EDITORIAL: A proactive approach to an ugly mess

In a world where public relations is becoming more important than ever, Central Michigan University did the right thing Thursday in coming forward with details on Bill Merrill, the professor alleged to have had thousands of pornographic images and videos on his work computer.

The bombshell began early Thursday afternoon, with an email sent out to the campus community informing them of a serious situation that involved a suspended professor. As news organizations, including Central Michigan Life, began looking into it and reporting more details, the university responded accordingly by calling a 4:30 p.m. news conference.

CMU is not big on doing news conferences — the last one held was last fall during the tumultuous faculty association strike — so it was evident that this was considered a big deal. Rule No. 1 of public relations: try and get out in front of the story if at all possible.

And while the university waited until several news outlets began reporting the story, this is the accommodating, proactive approach that has been sorely missed.

Had this incident happened last year, University Communications would have handled it very differently — and not in a positive way. If anything this event shows the difference in leadership between interim Associate Vice President of University Communications Sherry Knight and the last person to hold that position, Renee Walker.

As shown by last year's constant PR gaffes compared to the concise information provided last week, there has clearly been somewhat of a change of culture at CMU, at least in the regard of information.

For a university of CMU's size, there have been several examples of how not to handle a story like this and one 0f the most recent comes from Eastern Michigan University.

In 2007, three EMU administrators, including then-president John Fallon, were fired after they were found trying to cover up the rape and murder of a student in December 2006. Trying to cover up a serious situation such as rape, murder or child pornography is never the way to go, and CMU deserves early credit for being honest and forthright.

Additionally, kudos go out to the honest individuals in the Office of Information Technology for reporting the graphic images immediately. It's easy to look the other way in today's world, for fear of losing a job or friend, but reporting Merrill's alleged activity was the right thing to do.


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