

    I can attest that a union is a powerful weapon in the faculty arsenal.

  30. Kevin Moist says:

    Interesting discussion here; inside baseball at the moment, but the interest in the case seems to be growing, even among non-insiders.

    Full disclosure: I’ve known Bill Reader since we were undergrads at PSU “back in the day” (as they say), and I’d trust him with my firstborn (who doesn’t yet exist, but you know what I mean), so I admit to being biased in favor of his account of events.

    But I agree with Bill S.’s agreement w/Rich Becker — the University’s next move is key to the long-term effect. Think about it: An internal admin/faculty dispute at a rural/rust-belt school manages to attract national media notice simply on the story’s own merits… Probably at least in part because, as several folks have noted, the issues here go well beyond the specifics of the case.

    So just imagine if the situation moves to full-on court trial status… A protracted dogfight in which the administration continues to look as bad as they already do (and check the ongoing reporting from the OU Post: http://www.thepost.ohiou.edu/main.asp?SectionID=1&subsectionID=1&articleID=30475) could move things much closer to PR meltdown mode for Scripps.

    If parents across the region start hearing nightly news updates on the story, how likely are they to want to send their kids there? And reading the comments on the IHE story and elsewhere, it seems as though Scripps alumni are following events pretty closely and already expressing their support for Reader and disgust with the administration — I would think that losing the support of the last 6-8 years’ worth of alums would in itself be a fairly significant PR mess…

  31. Bill Sledzik says:

    For the past week I’ve been considering a follow-up post to this one. It was to be a post that would encourage students at E. W. Scripps, along with alumni from the Reader era to register their feelings with President McDavis — pro or con. I decided against writing that post, because I don’t think it will make a difference. I also don’t want to appear as though I’m stirring up shit at a rival J-School, even though it is my alma mater.

    Several Scripps students have contacted me expressing their support for Bill Reader. They say he’s a great teacher who inspires students and learning. They’re frustrated over the decision by Director Hodson, but they feel powerless. And they are powerless.

    Tenure decisions aren’t based on what students or alumni think. But those decisions should be based on a 6-year performance record that has been carefully documented. And it doesn’t appear that’s what’s happening in this case.

    Earlier this week I read an excellent blog post by Evan Millward, president of OU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. While I agree with his points about avoiding conflicts of interest when student reporters cover this story, I disagree with Evan’s advice to students that they NOT get involved in the case.

    They should get involved. If they believe Reader is an outstanding educator who touched their lives, they owe him that.

    One student, in a private email triggered by this post, told me she feels conflicted, wanting to support Reader, saying he’s the best teacher in the school. But she will remain silent, and has requested I not reveal her identity for fear of repercussions from faculty who oppose Reader.

    The few students who contacted me don’t represent a groundswell by any means. And maybe there isn’t one. But the students’ fears do point to a divisive atmosphere within the school — one that silences discussion.

    I’m sad to see students in a great journalism school too fearful to speak out on an issue that so profoundly affects them. Evan got that part right as well. He titled his post, “Chicago politics in Athens.”

    So I decided to skip the follow-up essay, instead leaving this comment No. 40 as a post script to the affair. But I would love to volunteer my time to an organizing effort that would bring collective bargaining to the Ohio University faculty. It’s time to level the playing field down there.

  32. Bill Sledzik says:

    Some sad, sad evidence that it could be worse. A lot worse.

  33. […] alma mater), they’re waging an ugly war over the denial of tenure to Professor Bill Reader. I wrote about it on Groundhog Day, and just like in the movie, the story has returned for another unsettling […]

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