When he left Stanford University after 30 years as director of the university’s news operation, Bob Beyers was recognized on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. His approach of handling and communicating the affairs of the university with the objectivity, aggressiveness and candor of an in-house journalist had earned him a national reputation. Beyers was not a fan of the evolution of public relations at colleges and universities as we can see in this excerpt from a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“In my nearly 30 years as director of Stanford University’s news service, I found that as more lawyers and business-school graduates entered academic administration, frank and prompt news reports gave way to careful statements, often crafted by committee and cleared by legal counsel. Staff resources shifted from straight news toward glitz.
“Today, college public relations consultants thrive on the promise of a possible mention in The New York Times or a quick sound bite on “Good Morning America.” College and university presidents publicly criticize U.S. News & World Report for the rankings of colleges and universities it publishes each year. But some then quietly visit the magazine’s editors to put in a few good words for their institutions. Some colleges have even considered launching miniature public relations campaigns to influence administrators at other institutions.
“As pressures to raise money increase, the gifts to colleges that people write into their wills are quickly registered as part of the totals in fund-raising campaigns. If a bequest fails to materialize, the building named for the prospective donor quietly reverts to generic nomenclature. No news story is written. That might make the ‘suits’ in charge look ridiculous. If it’s hard to keep the fund-raising total high, blend in a few federal funds with private donations.
“How sad, how true—and how short-sighted.
“Nowhere are candor and credibility more important than in universities. No other institutions have proclaimed their purpose as the search for truth; not profits, not salvation, not even ‘plausible deniability’ when misrepresentations are discovered—but truth.”