This is a guest post by Greg Loving and Jeff Cramerding, authors of the article, “Five Rules for Dealing with the Media,” in the new January-February 2016 issue of Academe. Greg Loving is associate professor of philosophy at University of Cincinnati Clermont College and president of the UC AAUP chapter. Jeff Cramerding serves as director of contract administration and communications at AAUP-UC and is a member of the bar in Ohio.
If there is any case that highlights the importance of faculty dealing wisely with the media, it’s the case of University of Missouri Professor Melissa Click. During student protests in fall 2015, she was recorded on camera asking for some “muscle” to keep reporters from covering a student protest. She received death and rape threats, and a group of Republican lawmakers are now using the situation as a political tool, calling for her resignation.
I’m certain that Professor Click, who teaches Communications, supports freedom of the press. She does not deserve what is being heaped upon her. And in fact, she apologized for her actions. None of that matters in the public eye, though. One bad incident, one video capture, one bad quote, has summarized her, and all professors, for many. Is that unreliable anecdotal evidence instead of a statistically reliable sample? Sure. Would my mother understand what I just said? No. Is it fair? No. Is that the way the modern media landscape works? Yes.
Professor Click undoubtedly knows much about dealing with the media. That just points out how much training and forethought is required to deal with the media effectively. Even someone who knows what they are doing can take a grave misstep.
A picture is worth a thousand dissertations.
An initial inclination might be to ignore the modern media with its flaws and pitfalls, hoping that it will go away after a litany of “no comments,” allowing faculty to tell the whole “truth” in academic journals. In reality, it is now more important than ever for faculty and AAUP chapters to communicate effectively with parents, students, voters, and the public. This cannot be done without effectively dealing with the media.
Our article in the new issue of Academe provides some rules for dealing with the media. With planning, training, and a willingness to step away from the insulated protocols of the ivory tower, faculty can effectively work with the media and communicate in a way people will understand. The University of Cincinnati chapter saw the necessity to relate effectively to the public because of a nasty round of bargaining. Dealing effectively with the media will be more important than ever if the Friedrichs decision goes against collective bargaining chapters.
Learning to get messages out effectively through the media is even more important for Advocacy chapters, who usually have no official role in university decision making. Often the only power they have is effective communication.
Articles from the current and past issues of Academe are available online. AAUP members receive a subscription to the magazine, available both by mail and as a downloadable PDF, as a benefit of membership.