I’m a little hesitant to do more grading or evaluating how an organization is doing in a crisis after some of the comments about Montreal’s Dawson College–but I’m going to anyway as that was what this blog was set up for. Another tragic university shooting–this time some star basketball players. Here’s the story:
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Armed police officers stood guard outside dormitories at Duquesne University while other officers roamed the downtown campus in their cruisers.
In the chapel, meanwhile, more than 300 students made the regular Sunday Mass standing-room only as they gathered to pray and try to understand how five basketball players could have been injured by gunfire on their tranquil, close-knit campus.
“We’re shocked because an event of this sort has never happened,” Duquesne President Charles Dougherty said. “It’s a safe campus and known to be a safe campus.”
Two players had been walking near a dormitory when they encountered a man who apparently had been disruptive at a student union dance, authorities said. The players attempted to pacify him and walked away but were shot. Players who rushed to their aid were also shot.
I checked the Sydney Morning Herald story and they also had the comment by university president Dougherty. I checked their website and it appears, although I can’t verify the timing, that they had a statement posted on the site on the 17th–the same day of the event. The statement had useful information, had comments from the president, and promised to providing continuing information and be a good source of information about the tragedy.
So, I will stay away from grading, but I will say to my eyes, the contrast between the two institutions is quite strong. It can be done. In this day, it must be done.
Now that my comments about Montreal’s Dawson College have spilled onto another crisis blog site (crisismanager.wordpress.com) and after having some time to think about Valerie’s comments about my harsh judgment, I can’t resist commenting more.
First, the distinction between a Canadian “college” which is part prep school and part university and a US university. Are the communication expectations the same? My answer: Yes. The expectations for communication for all stakeholders are largely the same. The more your life is impacted personally by what is happening, the more you have a need and an expectation for personal, direct and instant communication. That is the way it is. That’s the expectation. Doesn’t mean it is possible to meet. Doesn’t mean it is easy to meet, but that is the expectation. The closer an organization can come to meeting that, the better their communication response. That means that high schools and schools at all levels need to be aware of this expectation and prepare to respond.
The primary concern of Valerie is the “F” grade I so quickly assigned. I think Valerie has an important point. But I used to be a teacher and the grading process dies hard I suppose. The headline on the blog I wrote said “appears” and that is important. But Valerie is right that in the hours after the event it was far too early to judge the overall communication response. So, in retrospect, I should have made it clear that it was a very initial judgment. Sort of like a pop quiz on the first day of class rather than the final grade. They may do much better in the long term. The problem with communication in this instant news world is that initial impressions count for an awful lot and so that first day pop quiz may actually represent about 50% of the total grade. Even if it is 50%, the F was premature.
Where Valerie and I disagree more fundamentally I believe is that while stakeholder’s expectations may be entirely unreasonable from a responder’s perspective–perception is reality. Those responding during Katrina could give all kinds of reasons why their communication was inadequate. Ultimately, it didn’t matter tot he public. Expectations were not met and that is the bottom line.
I’m also struggling with Valerie’s sense that I was trading on a tragedy. If that is the case, it is truly despicable. But while I might have used some thoughtless “blogstyle” comments about this, and showed some insensitivity, the purpose of this blog is to examine how organizations are responding to crisis events and learn from them. To not comment because there is a human tragedy involved would eliminate such tragedies from the opportunity to learn. But, would love to hear other thoughts on this.
And Valerie, thanks for the conversation! You certainly have helped me slow down and think about these things.
Dawson College of Montreal is suddenly all over the news. News reports are telling the story of the wounding of 20 students and the panic caused by a gunman who was apparently killed by police. The problems we see so far:
– where is the presence of college representatives in the news stories? If they are not visible how can we know their reaction and what they are doing about it?
Well, I guess you could go their website to see what they have to say about it. If I was a parent or a friend of a student or someone remotely connected with the university, I would go to their site expecting it to have information about the event and what the school is doing in response. What do you get when you go there?
Big red type that says they will be closed until September 18. Click on the “Read More” button and it gives an old message from the Director General.
Now, I’m writing this at 6 pm on Wednesday, Sept 13 so by the time you read this and check their site hopefully things will have changed. But the story has been on the news for hours. And that’s my point. If you cannot communicate in the first hours after a major event, if you are silent, or oblivious or invisible, you have not only lost critical opportunities for the people important to your future to form positive impressions, you most likely have left a lot of people disappointed. It leads to questions about the competence and caring of the leadership. If it was something where they had culpability (in this case I’m certain not) then it would also lead to questions about responsibility to those impacted.
I hope there is more to this story from a communication standpoint, but I have to say as a total outside observer of the communication effort, it is a dismal failure.