In the wake of its fall 2015 campus meltdown, the University of Missouri reached out to a Chicago public relations firm, Edeleman PR, for crisis consulting and other services. There is something about contract language that makes the job of a university administrator seem altogether chilling.
A crisis situation that prompts hourly consulting rates beyond the standard retaining fees–rates that range from $160 to $625 an hour–is defined as being “detrimental to Buyer and/or multiple campus reputation(s) or operations(s).”
Examples include “but are not limited to” the following routine perils of contemporary academic life: “systemic or high-profile academic, athletic and/or Greek life misconduct; Title IX violations, sexual assault allegations, unrelated campus violence; and more.”
The consultation is essential because the above events “may trigger significant news/blog coverage with an anticipated multi-day news cycle; ongoing, multi-channel social media conversations; a high volume and/or likelihood of complaints, concerns and/or criticism from stakeholders; and/or involvement of legislators and/or regulatory bodies.” As should be apparent, the contract writer is much too fond of the phrase “and/or.”
The contract was executed in June 2016. According to the Columbia Missourian, Edelman has already been paid as much as $473,000 for its services. In the year-plus that has followed the signing of the contract, however, the University of Missouri has, if anything, solidified its position as the most visible national symbol of major campus dysfunction.
A Google search of “dorms” “close” “Missouri” nets 375,000 results. Arguably the most damaging of those 375,000 media hits was a lengthy July article in the New York Times, headlined, “Long After Protests, Students Shun the University of Missouri.” If the university president had his secretary handle the university’s public relations, the results could not have been much worse.
Christian Basi, a MU spokesman, told the Times the university was creating a marketing campaign to correct “misperceptions” about the extent of the unrest. But the unrest was less of a problem than what one critic, cited in the Times, called a “complete lack of leadership.” Contracting that leadership out to a Chicago PR firm does not seem to have helped.