Duke Case: Duke (under Brodhead) Failed Crisis Management 101
A thoughtful Duke lacrosse parent was struck by the sharp difference in the way Jet Blue handled its recent weather-driven crisis as compared to the shameful way Duke University's administration (Richard Brodhead, President) mishandled Duke Case One (exposing itself in the process).
Duke lacrosse parent:
"I just finished reading the public letter of apology to Jet Blue customers from CEO David Neeleman. The letter is in response to what Neeleman refers to as the worst operational week in Jet Blue's history. The letter starts ' We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.' The letter's last paragraph starts 'You deserved better--- a lot better --- and we let you down . Nothing is more important than regaining your trust... ' The letter is short, direct and sincerely remorseful.
"In addition to the letter of apology , Jet Blue has developed a plan which includes a customers 'bill of rights' and $26,000,000 of refunds and credits to affected customers. Jet Blue's reaction to last week's difficulties has been strong and swift. Jet Blue's management understands that with every challenge there is an opportunity, and the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity. People and organizations are often measured by how they behave in tough situations. I expect that Jet Blue will come out of this stronger, as did Johnson & Johnson after the famous Tylenol incident ,because of the decisive and courageous actions of their respective leaders (David Neeleman and Jim Burke ). It's worth noting that in both of these incidents, one could easily argue that these disasters were caused by circumstances beyond the Companies' control. Yet neither of these CEO's took that position publicly. They both apologized and took swift corrective action to help avoid these problems in the future.
"Compare the actions of the leadership of these two organizations to that of Duke in the lacrosse incident. It's like day and night. I believe that one can learn much from history, as it tends to repeat itself. Some will argue that a university is different from a corporation and that making such a comparison is unfair. But the fundamental issues of courage, integrity, leadership, customer service, loyalty and knowing when to say you are sorry apply to universities as well.
"Duke has behaved shamefully in this case. It faced probably the most difficult situation in its history, as did Jet Blue and J&J, and Duke spit the bit. I believe that Jet Blue will be seeing nothing but blue skies before too long, but Duke will be singing the blues for quite some time. Please forgive my use of some old song titles but I love the old standards. I expect that's because I'm old enough to remember them."
President Brodhead is old enough to remember them do, but when the 2005-2006 Duke University Men's Lacrosse Team was accused of a gang rape and a gang rape cover up last March, Duke University both did things and failed to do things that it will rue.
There is much for which President Brodhead and Duke University should apologize.
Duke Parents, BEWARE! Members of the team were told NOT to contact their parents.
"BIG BROTHER" DUKE KNEW BETTER OR CARED MORE ABOUT THE STUDENTS?
I don't think so.
As Duke Case One illustrates, innocent students should communicate with their parents in a crisis and college officials should not presume to try to dissuade students, innocent or not, from communicating with parents and lawyers (especially lawyer parents).
Duke University obviously did not put the interests of the accused students first, as their parents and lawyers naturally would have done.
Duke University was preaching the gospel of political correctness and putting that first.
Duke University not only misled the students to believe that the problem would go away quickly if they cooperated (which they did), but gave credence to the baseless gang rape charge in the name of political correctness and thereby seriously prejudiced the students in the courtroom of public opinion.
When the accusations were made, President Brodhead as the leader of Duke University had a choice to make: believe in the Duke University system, the admissions standards and the truth and honor of those members of the student body who were being accused, or. deny any belief in Duke University's tradition of honor and excellence.
President Brodhead chose to abandon the responsibilities of a leader as he abandoned those accused students who had committed to be members of the Duke community. These accused students had made that commitment to Duke University as had their parents. Both the accused students and their parents were abandoned.
The members of the lacrosse team told the truth and President Brodhead chose not to support them. By doing so, he sent a message that the lacrosse team was fair game for all those who had a political axe to grind. When some Duke professors accused the team members of a code of silence, President Brodhead was silent. When these students were being dragged through an onslaught of politically correct accusations and commentary, he continued to be silent. He never indicated that he believed in the students.
The circus atmosphere that existed on and around the Duke campus last spring was inflamed by the actions, or lack of them, of President Brodhead and his administration.
The stress, trauma and uncertainty that have been experienced through this ordeal by all the members of the team and their parents obviously would have been moderated if they knew the university stood behind the students to whom it had made a moral commitment by accepting them as members of the Duke student body.
Leadership comes with many challenges and responsibilities. Leaders are successful when they exhibit the courage to do the right thing no matter how difficult. If courage is based on honor and commitment, it has a strong foundation. As Winston Churchill said, "Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others." Unfortunately, as a leader, President Brodhead exhibited a complete lack of courage as events unfolded and Duke's 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team stood abandoned in front of an onslaught of false accusations and politically correct defamation.
As president. Mr. Brodhead (1) failed these student athletes; (2) failed their parents who had placed their trust in Duke University as a guardian of their sons; and (3) failed to validate a system of honor, which should be the basis of student life at Duke.
Some of the other actions of some of the members of the lacrosse team at that off-campus party last spring were wrong, to be sure, but that did not in any way justify the phony criminal accusations that not only intimidated Duke University, but also were eagerly embraced by a significant segment of the Duke community (as well as the Durham community and the national media) determined to treat them as true because they fit their agenda.
By telling the truth and not giving in to those who advocated a politically expedient admission of guilt, the members of the Duke Lacrosse team have demonstrated a standard of honor of which Duke should be proud.
To again paraphrase Churchill in his war time speech to the students at Churchill's old public [private] school, Harrow, he said, "Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
President Brodhead should resign, because he failed to manage the Duke crisis competently and courageously. He failed to demonstrate the courage, sense of honor and strong judgment that a leader must have to be successful. He failed the parents of the accused students and, most importantly, he failed to properly lead Duke University through a crisis and instead made it worse by lending credence to the ludicrous accusations by a person who quickly could have been determined by President Brodhead not to be a credible person.
Perhaps President Brodhead should have read Ogilvy Public Relations' "Seven Basic Principles of Crisis Management":
"Crisis management is not a formulaic process. Every crisis situation is unique and must be managed accordingly. Any set of rules or tools tailored too narrowly for a hypothetical crisis scenario would be too confining to be of practical value in a genuine crisis. Rather, appropriate tactics must be developed based on certain core principles that underlie successful crisis management. This preparation enables an organization’s leadership to remain focused and effective as crises unfold, which they usually do with blistering speed.
“Once...management is grounded in the core principles and methodologies, Ogilvy PR can help companies respond effectively to a wide range of distinct crises. Anticipating the types of crises that [an entity] is likely to encounter can help develop useful frameworks. Further, management can hone the skills needed for a crisis response by simulating a realistic crisis situation.
“Seven basic principles underlay an appropriate and effective response to a crisis. They include:
Understand media interest in your story. The media are the prime driver of most crises.... They are very much accustomed to the crisis environment in a way that executives are not. In fact, many reporters delight in the crisis environment in a way that executives do not. It is important to understand the media, much the way you understand your customers and competitors. Never rely exclusively on the media to deliver your message.
Define the real problem and determine your strategy accordingly. An organization must first make certain that it is addressing the core problem and not a vexing but ultimately tangential side issue. Once management has defined the problem, they can best determine the goals of the crisis management process and the strategy to drive it. The chosen strategy must be flexible and tailored to the problem management is trying to solve rather than be an artificially imposed standard of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ crisis management.
Ensure legal/regulatory compliance. The appropriate response to a crisis is likely driven by SEC rules and/or guidelines set by other regulatory bodies such as the FDA. Securing in-house or external expertise on legal/regulatory parameters is essential prior to a crisis response.
Manage the flow of information. The media often spread misinformation, deliberately or not. Such misinformation can flow back unchecked to internal audiences and distort internal perceptions and proper corporate decision-making. Therefore, aggressively managing the full flow of information is critically important in a crisis situation.
Assume the situation will escalate and get worse. Start with the understanding that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Be careful not to be overly optimistic or make categorical statements early on in a crisis.
Remember all your constituencies. Employ the best technology you have at your disposal to communicate directly and effectively to all constituencies. Caught in the pressure of a real crisis, companies often overlook direct communications to affected constituencies, such as employees and advisory boards. This is a key area where advance preparation can help."
Measure results in real time Crises evolve. It is imperative that you continually measure the effectiveness of your crisis management tactics to evaluate the overall impact of your crisis management strategy. For large companies, omnibus surveys, select polling and focus groups can quickly generate useful data regarding the public perception of the problem even within the first 48 hours. For smaller companies, a few quick check-in phone calls with key constituents can provide appropriate feedback.
With respect to the Duke case, President Brodhead and his administration failed miserably in crisis management.
To date, President Brodhead still has not done what the CEO of Jet Blue quickly did: apologize and compensate those harmed.
Whether or not he has taken appropriate steps to prevent a recurrence of the problem, we don't know: in Duke Case Two, the alleged victim is a white Duke female student and the man accused is a black man not part of the Duke community.
Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.
Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.
The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.
Gaynor currently contributes regularly to www.MichNews.com, www.RenewAmerica.com, www.WebCommentary.com, www.PostChronicle.com and www.therealitycheck.org and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.