Crisis at The University of Texas

April 29, 2016

I was proud of my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, when recently it was forced to deal with the first homicide on campus in nearly 50 years. In April, Haruka
Weiser, an 18-year-old first-year dance student from Portland, Oregon was murdered after nightfall on her way from an academic building to her dormitory. It was a horrific situation, but UT took action in ways that exemplify good crisis management.

  • The University and its President Greg Fenves communicated early and often to keep the campus informed. His messages had a personal and familial tone—and he spoke as a father.
  • UT told its constituents what it knew and what it didn’t know, and it used multiple social media platforms to share news.
  • UT worked closely with the family of the victim to be sensitive to its needs and to forward messages from the family to the campus community.
  • UT worked diligently with multiple law enforcement and other agencies to help apprehend a suspect and implement additional safety measures on campus.
  • President Fenves commissioned an independent review of campus safety procedures.
  • UT attended to the needs of students and the campus with extensive counseling services, and it created a path for healing with a memorial service, a dance performance in honor of the victim, and a memorial fund.
  • Finally, President Fenves created the expectation that something positive will come out of the tragedy through enhanced safety awareness and expanded security measures on campus.

My mentor, Harold Burson, always cautioned against second-guessing crisis management decisions if you weren’t in the war room at the time. In this case, as the parent of a daughter attending UT, I would have appreciated more communication directed at the parents of students on campus.

In spite of that, I believe the university did a good job overall in responding to a very difficult situation. And I hope the campus is a safer place as a result. 

Crisis communications are best conveyed in a human voice and with a personal tone.

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In a crisis, it's essential to communicate early and often to fill the information vacuum.

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