ALM/Law.com Daily Business Review – Wednesday, January 3, 2024 by Mark Sachs
Since October 7th, 2023, I have published articles in Honest Reporting, JNS, and The Hill, all commenting on the dangerous trends and ideologies taking root in Western countries. There has been no clearer example of the twisted morality underlying these trends than the recent congressional testimonies by the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT.
The presidents, their attorneys, and their PR firm failed every single test for effective communication, starting with identifying their real crisis.
Their testimonies were virtually identical, each referring to their notes to reiterate their scripted, non-answer responses. Not only did their non-answers fail to address Congresswoman Stefanik’s layup questions, but their answers only upset their audiences even more, and this assumes they identified who their key audiences were.
It didn’t take long to realize they seemed to think their crisis was future litigation. Why else would they quibble over the definition of the First Amendment, rendering the question over ‘genocide’ into a game of semantics? Did they think that would play well at a Congressional hearing or on national television?
Let’s suppose for a minute that they were concerned about future litigation. Did they think their testimony would prevent Jewish students from suing their universities for their failure to protect them under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act? Lawsuits were and are inevitable. No testimony was going to prevent them.
Further, what would the likely punishment be should Harvard, Penn, and MIT be found guilty? Money. That’s it. Each of these schools holds tens of billions of dollars in their endowments. What’s a few hundred million in damages?
These presidents and their advisers completely failed to understand that their crisis was a crisis of reputation not of litigation. Given that early enrollment at Harvard is down 17% is proof of my point. Moreover, following their testimonies, big donors threatened to pull even more money from their alma maters; so, their testimonies failed to preserve their reputations and their purses.
Every single aspect of their messaging should have had as their goal, to reinforce the schools’ reputations as places of integrity, learning, liberalism, and moral authority. They could easily have addressed their schools’ codes of conduct without having to debate the First Amendment.
They could have responded to Congresswoman Stefanik’s questions by acknowledging that chanting ‘genocide’ at Jewish students while surrounding them, protesting inside university buildings, and shutting down classrooms not only violate their codes of conduct but are not protected forms of speech under the First Amendment.
The first rule of communicating in a crisis is to give up your liability! Acknowledge the truth to the extent that you can. Doing so earns trust and credibility which are critical to ensuring your messages are heard.
Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth would then have been forced to also respond to why they didn’t enforce their codes of conduct, which in turn would have opened up the entire discussion around the promotion of DEI, Critical Race Theory, Social Justice Theory, and Intersectionality, all of which conspire against Jews and Israel.
However, had they and their team appropriately identified the extreme threat to their reputations, they would have appropriately crafted messaging to address their schools’ failures in their uncritical embracing of these ideologies, again earning trust by accepting responsibility.
To further build trust and credibility, they then should have expressed real interest in reforming their institutions to ensure justice is fairly applied, and free speech, which includes hate speech, is fairly enforced. These messages would have been exactly what Jewish students, Jewish faculty, non-Jewish pro-Israel students and faculty, and big donors wanted to hear.
Sadly, the leaders of this country’s most august learning institutions failed to lead and failed to uphold their moral authority on the world stage. While messaging alone would not have exonerated them or their institutions from their complicity in the moral decay, the exercise required to identify the real crisis would have helped them reclaim that moral high ground and reposition their universities for a brighter future.
Before a crisis can be managed, it must be correctly identified. Failure to do so can result in damages far greater than the crisis itself. Just as Harvard, Penn, and MIT.
Mark Sachs is the founder of Orwell Grey Strategic Communications, located in South Florida. He is also the co-author of The Cancel Culture Curse, a book that explores the philosophical, theoretical, and practical aspects of these modern-day witch hunts.
Originally published in Law.com