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Will sex abuse scandal at Penn State tarnish school’s image long-term?

November 15, 2011

Turmoil at Penn State over allegations of child sexual abuse by a former football coach may have temporarily blemished the school’s image, but probably won’t have much long-term impact on the university, say experts quoted in The New York Times. Fallout from the scandal might take a decade to resolve, but based on other universities’ experiences with crises, many higher education officials and crisis-management specialists predict the effects won’t last a year, the paper reports.

Any drop in donations, applications or recruiting is likely to pass fairly quickly, says Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education. “Colleges and universities are much bigger than any one individual or scandal.”

But other sources caution that Penn State’s situation may play out differently than past scandals at other schools. “I’ve not seen anything on this scale, where the leadership’s been on notice for 10 years … and took no action,” says Harlan Loeb, executive vice president, U.S. Crisis & Issues Management practice at Edelman. “That has to have a big effect on trust and reputation.” At least one advertiser,, has temporarily withdrawn its sponsorship of EPSN broadcasts of Penn State games against Nebraska and Ohio State, the Times reports.  — Greg Beaubien


Derek DeVries says:

"Will sex abuse scandal at Penn State tarnish school’s image long-term?" - Absolutely. There may be a return to previous fundraising levels from alumni and supporters in the near future, but Penn State has done damage to their reputation for future generations because it wasn't just a sex scandal; it was a sex scandal with what amounts to a cover-up on top of it. Any reasonable person could forgive that something illegal happened on Penn State's campus - what is far less easily-forgiven is trying to bury that act and exposing the danger to more victims. As their current body of supporters grays, they're going to be challenged to bring in the next generation of Penn State students and supporters (especially now that Paterno is gone and his legacy sullied).

Nov. 30, 2011

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