Monday, February 27, 2012

The Failure of Educational Leadership

What does Kent State University stand for, what are its guiding values?   On President Lefton's mission statement page, it says one of the University's core values is "Integrity in all of our actions and communications."

President Lefton and Kent State's athletic director certainly don't believe in that.   Both Lefton and athletic director Joel Nielsen knew that the man they wanted to name the basketball arena after in exchange for his million dollar donation had paid millions in fines to the SEC for defrauding customers.   Lefton and Nielsen knew that; they did not tell the Board of Trustees who voted to approve the name change.

Certainly, there's a problem with a rubber stamp board that provides no oversight.  But what is far worse for journalism students is what they learn from the silence of the educational leadership at Kent State.   Our core value of integrity in all communications is totally violated by two top university officials and the deans say nothing.  The College of Communication says nothing.  The School of Journalism says nothing.  The role model to our students by our educational leaders teaches a solid lesson:  don't say anything.  

University officials refuse to do a recorded interview on the subject.   The deans don't object.  They say nothing.

The chancellor of Ohio's university system doesn't say a word.

We've witnessed what happens when the values a university says are so important are ignored.   Two core values listed for the Ohio State Athletic Department are integrity and personal accountability.   Jim Tressel didn't lose his job for having great integrity.   No university's mission statement will advocate ignoring sex abuse or failing to investigate sexual assaults on campus.   The Clery Act didn't pass because universities were doing a great job reporting crimes on campus; there was a dire need for national legislation because universities across the country lied about crimes on  campus.

It's important to have a mission statement.   But at Kent State, ours is not worth the web page it's written on.  When it is totally violated, the only one saying anything is student reporter Doug Brown and the editorial page of the student paper.    To provide ethical role models for students, university educators and administrators have a responsibility to stand up for something besides the Star Spangled Banner.

By the way, if I am wrong, if a dean or school director has raised holy hell in a message sent to President Lefton or Board members or the chancellor, please send it to me.  I will apologize and post what you send.   

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's Happened to Accountability Journalism in NE Ohio?

This past January, former Washington Post executive editor Len Downie Jr. stressed to students at the Campus Coverage Project held at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism the importance of accountability journalism.   Journalism is not blogging, it's not about rumors, it's not promotion, advertising or public relations.   Journalism has an essential and crucial function in any democratic society.   Journalists must hold institutions and the powerful accountable for their actions or lack of action.

Kent State student reporter Doug Brown has done a superb job digging out information on how Kent State University was planning to name its basketball arena after Jason M. Cope, a man who had to pay millions in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission.   Apparently, Kent State president Lester Lefton withheld that information from the Board before it voted to approve the name change.   Apparently, athletic director Joel Nielsen withheld that information from the Board before it voted to approve the name change.  Apparently, the Board whose job it is to provide oversight, provided absolutely none.   Pop the name Jason M. Cope into Google and hit the button and on the first page there's a litigation release from the SEC.

What's of greater concern, however, is the lack of accountability journalism by the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Record Courier, Cleveland television, NPR, ESPN Radio (yes, sports reporters can be reporters) and Kent's student radio & television stations.

As a country, we've witnessed the serious consequences of rubber-stamp boards.   Here, there's not just a question about the lack of board oversight.  Both Lefton and Nielsen need to be asked why they withheld crucial information from the Board.

One thing is certain.   Any communication professional would know that Cope's history would come out.   Someone sitting in the stands would wonder, even though apparently Board members did not, who is Jason M. Cope?   One  3-second Google search provides the answer.   That's fine.   Any communication professional would take advantage of this incredible opportunity in a way that maximizes positive publicity for Kent State.

Any communication professional would have planned and coordinated with Cope how to present this in a highly favorable and positive fashion for Kent State.   Considering the way Kent State has handled this, it appears it did not have a strategic communications plan.   How is that possible?  Once again, why is there no accountability journalism?

Ohio's high school student population is projected to fall year after year so the current boom in applications all state universities are seeing will not continue without a first-rate marketing/communications effort.   What does the apparent lack of a strategic communications plan in this instance say about the level of competence in Kent State's marketing & communications?   Why aren't local news organizations doing the accountability journalism required to answer that question?


Monday, February 13, 2012

Easy Story, and One Worthwhile to Report

To try to determine what actually happened in the Jim Tressel mess at Ohio State University, ESPN filed suit against OSU to get at the records (Tressel's emails among other things) that would get at the truth.

Why didn't any Ohio news organization, particularly any Columbus-based news organization concerned about access to public records, join the suit?   Perhaps newsroom budgets have been cut too drastically for any journalist to go after such an easy and worthwhile story.   Is there a weakness in ESPN's brief?   ESPN's attorney Jack Greiner certainly appears to make highly logical and compelling arguments as to the benefit of getting at the truth.

How many Ohio State grads on the Ohio Supreme Court do you think will recuse themselves?

Canon 2 of Ohio's Code of Judicial Conduct states a judge "...Shall Act at all Times in a Manner that Promotes Public Confidence in the Integrity and Impartiality of the Judiciary."   Would a member of the Supreme Court who received his/her law degree from Ohio State who didn't recuse promote confidence in the integrity and the impartiality of the judiciary?

With tight newsroom budgets, it's worthwhile for journalists to go after easy stories that matter.