As Peterson Rudgers Group launches a new year, we have terrific news. Julie and I are delighted to announce two new associates: James Cohen and Debra Serwach. Jim and Debbie will help us continue to expand our reach, our impact…and our joy. Our work partnering with clients in strategy, communications and leadership has been especially rewarding, as is teaming with our talented colleagues.
Julie and I carefully monitor trends in higher education media coverage, and we continue to be impressed with the way in which college and university leaders use their bully pulpits to address not only institutional and sector challenges but also issues of deep societal concern — in their own strong and authentic voices.
I’ve overseen three university presidential transitions, and now in our consulting roles Julie and I have advised several in-house teams as they plan for a new president or chancellor.
It’s an important time in the life of an institution, and strategic communications planning is critical – both to ensure a smooth transition and to create a solid foundation for a new leader’s future direction. The most effective communications efforts happen with careful pre-planning and coordination among several college units. When this works well, everyone comes together to craft strategies that celebrate the legacy of where the institution has been, and excitement about the next chapter.
After facilitating quite a few in-house planning sessions with colleagues and clients, I offer some guideposts for making the most of leadership transition:
Every Sunday morning, I curate a roundup of the most important recent higher education news for our e-newsletter called The Weekly Scan. Last week the task was especially depressing.
At a University of Florida commencement exercise, a marshal used physical force to rush graduates off stage, especially members of an African American fraternity. At Colorado State University, campus police pulled two Native American high school students away from an admissions tour. At Yale, a white graduate student called campus police to report a black graduate student had fallen asleep in a residence hall common area.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a police officer said this when the black student was then detained: “You’re in a Yale building, and we need to make sure you belong here.”
What are we to make of such deeply troubling actions, and what can we do about it?
Julie and I often counsel college and university clients about the powerful storytelling impact of photography, hoping to encourage a greater use of imagery in institutional communications portfolios. We know it can be a challenge in environments with constrained resources. Yet riveting photographs—those that capture an authentic tone and very “real” experience—can create an evocative narrative in an instant, and even build a shared sense of community.