The importance of media relations
BEING THE DEFENDANT IN A lawsuit is bad enough. Having a plaintiff with an active public relations campaign can become a nightmare. Administrators at Princeton University have been dealing with this situation since 2002.
The Robertson Foundation was endowed by Marie Robertson in 1961 to support the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Five years ago, members of the Robertson family sued the university for control of the endowment after they disputed the choice of an investment firm for the foundation. The family has unleashed a barrage of challenges and accusations against the university since then as the case wends its way through the courts, leaving administrators with little choice but to fight back.
"Our general thinking for any pending litigation is that we aren't going to try it in the press," explains Cass Cliatt, director of media relations."But we changed when we realized that the plaintiffs had a very aggressive PR machine."
To date, Cliatt says she's been dealing with inaccuracies in published stories by sending letters to the editor. Although the public might not always read a letter or corrections, she says, it is important for a publication's editors to understand the mistake, and an e-mail is not always effective. Almost weekly, Cliatt saw reports "casting doubt on the university and its commitment to its donors. We found it necessary to correct the record. We've stayed in a responsive posture, but it's a disservice to the university and what it represents to allow incorrect information to be out there."
The process has been responsive because, to Cliatt's surprise, the university is often not contacted before an article is published. She's been working to build a relationship with reporters and let them know they can contact her with questions. "But the reporters who cover it regularly aren't being contacted by the PR machine," she says. One challenge is that for every reporter the media relations team brings up to speed, a new group starts covering the trail. Cliatt, who has a background as a reporter, emphasized the importance of remembering that reporters have tight deadlines and might assume that press releases are accurate because the information is easy to check. "The [plaintiffs'] PR people are relying on that," she warns. The availability of information on the internet can be another hazard. She says she has often seen the same inaccurate sentence summarizing the case in unrelated articles around the nation.'
There was a flurry of activity in October when a summary judgment was issued on several motions in the case. Cliatt says she knew it could be a problem because most reporters wouldn't understand what it meant. "Understanding how things have gone in the past, that the plaintiffs have released information that might not be accurate, we wanted to make sure that reporters had the balance of the university's position."
She spent the past year leading up to the ruling building a database of reporters who had either expressed interest in or written about the trial. The day before the ruling she sent out an e-mail correcting common reporting errors. "In most situations the reporters had already been contacted by the Robertsons," she says. The day of the ruling, she called reporters to explain what the summary judgment means. "One paper got its own lawyers involved to review the reporter's text, and I sent the judgment to the lawyer. The lawyer and the editor listened and it was corrected."
"The biggest challenge [people in my position] face is simply ensuring that reporters are open to both sides," Cliatt says. "It might seem like an obvious statement, but in this case it wasn't."-Ann McClure
IN ANOTHER STEP TOWARD healing from last April's mass shootings on campus, Virginia Tech distributed the Hokie Spirit Memorial Funds money to those most deeply affected by the tragedy.
Seventy-nine eligible claimants, both families and individuals, will receive funds or the equivalent educational tuition (given in disbursements over time). Checks totaling more than $8.5 million were allocated according to protocols developed with the funds' administrator, Kenneth Feinberg. The protocols called for distributions to families of the deceased and varying amounts to those injured or in the classrooms where the shootings happened.
The disbursements are:
$208,000 to each of 32 families
$104,000 to each of five individuals
$46,000 to each of eight individuals
$11,500 to each of 34 individuals
About $860,000 remain in designated funds. In a statement about the disbursement, President Charles W. Steger explained, "There is no right way to disburse these monies, but we believe the best way to continue the healing is to put as much as possible in the hands of those who have suffered the most."
Spontaneous donations began almost right after the shootings, and by late summer almost 21,000 groups, companies, or individuals had contributed.
In other news related to the tragedy, Virginia Tech is using a $960,685 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools to help with ongoing recovery efforts and to develop a model for assessing and responding to at-risk behaviors in a higher ed setting. Activities will include identifying mental health services and providing education on trauma recovery and threat assessment. -Michele Herrmann
PROVIDING SCHOLARSHIPS TO FAMILIES AFTER A LIFE-ALTERING TRAGEDY HAS TRADITIONALLY been a way institutions deal with sudden loss. Seven Rhode Island colleges and universities are doing just that: pledging aid to children whose parents died in the 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people. Johnson & Wales, Bryant, Roger Williams, Brown, and Salve Regina universities, New England Institute of Technology, and Providence College are offering assistance through the nonprofit Station Education Fund, named after the nightclub.
Each IHE has a different commitment. For example, all 76 children will be eligible for a $15,000 renewable Johnson & Wales scholarship, Brown will let them participate in its summer college prep program, and Providence will establish a scholarship named after fire victim Rebecca Shaw, who was a student and daughter of a longtime faculty member at the college. -M.H.
THE COLLEGE FOUNDATION OF NORTH CAROLINA HAS A ROBUST WEBSITE providing all the information a student or parent could want about preparing for college at one of the 110 colleges and universities in the state. Although 588,000 online applications were processed in the period from July 2001 through December 2006, for the last two years the governor has declared "College Application Week" in November in an effort to reach first-generation, low-income, and other students who have not yet applied.
"College Application Week sends the message that college is possible for every student in North Carolina," says Bobby Kanoy, senior associate vice president for academic and student affairs for The University of North Carolina. The program was piloted at 15 high schools last year with 6,736 applications submitted, an increase over the 3,619 submitted for the same time frame in 2005, and blowing away the 2,758 in 2004. As an added incentive to students, participating IHEs are waiving application fees during the week with the expectation of receiving "significant applications," says Melissa Andrews, CFNC spokeswoman. This year 109 high schools participated, generating 22,419 applications and 13,667 new accounts. Next year the program will be statewide. Andrews thinks North Carolina is the first state to run such a program, but Georgia officials have inquired about it. -A.M.
PAUL ANASTAS REFERS TO HIMSELF as "the father of green chemistry," having coined the term in 1991 while working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now director of Yale University's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, he is one proud papa. Opened in January 2007, the center reflects an increase in the number of higher ed institutions recognizing green chemistry.
The discipline involves the idea that chemical processes and products can be designed without using toxins or generating hazardous materials. According to Anastas, it can be applied to electronic, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic developments, as well as sustainability practices such as growing food.
The University of Oregon has been teaching green chemistry for years. Cambridge College (Mass.) currently offers an introductory class in green chemistry, and there are hopes to establish a bachelor's and/or master's degree program.
Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) introduced green chemistry as a course in 1992. Its Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry, established in 2000, grew out of a research group led by chemistry professor Terry Collins. Collins, the Institute's director, seems hopeful that this science can help tackle problems resulting from global warming and the use of toxins. "Make no mistake about it," he says. "We really have to deal with some serious issues."
Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, says the reasons for having green chemistry in higher ed are plenty, from student interest to professors wishing to put their academic field to good use. Also, green chemistry "can often be a significant money saver" over traditional chemistry, with materials that are easier and less costly to dispose.
The American Chemical Society lists about a dozen IHEs that teach green chemistry. The roster includes Bridgewater State College (Mass.), The University of Scranton (Pa.), Gordon College (Mass.), Hendrix College (Ark.), and St. Olaf College (Minn.) -M.H.
THE NATIONAL SURVEY OF STUDENT ENGAGEMENT, OR "NESSIE," may one day become as influential for students and parents as the annual rankings found in consumer publications.
While the actual survey results are confidential and intended only for the participating institutions, NSSE officials are for the first time encouraging schools to make some of their results public. Because the survey measures five key areas of educational performance (level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment), officials believe it may deliver more useful information to prospective students than what is typically found in commercially published ranking guides.
Now in its eighth year, the survey polled 313,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 610 participating institutions.
Findings from the cumulative results revealed both promising and disappointing news for educators. For example, students who participate in "high impact" activities, such as study a broad programs or research with faculty members, report greater gains in intellectual and personal development than their peers who don't. However, first-generation and transfer students were much less likely to participate in these activities.
The survey also indicates that "helicopter parents" may not necessarily be a bad thing. Contrary to what some educators believe, parents who seem to be overly involved in their children's college careers may actually be helping to provide a more satisfying college experience. Thirteen percent of students responding to the survey said their parents frequently intervened with college officials, while another quarter had parents who intervened sometimes.
The annual report is available at www.nsse.iub.edu. -T.G.
BRAD COWGILL COMPARES THE CHALLENGE of his state's education goal to "standing along a railroad track. You have to get from the caboose to the middle of the train, only the train is moving. You have to move faster than the train to make any progress." Cowgill, the interim president of the Council on Postsecondary Education in Kentucky, is referring to a plan to dramatically increase the number of college grads in the state to match the (expected) national average for 2020.
Here's how the numbers shake out:
By 2020, an estimated 32 percent of all working-age Americans will have at least a bachelor's degree.
In 2020, Kentucky will have about 2.5 million residents of working age, so reaching the national average will require about 791,000 of these Kentuckians to hold a bachelor's degree then. (At the current degree production rate, that number will only be around 580,000.)
The Council on Postsecondary Education believes increasing bachelor's degrees is the quickest, most direct way for Kentucky to increase its economic prosperity.
The approach has three pieces:
1. Goal. The Council on Postsecondary Education refined and operationalized the 1997 legislation to focus on something measurable, namely, bachelor's degrees.
2. Plan. In 2005, the council released a five-strategy plan targeting high school students, GED students, adult learners, transfer students, and traditional college students.
3. Funding. In 2008 legislators will determine what resources can be applied toward making the plan a reality.
The plan can be viewed online at www.cpe.ky.gov/planning/2020projections. -M.E.
WHILE AVOIDING A CAMPUS EYESORE MAY BE A goal for institutional officials planning for a new parking garage, the enthusiasm for such a project doesn't often go beyond that. But it makes sense for an auto research center to have a particularly eye-catching garage. The Clemson University (S.C.) International Center for Automotive Research, which is nearing completion on a 250-acre hilltop site about 45 minutes from Clemson's main campus, has a parking structure designed to "celebrate the car."
FUNCTION: Parking garage for approximately 1,200 traditional cars, with space for electric cars, motorcycles, and bicycles.
CHALLENGES: The CU-ICAR project's vision-"to be the premier automotive and motorsports research and educational facility in the world"-is ambitious. So when the team began discussing the campus parking facility, it's no surprise they envisioned something special. "At least initially, it is the hub of our campus," says John Boyette, CU-ICAR's director of real estate. With the garage and attached administrative building opening around the same time (nearly a year before students and faculty would be on the campus), officials saw the garage as a first impression for visitors and potential new partners, Boyette adds. "Unlike [with] most parking structures, they wanted to be able to see the cars, especially from the plaza area," says Randall W. Carwile, director of operations for Walker Parking Consultants in Atlanta, of his client. There was also the Clemson commitment to green building-with a directive to make all new buildings qualify for LEED-Silver certification- to take into account.
SOLUTION: For maximum visibility, Boyette says, the garage has "a glass curtain wall on the front that makes it look pretty spectacular." The view from inside the six-story structure is of a landscaped plaza and of the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. Graduate Engineering Center, which will bring students and faculty to the campus when it's completed next month. "We're building a campus where hopefully we can have automobiles and people coexist in the same area, as opposed to trying to separate everybody out," Boyette says. Besides parking spaces, the garage features a tire inflation station donated by Michelin.
On the green building front, the garage being attached to the CU-ICAR offices building will help in qualifying for LEED-Silver. Green features include reserved spaces for carpools and alternative methods of personal transportation, Carwile says. Also, the structural steel and concrete reinforcing bars contain recycled content.
Cost: $21.8 million for the garage and attached office tower
Completed: Spring 2007
Project Team: Neal Prince + Partners (Greenville, S.C.), architect of record; SmithGroup (Washington, D.C.), design architect; Walker Parking Consultants (Atlanta), structural engineer of record -M.E.
THREE LEADING COLLEGE TEXTBOOK PUBLISHERS, PEARSON EDUCATION, JOHN WILEY & Sons, and Cengage Learning, have reached a settlement in a suit against several firms charged with importing and selling educational textbooks that had not been authorized for U.S. release. The firms-Walbooks, 123textbooks.com, Low Price, Reliable Book Service, and Ram Kishore-were accused of selling the books through national websites such as eBay, Amazon.com, and Half.com.
The suit also charged that the defendants misled U.S. student buyers by obscuring the text, title, and copyright information that noted the titles were not for sale in the United States, and then advertising them with graphics, photographs, and ISBN numbers associated with legitimate versions of the works.
"The pursuit of these organizations should serve as fair warning to others that publishers will pursue legal action against those who engage in unlawful reproduction and sale of their intellectual property," said Georges Nahitchevansky, representing the publishers.
The defendants agreed to pay the publishers an undisclosed sum and cease all importation, promotion, and sales of the publishers' works; recall any and all versions of the publishers' works from retailers and distributors; and turn over any remaining non-U.S. copies of educational material in their control or possession. -T.G.
THE UNIVERSITY of Maryland's "LEAFHouse" took second place and earned the People's Choice Award in the 2007 Solar Decathlon, which was held in Washington, D.C., in October. Technische Universit?t Darmstadt (Germany) won first place while Santa Clara University (Calif.) came in third.
The U.S. Department of Energy sponsors the Solar Decathlon, during which teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar powered house. -A.M.