UConn seriously needs to improve its public relations

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The unfortunate truth about this article is that it could be written about a multitude of different subject matters. In many recent cases, the University of Connecticut has blundered in making simple communications to the community. These mistakes have come in a myriad of ways, the most recent of which occurring last Thursday, Dec. 30.

On Thursday evening at around 8 p.m, an article titled “A Message to UConn Students Concerning the Spring 2022 Semester” was posted to the UConn Today website. It outlined the new protocols being put in place for the upcoming semester, including a postponement of the in-person move-in day to the weekend of Jan. 29. This would have been fine on its own, and it actually would have been helpful to give the UConn community over two weeks to prepare for the new protocol, but this wasn’t all that happened. Quickly after the article was originally posted, it was taken down, a move that caused much confusion. What followed was a 9:37 p.m. email from UConn President Andy Agwunobi, finally confirming what had been said in the previously posted article.

Regardless of whether or not the initial posting was a mistake, which would have been a major blunder, there are clear issues with how this was handled. The reality of the situation was that the post did go out, and it was quickly spread online. Once an announcement of that seriousness is out in the open, it cannot be taken back. Removing the official statement and then taking over an hour to replace it only serves to create more confusion, as it should have been very easy to send out a quick email apologizing for the mishap and explaining what was going on.

However, perhaps the worst part of the whole situation related to the new protocol came about two weeks prior to the UConn Today debacle. In a Dec. 16 email to all undergraduates, Dean of Students Eleanor JB Daugherty declared in the header: “Spoiler Alert: You’re coming back in January!” While the email does acknowledge that things could change, the dean made multiple promises that students will return to campus. After over a year and half of dealing with the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last thing any authority figure should be doing is making declarations a month in advance. It’s clear that the goal of the email was to be optimistic and to rally the community after a rocky return following Thanksgiving break, but using absolute statements to create what might turn out to be false hope does not serve anyone.

Shifting gears, another example of a misuse of one of UConn’s public outlets comes from the school’s main Instagram account, @uconn, on Dec 7. After the death of K9 Harper of the UConn Police Department, the account made a post in honor of the dog. This post came at the end of a semester during which two UConn students met untimely deaths, and neither student was recognized in the manner K9 Harper was, so a member of the UConn community took it upon themself to raise this criticism by commenting on the post. To UConn’s credit, the account initially provided a very well thought out and thorough response to the original commenter, referring to the deceased families’ privacy and the public status of K9 Harper making the scenarios different. Once again, if this had been the end of the event, nothing would be amiss, but more went on. Shortly after the response was made, both the original comment and UConn’s reply were hidden from public view and remain hidden. The original commenter claims that UConn was the one to take the posts down.

UConn is a public institution, and with that status members of the community surrounding it should be free to respectfully criticize the university’s decisions and actions. By deleting comments that are critical of a UConn action, the school sends a message about how it reacts to dissent.

These two cases are completely separate, but they represent the same problem. UConn does not put enough effort or respect into its interactions with the general public. Members of the UConn community deserve better, as it is us who shape this space. Having channels to send information on a large scale to the general public is an incredibly important tool, but if those channels are used in ways that stir up confusion or discourage critical discourse, then they are being misused.

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