If your public image is on the downswing, call Edelman. If you want to clean up your reputation after you lied about the harmful effects of smoking, call Edelman. If you’ve got a known pervert coaching your football team, get in touch with Edelman to let people know that you had no idea, or that the pervert’s alleged activity is inconsistent with all that you stand for.
If you’re lucky, you can come out with a perfect whitewash and a bill of a little less than half a million bucks. A pittance.
As reported in the Missourian on Sept. 22, years ago the Edelman public relations firm was hired by the righteous organizations of tobacco conglomerates and Penn State University to sell a narrative opposing the bad publicity in the media.
I am a retired professor at MU with 35 years of teaching experience. I was shocked, yet not surprised, to learn that the University of Missouri administration hired a public relations firm to repair its damaged image after the events leading to the resignation of President Tim Wolfe in fall of 2015.
At some $300,000 the university could have used those funds to repair a damage far more serious: the loss of many jobs and human beings at the university both in instruction and maintenance. Or it could have put those funds into a deteriorating library system, or the creation of a course on the politics (or corruption?) of lobbying.
And if you believe that somehow with the services of this PR firm the reparation of our image will eventually result in increased funding, you’re naïve. Is there any accountability? Can you put a dollar amount on that? What if enrollment goes down again next year? Do we get our money back?
I find this situation pathetic, not only because of the cost, but because it insults the many people working at the university who, for many years, have been engaged in the discussion and solution of issues that came to the fore in the summer and fall of 2015. We could have and can still solve our own problem. Yes, it took a group of protesters, a brave hunger-striker and a football team to get us talking. But it was and remains up to us to keep talking and provide remedies, not a group of corporate shysters.
The picture drawn of the university leaders parroting key phrases and sound bites like “it was a perfect storm” dictated by Edelman is laughable, a perfect object of satire by someone like Stephen Colbert.
Why does our administration insist on seeking solutions to its problems in the business world? As many have said repeatedly: an institution of higher learning is not a corporation, even though its administrators often act as if it were.
How we should answer criticisms? What we can do to remedy undesirable situations? What courses should we offer? What can we do to instruct and enlighten incoming students? How should we allocate resources to foster dialogue and understanding among diverse groups? All this is up to us, not a group of suits with corporate interests.
Do administrators really believe that Edelman and company have a genuine interest in fostering equality, understanding and critical thinking? If they do, I’d like them to get in touch with me. I have ocean-side property I’m trying to sell right here in Columbia, Missouri. The view is spectacular.
Michael Ugarte is a professor emeritus of romance languages at MU.