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What Higher Ed Can Learn from the Ben Affleck/Batman Announcement

Not sure if you heard, but some big news was announced yesterday that caused quite a flurry on the internet and across social media. It consumed most of my day and was easily top of mind when I went to bed last night and woke up this morning.
Oh, and did you hear that President Obama also said a few words about our industry and a few people were ticked? But I digress (and I kid).
The announcement that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman in the upcoming Batman/Superman movie provides a few lessons for colleges and universities before announcing new hires to our faculty, staff, students and alumni. Like the Batman fans, our audiences can have emotional bonds with campus leaders and high, sometimes unrealistic, expectations for their previous experiences to continue as the norm. Both groups aren’t afraid to take to social media or other outlets to share their concerns for the future of an entity they love, and they have the ability to “vote” with their attendance and dollars.
So, here is my advice based on the past 24 hours:

  • Perform your due diligence on your new hires; go beyond what your search firm provides. Their credentials may be strong (like an Academy Award, Golden Globe win, etc.) but that doesn’t mean a Gigli moment isn’t hiding somewhere. Be prepared for it to surface. Address it head-on and then keep moving. Everyone makes mistakes, but emphasize how they’ve picked themselves up from the mistake and become stronger.
  • Have thick skin. If you see an unflattering hashtag like “#betterthanAffleck” pop up be sure to follow it and track its reach, but put those tweets and comments into context. And be willing to laugh it off when you see something funny like:

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  • Have your defenders and your new hire’s allies speak out in support of the decision. Fans of Affleck’s have come out in defense of him on Facebook, blogs, Youtube and comment sections of online articles:

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Even entertainment critics are coming to his defense. One stated, “I’ve never understood why Ben Affleck was stuck in movie prison with no possibility of parole from the general public… People have predetermined feelings towards Affleck because of past decisions and will not give the guy a second chance. In my opinion, those feeling are ignorant and baseless considering Affleck’s work over the last five years.  No matter what – Affleck has a long road ahead of him. Forget the stupid haters.”

  • Provide costars and supporting cast who can help save the day. It will be hard for the movie to flop with Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane co-staring.
  • Don’t ask for feedback if you aren’t ready for it/aren’t going to do anything with it. If I were the director of the upcoming movie, I would stay far away from polls like this one:

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And, perhaps most importantly, take the high road and avoid “I told you so” moments when supporters come back around. After all, you’ll know what it feels like to feel picked on.