'You're the guy that handled the Bob Knight firing, right?'; Christopher Simpson, IU's spokesman under Myles Brand, talks about controversial firing of famous coach in new book
By Steve Hinnefeld
April 10, 2007
Christopher Simpson has dealt with adverse publicity for several decades as a newspaper reporter, university administrator and marketing consultant.
But nothing compares with managing the public-relations firestorm that erupted when Indiana University fired Bob Knight in September 2000.
"It's very common for me to get a call, and one of the first things they say is, 'You're the guy that handled the Bob Knight firing, right?'" he said.
Simpson, IU's chief media spokesman for the Knight firing, tells about the experience in a new book, "Weathering the Storm: Protecting Your Brand in the Worst of Times." He left IU in July 2001 and is CEO of SimpsonScarborough, a Washington, D.C., communications and marketing consulting firm.
"When you say 'Bob Knight,' that still gets a very visceral reaction from people," he said Monday.
The book, published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, also draws lessons from other college PR catastrophes, including the 1999 Texas A&M bonfire tragedy and University of Colorado sports scandals.
Simpson says he expected trouble with Knight when Myles Brand, his boss at the University of Oregon, decided in 1994 to take the position of IU president. His first question, Simpson writes, was: "How are you going to handle Bob Knight?"
He accompanied Brand to Indiana, eventually becoming vice president of public affairs and government relations. He said he was frustrated that Knight was synonymous with Indiana University, his reputation overshadowing more than 100 highly ranked academic programs.
But Simpson found himself liking Knight and enjoying his company. And by doing so, he says, he "was writing my own IU obituary." He writes that he played golf with Knight and considered him a friend, even after Brand imposed "zero tolerance" rules on the coach in early 2000.
"My fatal misstep was to become buddies and swap stories and inside information about the president, trustees and other administrators," he writes.
When Brand fired Knight, it was Simpson's job to handle the media. Knight reacted angrily, portraying Simpson and Brand as ventriloquist and dummy and calling Simpson, in an interview, "the most treacherous and dangerous guy I've ever been around."
Simpson said Knight saw his role as "some kind of disloyalty to him personally." And Knight's supporters were outraged. Simpson said he got 3,500 e-mail messages, most of them angry, in the day after the firing. Brand got twice that many, he said. "About half were profane," he said, and some included threats and were turned over to police.
He said a survey that IU commissioned in November 2000 validated Brand's decision. Sixty-one percent of respondents, he said, approved of the firing; 19 percent said Knight deserved to be fired but didn't like the way it was handled. "The bottom line was, eight in 10 Hoosiers agreed it was time for him to go," he said.
Even so, Simpson had become a lightning rod for controversy, undercutting his effectiveness. He left IU in July 2001 but continued for a time to be paid $10,000 a month in consulting fees.
Simpson said he has no regrets about Knight's firing or the way it was handled. Knight re-established himself as a coach and has done well at Texas Tech, he said. IU is no longer identified primarily as a school with a controversial basketball coach.
"I think everybody came out pretty well," he said.
From Christopher Simpson's book "Weathering the Storm: Protecting Your Brand in the Worst of Times":
-- On Bob Knight: "Coach Knight is an amazing person in many respects. He has traveled the world extensively and can count as friends former presidents, Supreme Court justices and anyone in recent or modern day sports. He is well-read, very bright and has a sharp PR/marketing mind … He publicly skewered me soon after the firing, but I had grown to know the man and understand his positive side."
-- On Knight's public-relations talent: "I lay awake many nights contemplating Bob Knight's amazing power over the media and appreciating how well he manipulated reporters. A more formidable PR foe I couldn't imagine."
-- On IU President Myles Brand's first meeting with Knight, at a Bloomington restaurant: "Brand was sweating and tense. Apparently, I had violated one of the principal rules of crisis planning: Don't overprep the subject."
-- On his thoughts when former player Neil Reed accused Knight of choking him in practice: "Instantly I realized the magnitude of the crisis that was about to ignite — the screaming headlines in USA Today, the follow-ups from hundreds of sports reporters, the calls for firing the coach, the contrary pleas from his most zealous fans — 'the Kool-Aid drinkers,' we called them."
-- On having IU trustees John Walda and Fred Eichhorn investigate Reed's claims: "We knew we would get hammered short term for investigating ourselves, but at least we would retain control of the investigation which we couldn't do if we had brought in an entirely objective outsider."
-- On Knight's post-firing TV interview with Jeremy Schaap: "Amazingly, Bob Knight completely blew the ESPN interview that could have shaken IU to its very core. Throughout the interview he badgered the reporter, raised his voice, and visibly expressed anger … To this day, when we show that videoclip in media training, audiences gasp out loud."
-- On the introduction of Mike Davis as Knight's successor: "I had never seen a man more frightened to face the media."
First Nations cultural center opening at IU
Open house planned for Wednesday
April 10, 2007
Indiana University will celebrate the opening of a new cultural center Wednesday for American Indians, Alaska natives and native Hawaiians.
The First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, located on the sixth floor of Eigenmann Hall, will provide support and information for American Indian students, staff, faculty and community residents and promote education about native peoples.
An open house at the center, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, will include Native American food and remarks by students and administrators. The event is open to the public.
American Indian students at IU have advocated for a cultural center for more than a year. Until now, groups such as the American Indian Student Association and Native American Graduate Student Association have borrowed space in other organizations' facilities.
The center grew out of First Nations at IU, which celebrated a series of pow-wows and represented IU in the statewide American Indians in Indiana Education Conference. It also sponsored two Native Film Series at IU, the latter of which brought Cayuga actor-activist Gary Farmer to campus for lectures.
The new center joins IU's Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, La Casa and the Asian Culture Center as campus resource centers for students of color.
Fashion is communication, lecturer says; Joanne Eicher talks about importance of, fascination with clothing around world
By Sarah Morin
April 10, 2007
Smooth silk on the skin.
The click of heels on concrete or the clack of enamel bangle bracelets.
A whiff of Chanel No. 5.
The flavor of strawberry lip gloss.
The entire package from head to peep-toe.
The act — and, for some people, art — of dress engages all the senses.
A person's identity can be established without speaking a word, Joanne Eicher said Monday in a fashion lecture.
So academics who think fashion and dress are superficial and not worthy of study are missing the significance, she said.
Eicher has researched and written about both for decades. She teamed up with National Geographic in 2000 for two books on the subject of dress.
"If you don't think clothes are important, then try going to work without them," Eicher said.
The world renowned scholar shared examples of fashion and what it means to people from around the world in her "My Life with the F-word" talk on the Indiana University campus.
Fashion is its own form of cultural communication, Eicher said.
And people want in on the conversation.
As witnessed by the popularity of reality makeover shows such as "Project Runway" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," society is interested in dress and appearance, Eicher said.
Fashion and dress represents "a paradox of conformity and individuality" — in which one can blend or break away by the clothes on one's back.
The fascination of fashion and devotion to dress aren't just limited to the Western world.
Eicher pointed to slides of photographs of Kalabari men and women of the Niger Delta, where she has done research. Imported Indian madras cloth is common for both men and women during formal occasions such as funeral services.
Because Nigeria was a British colony, the people of this southern delta area of Africa are known as traders, and older "vintage" textiles are highly valued, Eicher said.
The Kalabari also wear Western clothing. Eicher flashed a photo of a woman dressed in madras at her mother's funeral and one of the same woman, a student, dressed casually in a shirt and pants.
Describing the difference between dress and fashion, Eicher gave as an example layering — or as she called it, wearing something long, then something short over it.
"That won't exist in a few years," she said.
As for her dress Monday, Eicher went for a monochromatic look in cranberry. She wore a tea-length skirt, tank top and jacket with black flats.