Saturday, March 4, 2017

Advice and Common Sense

It appears that faced with a budgetary problem, UC-Berkeley paid over $300,000 for a consultant to advise that the chancellor should let folks know that he was trying to fix it. (Yours truly would have happily suggested that approach for half the price.)

From the Sacramento Bee:

Faced with a $150 million budget deficit at UC Berkeley, university administrators were grappling last year with how to break the news to faculty and the media about the need for major spending and staffing cuts.
The solution? University officials bypassed Berkeley’s own communications staff and approved spending $419,400 to hire an outside public relations agency “to address media and stakeholder backlash,” newly released documents indicate.
The contract with Sard Verbinnen & Co., which bills itself as a global public relations firm, was aimed at helping the university communicate with alumni, faculty, donors, legislators and others about how it was going to address the deficit.
“Campus leadership was considering how best to deal with the considerable communications challenges it was facing and believed that outside expertise would likely be needed,” Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for UC President Janet Napolitano, said Thursday. “The president said that if the campus felt that hiring an outside firm was the best course, that one should be hired. Moreover, the firm was paid with unrestricted donor funds, not state or tuition dollars.”
At the time Sard Verbinnen was advising the Berkeley campus, UC officials were dealing with a separate scandal at UC Davis over the use of at least three outside public relations firms to enhance the reputation of that school and then-Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who ultimately resigned under pressure.
Amid the controversy over the UC Davis contracts, which were made public by The Sacramento Bee, UC Berkeley abruptly canceled its contract with Sard Verbinnen.
Before the contract was scrapped, however, UC Berkeley paid the firm a total of $306,447.05 for work through June 2016. The firm’s duties had quickly expanded beyond dealing only with the deficit, documents show, and included offering advice on how to strengthen the image of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks as he addressed the shortfall.
“Dirks must not shy away from public view at this point in time,” an April 23 email from the firm to Berkeley communications executives advised. “He must demonstrably take control of the situation both publicly and behind the scenes.”
Failure to aggressively address the deficit publicly, the firm wrote, would damage support for the university “and Dirks’ own reputation.”...

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