Harvard Cheating Scandal: Communicating a Crisis

Ann McClure's picture

The recent buzz about cheating at Harvard—and the media storm that followed—may seem like bad PR, but it can actually serve as an example of just how to act when a crisis strikes.

After Harvard announced last week that it was investigating a possible cheating incident on campus, the media exploded, instantly latching on to the “Harvard Cheating Scandal.” How could over 100 students cheat on a take-home exam at an elite institution? Days later, newswires erupted again, this time with the students’ perspective on how the professor had encouraged collaboration throughout the course, and that no cheating had occurred, thus casting the university in a negative light.

This may seem like a big headache for an institution that’s still investigating the allegations, but it turns out, Harvard—and its communications team—broke the news exactly when it should have, according to media relations professional Bill Tyson, who has been advising colleges and universities on getting media attention for more than 30 years through his firm Morrison & Tyson Communications.

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