Alfred State College is famous for many things, the most recent being a message board (inaccurately classified as a blog) that attracted national attention because of its relentless and vile attacks on system and campus administrators, faculty, staff, and family members. I was the President of Alfred State College when the board was first launched by two campus administrators who were reassigned to faculty. The story was covered in the popular media.
I learned some important lessons through this experience and would like to share my experiences with other Presidents and PR Directors who may face similar challenges. I don’t have all the answers, and I invite your comments and insights about what an educational institution must do when staff or students with questionable motives use social media software to create communciations that appear to be legitimate forums.
I started my Presidency at Alfred State in the summer of 2003, served as the President for three years, and accomplished great things because of a strong and talented senior leadership team. I left the Presidency in June of 2006 to become the Senior Advisor to the State University of New York for Women in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics.
I will share with you over the course of the coming weeks several important lessons I learned. The first strategy: The President or the senior leadership team should not write to the blog.
Lesson Learned: The senior leadership team and I debated often as to whether we should counteract the lies that were perpetuated on the blog. We decided against it and here are the reasons:
1. The integrity of the blog was brought into question early on. The blog master edited and deleted posts that did not support his or her views of the administration. A post by the administration could be edited to damage the credibility of the author and the institution.
2. The blog enthusiastically purported name-calling of the President and other senior administrators. Only of the early posts called me mentally deranged and a border-line personality (so much for faculty who we hope will be sensitive to those with mental illnesses!).
3. Most of the postings on the blog were anonymous. This meant that anyone could say anything without being held responsible for their words or actions. Engaging in a boxing match with an invisible ghost was not worthwhile. The bloggers claimed that it was because of "fear and intimidation" on campus. Interestingly, long after I left the college, the posts continue to be anonymous.
4. It did not matter that the President did not post to the blog. The bloggers perpetuated lies that the President was posting. Anytime anyone posted in favor of administration, the bloggers ridiculed that the President was posting favorable comments.
Clearly, there are those who feel that I should have written to the blog and those who feel that it is inappropriate for a President to participate in this sort of communication channel. If I had to do it all over again, my decision not to post would remain the same. What are your thoughts?