Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

The old college spin

When a large company has to deal with events that might cast it in a negative light — outsourcing of jobs, embezzlement or bankruptcy to name a few — it's not uncommon for a public relations campaign to be mounted to minimize the damage to its image. Nor is it unusual for such "crisis" communications to extend to the Internet and for messages to be posted on talk boards, comment sections or blogs to help shape the public's view.

And yet it's difficult not to feel a twinge of disappointment at the news that the University of Maryland was engaged in just such an effort to minimize the public hostility that school officials knew would accompany their decision one year ago to join the Big Ten Conference. Somehow, one expects Maryland's flagship university to be more straightforward and direct — a place of knowledge and truthfulness and not "spin."

It's not clear whether anything strictly unethical has happened here. The school's code of conduct appears to be silent on matters of public relations technique. And a school official told The Sun's Jeff Barker that UM did not hire what one consultant referred to as the "special PR agencies who work in the digital space who bombard blogs and newspaper sites where no one puts their name."

Nor would we find fault that the school considered first leaking the news to Scott Van Pelt, the ESPN commentator, Maryland alumnus and unabashed school booster (although such handling of a major news story would probably not have endeared the school to the network's competitors). That's pretty conventional behavior — had the school chosen to go that route.

Rather, there's a nagging discomfort with the notion that such a prestigious institution where a distinguished faculty offer lessons on such lofty topics as the nature of existence, morality and religion, would not hold itself to a higher standard than to spend one nanosecond in the grubby business of "drop[ping] positive messages into the blogs," as an official described it.

It's one thing to post information, ideally with attribution, that might correct inaccuracies posted somewhere in cyberspace. It's another to misrepresent oneself as a cheering fan who supports the school's decision to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference and just wants to talk it up. We'd like to know how much of UM's effort was the former and how much the latter.

The move to the Big Ten is probably the correct one for Maryland — as we noted at the time for various reasons — but this is just more evidence that the institution did not handle the decision particularly well. It was made abruptly and with little involvement with the faculty, students or other stakeholders. That such a secretive process was accompanied by a rather secretive PR campaign appears to be par for the course.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Happy birthday, Medicare

    Happy birthday, Medicare

    Medicare turns 50 this week. It was signed into law July 30, 1965 -- the crowning achievement of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It's more popular than ever.

  • Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Earlier this month, I drove past the newly constructed fence located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Franklin Street. The fence was erected to keep out the dozens of homeless people who had staked out a tiny piece of land there that they could call home. The city removed them...

  • The statinization of America

    The statinization of America

    Anyone who wants to know why medical costs continue to skyrocket needs only to look at the paper published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined the "cost-effectiveness" of increasing statin use. The article described a computer simulation that modeled...

  • Summer camp turns into trauma center in Baltimore

    Summer camp turns into trauma center in Baltimore

    Since the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimoreans have worked to address the underlying problems associated with the civil unrest. While city leaders look for solutions, Baltimore's children are bearing the brunt of the heightened turbulence.

  • Raise the gas tax, Congress

    Raise the gas tax, Congress

    Congress should bite the bullet and raise the gas tax to fund highway repairs and construction. And it should make sure highway taxes are used for the roads — not to finance politicians' pet projects and line union pockets.

  • Atlantis awaits: melting ice and rising water for coastal cities

    Atlantis awaits: melting ice and rising water for coastal cities

    Our civilization is built on coastlines. Oceans were the first grocery stores, providing easy protein for early humans who learned to fish and gather shellfish and seaweed. Oceans were the first highways, enabling early exploration, commerce and migration. Oceans remain vital sources of food and...

Comments
Loading

73°