To preserve and protect Emerson#039;s image

by Beacon Staff • September 3, 2008

p>Our view: High-profile shenanigans undermine the Emerson brand.At issue: The ethical mis-adventures of Emerson faculty and staff.br style="font-weight: bold;"Our view: High-profile shenanigans undermine the Emerson brand.

br /Last year, the Beacon reported a slew of storiesmdash;good and badmdash;that also made headlines and newscasts beyond our small sphere of distribution. Too often, these local and national stories featured Emerson officials and professors transgressing the ethical boundaries of their positions, even as students were making news for their laudable accomplishments.

This year, we hope to see less scandal and more achievement.

These local and national stories, more than the Beacon's coverage, impact Emerson's prestige, a nebulous notion that nonetheless impacts the fortunes of the college and its students, past and present. The quality of Emerson's brand has tangible value for all its students, even after graduation.

Consider: Emerson alumni from the 1990s have seen the relative value of their diploma appreciate as the school has grown and risen in national prominence. For the most part, they benefit from an Emerson brand that is more respected, or at least more well-known, since their graduation. It's not a matter of school spirit, it's a matter of better jobs and better opportunity.

On the other hand, prospective Emerson students may look elsewhere when they see national headlines about a financial aid officer fired for taking $36,000 in graft from a student loan consolidatormdash;as former vice president of enrollment, Daniel Pinch, didmdash;and then see this year's Princeton Review highlighting Emerson's notoriously stingy financial aid. Every top-flight student who chooses another college depresses Emerson's cachet as a leading arts and communication school, and depresses the value of each of our diplomas.

MIT's Sloan Business School knows a thing or two about branding. But even Sloan grappled with its own well-publicized scandal last December, after homophobic remarks were sent to its Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Club. The club referred the offender to campus police but, when newspapers reported on the incident, some otherwise uninvolved students questioned Sloan's GLBT club's outcry for hurting the school's immaculate image. "No one in our community benefits from causing damage to our school brand," a mass e-mailer to Sloan students wrote.

We agree with that particular sentiment. However, the solution is not, as that MIT writer suggested, to suppress negative news. The trick is to proactively tackle thorny issues like homophobia (as Sloan has since done) or, in Emerson's case, embarrassing ethics breaches.

A newly approved ethics code for Emerson administrators should help stanch corruption cases like Pinch's by forcing school employees to declare potentially compromising extracurricular arrangements. That's a necessary step.

A tighter leash may be needed to discourage other indiscretions. For instance, the wrong message was sent when women's volleyball coach Craig Letourneau was not disciplined after being fired from his parks department job in a Rhode Island town for inappropriately using a municipal car to drive to Boston for practices and games, as the Providence Journal reported. The temptations for college coaches to bend the rulesmdash;whether in luring prospects or accepting payolamdash;are strong; coaches at Emerson, where the stakes are lower than at Division I schools, should be held to the highest standard of honesty. Instead, Letourneau was promoted to helm the college's new men's volleyball team this spring.

The true injustice is when such scandals, which have little direct impact on the average Emersonian, undercut the hard work of students whose performances and productions win the school acclaim and prestige. We hope in the new academic year Emerson's administration will continue to clean up its act.