Negative news places pressure on University admins

Rachel Siegel

February 3, 2015

The past four months have not been the easiest for the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications.

From a graduate student hospitalized with symptoms of Ebola, to a front-page New York Times article detailing sexual misconduct allegations at the Yale School of Medicine, to a Yale Police Department officer forcing a student to the ground at gunpoint and two reports of rape in University dormitories last weekend, Yale has dealt with its fair share of bad news.

While alumni interviewed were largely supportive of the University and expressed faith in its standing as an institution, Maria Burton ’85, 1985 alumni class secretary, said there was still room to feel the University had fallen short.

Specifically in regard to campus discussions surrounding sexual misconduct, Burton said she “hoped that Yale would be more of a leader.”

“I have to admit, Yale is not doing great here, and I’m really disappointed because I love this school,” Burton said.

Still, Burton added that she thought the University had done a good job of shielding alumni from the cycle of bad news.

Brian Goldberg ’03 said the recent bad news has not changed alumni perceptions of Yale, and that controversies surrounding fair labor practices at Yale were often in the news during his time at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“I was very mindful at the time of many of those issues because we were seeing them play out in some national reporting as well,” Goldberg said.

Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said she has not seen any data to suggest donors have been affected by the negative news of recent months.

Charles Johnson ’54, who provided the University with its largest donation in history when he gave $250 million for the new residential colleges, said Yale would always be in the headlines and be subjected to more scrutiny, but that “Yale is run very well.”

Scott Jaschik, the editor of Inside Higher Ed, echoed that sentiment, saying that while events at Yale will continue to be picked up by the national media, he does not expect the University to suffer in the long term.

But perhaps the greatest test of how Yale’s reputation will weather the current difficulties has yet to play out. In particular, a drop in applications to the class of 2019 would suggest that the University’s reputation was suffering.

Brian Taylor, director of the private college counseling practice Ivy Coach, said negative news can definitely affect admissions statistics of highly selective colleges, though the effects may be slightly delayed. For example, Taylor said that following the March 2006 Duke University scandal in which three former lacrosse players were falsely accused of rape, there was a dip in applications for the following fall.

But, Taylor said, Ivy League universities are somewhat immune to the effects negative news can have.

“No school is immune to negative news, but for the Ivy League there’s less of a risk,” Taylor said. “In a way, the Ivy League outlives the current news cycle.”