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Center for Crisis Public Relations and Litigation Studies approved

Lehigh University recently announced the establishment of the Center for Crisis Public Relations & Litigation Studies, which was developed to promote research and "best practices" in crisis and litigation management. The center is headed by Carole Gorney, director of the university's public relations curriculum, and internationally recognized crisis consultant.

Gorney has published and lectured extensively on all aspects of crisis planning, management and communication. She is the author of "How to Keep the Media Neutral in a Crisis," and a two-volume workshop manual and textbook on "Principles of Crisis and Risk Communication," published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in training programs worldwide. She is also often cited as an expert on litigation journalism, a practice she identified and named in The New York Times in 1993.

The multi-disciplinary center was founded by Gorney to "provide a unique environment for academics and professional experts to collaborate on research, development of tools, techniques and practical standards."

In addition to conducting and supporting cutting-edge research, the center will conduct professional workshops, executive training courses, seminars and certificate programs. The center is also pursuing an aggressive program of crisis and media relations consulting for government, corporate and non-profit organizations, Gorney said.

"Crisis used to be referred to in public relations as the unthinkable," Gorney said. "Today, particularly in light of September 11th and the aftermath, crisis has become not only an imaginable threat, but a reality for many organizations."

Even prior to Sept. 11, crisis was ranked among the top 10 threats that worried companies most, according to Gorney. Class-action lawsuits represent nearly a third of all crisis news in the country's media, and product recalls account for another 15 percent.

"It's not surprising, then, that crisis management, media training and litigation public relations have become growth industries," she said. "The problem is there has been very superficial documentation of case studies, and even less in-depth research on the effectiveness of the management strategies and tactics being used to counter crises, particularly those involving civil litigation."

The center is expected to encourage a broad range of interdisciplinary research projects in disciplines such as the social sciences, business, economics and law. Of particular interest to the center is research on the impact of lawsuits on organizational reputation, business practices, research and development, product design, public opinion, public policy, government regulation, global competitiveness and the judicial process.

"While extensive studies have been done on the effect of pre-trial publicity on the outcome of criminal trials, research is needed on the relationship between litigation journalism -- media coverage of lawsuits -- and jury verdicts in high-profile lawsuits," Gorney said.

Lehigh faculty members affiliated with the center include: Berrisford Boothe, associate professor of art and architecture; John Ochs, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics; and Geraldo Vasconcellos, associate professor of finance and economics.

Other members of the center's faculty include: Richard Long, the former head of corporate communications for Dow Chemical Co., who now teaches public relations at Brigham Young University and Douglas Ann Newsom, professor of public relations at Texas Christian University.

Also serving as members of the center are legal and public relations professionals from throughout the country, inlcuding Joel Burcat, Esq., environmental law, with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP; Douglas A. Cooper, Esq., with Ruskin, Moscou, Evans and Faltischek, P.C.; Brad Drexler, vice president of university relations at Lehigh and former executive with Binney & Smith; Rene Henry, retired office of communications and government relations with the EPA's Mid-Atlantic States Region; T. Michael Jackson, director of Jackson, Jackson and Wagner and former global corporate relations director for Dow Corning Corp.; James E. Lukaszewski, litigation management specialist with The Lukaszewski Group; and Victor Schwartz, Esq., partner with the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, and listed among the top 100 most influential attorneys in the United States.

The Center will also work with the Council of Agile Partners in Education (CAPE) to develop a new technology/video-conferencing center. The center could ultimately be used as an alternative crisis communication center for emergency management personnel and local organizations needing to evacuate their headquarters in emergencies, or looking for a location for communicating with large members of the media or the public.

Linda Harbrecht
lmh2@lehigh.edu

Posted on Friday, July 19, 2002

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