Virginia Tech has just been handed a $55,000 fine for failing to notify students in a “timely manner” following the shooting incident of April 16, 2007. That morning, two students were found murdered in a residence hall, but no notification went out for over an hour, leaving thousands of students vulnerable to another attack, which happened shortly after as 23 year old Cho Seung-Hui began another rampage, killing 30 more people. The school is appealing this decision, and made these statements, quoted from a CNN article:
Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech, said Tuesday the school “respectfully disagrees” with the fine.
“As we noted before, neither the Department of Education nor the Clery Act defines ‘timely,’ ” Hincker said in a prepared statement. “The university actions on April 16 were well within the standards and practices in effect at that time.”
University officials disputed the federal findings.
“We believe that Virginia Tech administrators acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them,” Hincker said.
Regardless of who is technically right, Virginia Tech is now taking additional reputation damage as a result of the four-year old case resurfacing and, should it continue to respond in a cold and impersonal manner, will suffer even more. It is possible to claim innocence while still showing remorse and humility, something that the statements from university officials are sorely lacking.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]