Some Lessons in Damage Control

Ann McClure's picture
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

While the turmoil at Penn State has been the academic equivalent of a Category 5 storm, it will probably not have much long-term impact on the university, experts say.

Certainly, it will take years, perhaps a decade, to resolve the fallout from the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the football program — including the university’s own investigation, the likely lawsuits and possible action by the Department of Education and the N.C.A.A. And there may be months of new revelations, resulting in hitches in fund-raising, athletic recruiting and even admissions.

But citing other universities’ experiences with crises, many higher education officials and crisis-management specialists predict that the effects will not last a year.

“From other situations where universities have had what I’d call Category 5 crises, like the Texas A&M bonfire collapse or the Virginia Tech shootings, history suggests that even if there are short-term effects on donations, applications or recruiting, they fade fairly quickly,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education.

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