Is UCLA setting a dangerous precedent with its response to student’s video?

I don’t talk much about social media here – it’s done better and in more volume by other higher ed bloggers and on Twitter, but the UCLA situation of the last few weeks piqued my interest.

Alexandra Wallace, a student at UCLA, posted a video on YouTube making fun of Asian students in the UCLA library. Here is her video:

It didn’t take long for the video set off a firestorm on the Internet. It was picked up by blogs large and small, news outlets, blogs, YouTube and more.

Then something interesting happened.

Gene Block, Chancellor of UCLA, posted a video response and statement online to Ms. Wallace’s video, condemning it and saying that it was not representative of the UCLA community.

I understand why UCLA responded – they were getting comments and pressure from around the world, but I wonder if this sets a dangerous precedent.

Will we, as institutions of higher education, now be expected to respond to every negative blog post, video, Twitter and social media mention that’s in any way negative about our institutions or one of our affinity groups? Granted, this was an extreme case, but it is something that we’re going to have to seriously think about at our institutions and, possibly, start to plan for.

I’ve read blog posts and watched YouTube videos critical of institutions I’ve worked at. One time, David Duke included the college I worked at on a list called “The Best Colleges for Whites.” We responded to none of these in a formal way, though there was sometimes calls for us to do so.

Finally, the UCLA student, Alexandra Wallace, has now withdrawn from UCLA effective immediately. She writes in a letter to the UCLA Daily Bruin:

I made a mistake. My mistake, however, has lead to the harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats, and being ostracized from an entire community. Accordingly, for personal safety reasons, I have chosen to no longer attend classes at UCLA.

3 thoughts on “Is UCLA setting a dangerous precedent with its response to student’s video?”

  1. While I believe that every negative comment doesn’t require a response from the institution, this situation (as you described it) was extreme.

    When I watched the Chancellor’s video, I thought it was well done and didn’t belabor the point.

    I’m a firm believer that we can learn a lot from the past.

    Domino’s ( demonstrated that ignoring negative exposure is a dangerous game.

    I believe the precedent is already set from past scenarios. The lesson: do not wait long to respond to a potential very damaging message.

  2. I think you need to carefully judge the response level to the blog post or the video. UCLA had to respond to this – it was getting national press coverage, and had become an internet meme in under 48 hours.

    University communicators walk a delicate line with these responses. Some items are a flash in the pan and responding draws more attention. Conversely, you don’t want to wait too long or it looks as if you are lethargic and insensitive to the mood and thoughts of your audiences.

  3. I agree with commentators Mike and Jeff- not all mentions on the web about an institution deserve a response, but when they blow up like this incident, something needs to be done, sooner rather than later.

    I don’t know how prevalent social media is within higher ed crisis communications and/or PR plans, but this should be a wake up call for it to be included.

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