Analyzing Communications Around the USC Crisis

After the University of Southern California's president resigned last month, crisis communication experts analyzed university messaging. When a gynecologist was accused of inappropriate exams and comments over decades working for the university, 200 faculty called for President C.L. Max Nikias's resignation. Faculty wrote that they believed Dr. Nikias "has lost the moral authority to lead the University.” Although the Administration denies any type of coverup, the gynecologist was allowed to continue in his job even after many allegations in 2016. Dr. Nikias did resign.

A Wall Street Journal article chronicles the following university communications:

A May 21 statement from university Provost Michael Quick denied university leadership knew of the doctor’s improper behavior, stating: “It is true that our system failed, but it is important that you know that this claim of a cover-up if patently false.” Prior to that, the university issued statements about the matter from Mr. Nikias on May 18 and May 15, and statements from other university officials on May 15 and May 16. University administrators also are contacting students.

Criticism of the communication includes sounding defensive, not completing the investigation quickly enough, and failing to report investigation results to those affected. One writer complimented the statement by the chair of the university's executive committee.


  • How does this situation illustrate character dimensions such as vulnerability, accountability, and integrity?
  • Read the executive committee chair's statement. In what ways does the statement illustrate authenticity? What other character dimensions are illustrated?
  • Assess the university's other statements. What's your assessment of each?
  • What should the university do at this point to rebuild trust?