UBC controversies stem from administration's bad decisions, says consultant
'The UBC administration has to get on top of this. They need to rebuild public and media trust'
The UBC's inability to quell a series of controversies that have plagued the institution in recent years stems from choices made by its administration, says one crisis management consultant.
In the latest incident, a history professor criticized the university on Monday for not acting fast enough when it received reports of a prowler on campus last week.
But whether it's been the number of sexual assaults on campus, starting with a string of attacks in 2013, allegations of sexual assault against a grad student, or the fallout from former president Arvind Gupta's resignation, UBC has not been able to "put an end to these issues," said Lesli Boldt, who runs her own public relations company, Boldt Communications.
Boldt told CBC Radio's The Early Edition that responsibility for the ongoing public relations problems rests with the university's administration.
"The UBC administration has to get on top of this. They need to rebuild public and media trust in their ability to handle these issues."
The constant media attention stems from a "communication breakdown" at the university, she says,
"From a crisis and PR strategy perspective, this is the kind of conversation — around the non-confidence vote and the arguments between faculty and administration — these are conversations that should be happening face to face, and not being played out in duelling open letters or in the media."
Communicating the plan
Boldt says UBC's communication breakdown is happening not only inside the university, but also between the university and the public.
Having a plan and multiple backups is key to managing a crisis, said Boldt.
"The best way to manage a crisis is to anticipate potential problems, have a plan if the problem comes out to the public eye, as it has in this case, and ideally, to deal with the problem as quickly as possible," she said.
The next step is to show the public what the solution is and how it is being implemented.
In some cases, organizations can prepare for events that are likely to garner attention, like a university president's resignation after only one year in office. But the university did not provide enough information up front, said Boldt.
"It appears to someone like me, that they weren't really prepared [for] how the faculty and the public would react to the resignation," she said.
UBC's vice-president of external relations has previously admitted that mistakes were made in how Gupta's departure was publicized.
But even when an organization cannot anticipate a crisis, a clear response is vital, said Boldt.
UBC could not have anticipated the string of sexual assaults that have happened in the area, but it could have done a better job communicating its response, she said.
"We need to know that is the plan for keeping students safe because it's clear that UBC hasn't been able to communicate that."
With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition
To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: UBC's PR challenges.