The Operation Varsity Blues scandal has heightened reputation management concerns across the higher education community. Seeing how quickly any college or university can suffer reputational damage, and how lasting that damage can be, underscores how valuable an institution’s reputation is, and how critical it is to safeguard it.
The book Reputation management: The key to successful public relations and corporate communication by New York University professors John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia opens with a quote from Warren Buffet who addressed a group of Salomon Brothers managers in 1991 after the firm became mired in a high-profile trading scandal: “If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be very understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.”
Although numerous surveys show that many leaders of higher education institutions place the same value on reputation as Buffet does, effectively managing these risks remains elusive. In fact, most cannot even define what reputation is.
Defining Reputational Risk
In the article How to Manage Reputation Risk, Nir Kossovsky addresses the definitional ambiguity directly. “From your boardroom and C-suite to the SEC and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, everyone agrees reputation risk exists, yet few can describe it. However, this isn’t as difficult as it seems.” Kossovsky defines reputation as the expectation of behavior that is set by stakeholders. “Customers have expectations when they buy products or services, employees have them when they accept jobs, vendors have them when they partner, creditors and investors have them, and even regulators have them.” For colleges and universities, this extends to the communities that house them, the potential pool of students and parents considering attendance, research partners, and the other organizations that interact with them.