What to do at UNC…

Another day, another story about the scandals that have engulfed the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for going on three years. How is it possible this hasn’t been cleaned up yet?

It’s gotten to be more than embarrassing. It’s shameful. Shameful that it happened. Shameful that it continues. It started with the athletic department, spread to academics and has moved into fund-raising. It’s as if the school began investigating some rotten timber in the den and has discovered roaches in the kitchen and bats in the attic. What infestation will they find next?

It’s past time for transparency, but doesn’t UNC seem to continue to be opaque? From today’s story in the News & Observer about the resignation of Matt Kupec and his relationship with Tami Hansbrough, mother of Tyler Hansbrough. The News & Observer sought to obtain a copy of the dental foundation audit and related expense records four weeks ago, but the foundation’s new director, Paul Gardner, said they were not public record because the foundation is a nonprofit and not a public agency. He forwarded The N&O’s request to UNC-CH’s legal department, which so far has not provided information.

Here’s my unsolicited advice to the top brass at the university and the university system: Once the News & Observer gets onto a story, the paper isn’t going to let go. (I would think it is something UNC leadership has learned by now.) That tenacity means several things, and it certainly means this: You can’t control the story, the release of the information or how it is going to look. Stop trying. When the reporter calls, it’s likely he or she already knows what you wish you could handle quietly. Quiet will no longer work on this story.
I don’t know how this will end — not well, I suspect — but, for the sake of the university, the wisest course is to be as open as possible — more open than the university seems to be.
Update: On Facebook, Philip Meyer passed on some PR strategy 101: “Trapped administrators need to follow a counter-intuitive strategy: get the bad news out, get it all out, and get it out fast. Letting it dribble out a little at a time just makes the damage worse. Machiavelli advised that, and so did my former colleague Clarence Jones.”
Wednesday update: And the bad news continues to dribble out.