Florida Atlantic University may not have created yet another controversy by hiring “crisis communication” specialists, but FAU did create some confusion.
For example, why now? The crisis came in February, when FAU accepted $6 million from The GEO Group for naming rights to the football stadium. The crisis came when former President Mary Jane Saunders and the FAU board mangled the response to questions about GEO’s human-rights record. Dr. Saunders resigned last month.
According to Carey O’Donnell, whose West Palm Beach PR firm is one of two FAU hired, her roughly $75,000, six-month contract that began May 1 is for “not strictly crisis” advice. “They want to be better prepared.” FAU’s administration, she said, “wants a better understanding” of how to deal with news organizations and to get out the “many great stories” around the university. From the top, Ms. O’Donnell says, “There is full buy-in.”
It would be unfair to define FAU only by the cluelessness and evasion that followed the GEO announcement. It would be fair, though, to say — as one university trustee did — that the controversy exposed serious internal weaknesses and damaged FAU’s reputation. An institution supposedly dedicated to the search for knowledge and truth came off as dedicated to ducking questions.
We have heard since February that Dr. Saunders surrounded herself with aides who told her only what she wanted to hear. If true, the same goes for several trustees, who voted for the GEO money based on personal feelings toward CEO/FAU grad George Zoley without anticipating potential consequences. There are many closed circles. The other PR agency FAU hired lists as a client the company owned by Anthony Barbar, chairman of the board of trustees.
If FAU wants to be more transparent, it isn’t showing yet with the decision on Instructor Deandre Poole. FAU also blew its response to the so-called “step on Jesus” exercise Mr. Poole used. His department has recommended that he get a new contract, his classes are full, but higher-ups are being vague. We will soon see if that “buy-in” of a new attitude is real.
for The Post Editorial Board